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Monday, January 3, 2011

Ralph Rapson

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

Slide lounge

Slide lamps

Slide lamp sketches

Highback Greenbelt rock


  1. Love the slide rocker and the slide lamps. It's so cool how so many designers back then were connected. Love that!

  2. It was cool that many of them knew each other and helped each other's careers and worked together on various projects. Wouldn't it have been great to surround yourself with that many talented people?

  3. Yes, the more I research, the more connections I find. For instance, just yesterday I found out that the architect who designed the "Ferris Bueller house" was Mies van der Rohe's first graduate student. The friendships and the falling-outs between some of the most famous designers of the period took on almost soap opera qualities.

  4. Hi Dana,
    I just bumped into this page while doing searches for Rapson lamps. I posted a link to this post of Ralph Rapson's facebook page:

    Thank you for the nice blog,

    Ian R Rapson (RR grandson)

  5. Sorry, here is a better link to the facebook page: Ralph Rapson

  6. Hi Dana,

    Just wanted to let you know our family is now selling the furniture. Check out our new website: Modern Furniture of Ralph Rapson: Rocking Chairs and Lounges. Let me know if you do any more posts and I will link to them from our websites.

  7. Hi, Ian. I was so excited by your news that I immediately wrote a new post announcing your website and linking back to my older posts. I look forward to your including linkbacks to my blog on your site. The new line is wonderful, and I wish you all the luck!

  8. does anyone have some sections or details by ralph rapson?? I need it for an architecture thesis. If anyone can help my email is