Riley earned a degree in Fine Art and Fashion from Columbia College, in Missouri. In 1977, she moved to San Francisco and worked at a luxury retailers before founding her own studio, Right Angle Designs in 1986. There she began producing one-of-a-kind furniture, lighting and public art murals and sculptures. In 1999, she moved to New York where she exhibits widely and receives commissions from public and private clients.

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Cheryl R. Riley |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=28 May 2020 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>