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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ralph Rapson

I started this blog September 6, 2010. Some of you have been readers since the beginning. Others have come on board later. From now through the end of the month, I'm going to be on a short blogging break. Not only am I in the middle of a big volunteer project, I'm also trying to help get the new store open, so I've decided share some of my favorite posts from the past four years. I'll throw in a few new photos for you longtime supporters who read the posts when they were first published.

(First posted 1/3/2011)
Ralph Rapson (1914-2008) was an architect, designer and entrepreneur. He was educated at the University of Michigan and the Cranbrook Academy of Arts, where he studied under Eliel Saarinen. At Cranbrook he met Florence Schust, who would later marry Hans Knoll and then introduce him to the Knoll company, for which he would design a successful line in the 1940s.

Rapson taught architecture at the New Bauhaus School in Chicago from 1942-1946. He Also taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1946-1954. He is well-known for his experimental concept houses like the 1939 "Cave House" and "Fabric House," and the 1945 "Greenbelt House," which was Arts & Architecture's Case Study House #4. Rapson was the Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota from 1954-1984.

In 1963 he designed the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He also worked for the U.S. Government's Department of Foreign Buildings in the 1950s, after striking a deal that any work he did would be furnished with Knoll furniture. From this period, Rapson is best known for the U.S. Embassy buildings in Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Rapson's furniture designs employed newly developed materials and mass production processes. In 1945 he helped Knoll introduce the 'Equipment for Living' series of furniture. The program was commissioned by the Kellett Aircraft Corporation, who requested that the pieces be made of metal. Rapson's line featuring a tea trolley, side table and lounge proved to be extremely successful, and Knoll created 'Thermalware' accessories like cocktail shakers and ice buckets to accompany the furniture. Knoll then released the Rapson Line in 1945, which included the now-classic "Rapson Rocker."  Knoll sold the playful, organic line to Bloomingdale's in 1945, who then took out a full page advertisement for the rocker in the New York Times, touting it as a modern take on a traditional piece.

Throughout the 1950s, Rapson and his wife Mary had a store, Rapson, Inc., in Boston. The couple sold Rapson's furniture, as well as George Nelson furniture and objects, Harry Bertoia jewelry and pieces from both the Knoll and Herman Miller collections. They also imported pieces that they found to be integral to the energy of modern design like porcelain from Germany and Marimekko textiles from Finland.

From and

Slide cart

Slide rocker 

Slide sofa and chairs

Variation of slide rocker

Ralph Rapson's personal Rapid Rocker

Slide lounge

Slide lamps

Slide lamp sketches

Highback Greenbelt rock

Gidwitz House

Butler House

Schecter House (House of Doors)


  1. Nice sleek designs. I especially like the houses.

    1. He designed some beautiful homes, that's for sure!

  2. Love the Butler House! Dana, thank you for the encouraging words......all the best with your volunteer project and the store. =)

    1. The Butler House is my favorite too. I can't imagine how wonderful it would be to live in a place like that. Thanks for your good wishes!

  3. The houses are great and I like the idea of the slide lounger very much...

    1. The shape of that chair is great, and I love the cartoon! :)