Florence Knoll (1917-2019)

American architect and furniture designer, Florence Knoll founded the Knoll Associates together with her husband, and contributed to created the modern look and feel of America’s post-war Design.

Florence Marguerite Knoll Bassett
Florence Marguerite Knoll Bassett

Image source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Knoll#/media/File:Florence_Knoll.png

Formative Years and the Saarinen Family

Florence Marguerite Knoll Bassett(néeSchust; May 24, 1917 – January 25, 2019) was anAmerican architectandfurniture designer. Born to a baker, and orphaned at age twelve, Florence Schust demonstrated an early interest in architecture and was enrolled at theKingswood School for Girls. Here Florence befriendedEliel Saarinen, whom she would later study under atCranbrook.

Warmly embraced by the Saarinen family, Florence vacationed with them in Finland, enjoyed the company of their accomplished friends, and formed a very close relationship withEliel’s son,Eero. The connections she made and the skills she developed while at Cranbrook were the foundations of Florence Schust’sincredible design educationandpioneering career. With recommendations from Eliel Saarinen andAlvar Aalto, Florence went on to study under some of the greatest 20th-century architects, includingWalter GropiusandMarcel Breuerin Cambridge, Massachusetts andLudwig Mies van der Roheat the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Hans Knoll and Florence Schust, 1946.
Hans Knoll and Florence Schust, 1946

Image source:https://www.knoll.com/the-archive/?mode=timeline&filtertype=tag&filtervalue=KnollTextiles

Hans Knoll and Birth of an International Company

In1941, aiming to pursue work in architecture, Florence moved to New York City and there metHans Knollwho was establishing his furniture company. Hans Knoll was the third generation of a Stuttgart-based furniture manufacturing family, and he sought to bringEuropean Modernism到一个new audience in the United States.

The pair began working together, and soonFlorence Knoll was taking an increasingly significant rolein the company’saesthetic development, in addition to her official role in designing office interiors.

Before long the two were business partners, andin 1946 the pair married, renaming the companyKnoll Associates.

With Florence’s design skills and Hans’ business acumen and salesmanship, the pairgrew the nascent company into an international arbiter of style and design. Florence also seeded contributions with her friends Eero Saarinen,Harry Bertoia, and Mies van der Rohe.

Florence Knoll paste-up for Cowles Publication.
Florence Knoll paste-up for Cowles Publication. Image from the Knoll Archive.

Image source:https://www.knoll.com/designer/Florence-Knoll

A Tragic Accident

Unfortunately in1955Florence’s life was struck by a second tragedy when Hans Knoll was killed in anautomobile accident, and she suddenly found herself as Knoll’s sole owner.

Still, Florence Knoll continued to run the Knoll Planning Unit and oversaw all design-related aspects of the company, includingshowroom designs, marketing, and advertising.

Tulip Chair: In 1956, Knoll introduced Eero Saarinen's tulip chairs and pedestal.
Tulip Chair: In 1956, Knoll introduced Eero Saarinen’s tulip chairs and pedestal

Image source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Knoll#/media/File:Saarinen_Tulpanstolen.jpg

In1957, the Knoll Planning Unit began work with theFirst National Bankof Miami. She married the bank’s head,Harry Hood Bassett, the following year.

Florence Knoll Bassett continued in her capacity asKnoll’s presidentand later as itsdirector of design, but eventuallysold the company to Art Metal Construction Company in 1959. Even after her departure from Knoll, the company continued to be inspired by her synthetic view of design and rigorous standards.

Although she retired in1965, Florence Knoll Bassett periodically rekindled her relationship with Knoll, completing one last planning project and working on exhibitions related to the legacy of the company and her own work in furniture and interiors.

Wire chair: Knoll had Bertoia translate his sculptural work into furniture, resulting in his wire chairs.
Wire chair: Knoll had Bertoia translate his sculptural work into furniture, resulting in his wire chairs

Image source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Knoll#/media/File:Diamond_Chair_-_Harry_Bertoia,_MNAM.jpg

Florence Knoll’s Achievements

Florence’s life was starred with achievements and alongside her husband, she is considered to be among thedistinguished American designerswho havepioneered furniture designandmanufacturing process. She created themodern lookandfeel of America’s postwar corporate officewith sleek furniture, artistic textiles and an uncluttered, free-flowing workplace environment. The company she formed with her husband, Knoll Associates, grew to become the leading innovator of modern interiors and furnishings in the 1950s and 1960s, transforming the CBS, Seagram and Look magazine headquarters in Manhattan.

Her “total design” favoredopen workspacesover private offices, and furniture grouped for informal discussions. It integratedlighting, vibrant colors, chairs molded like tulip petals, collegially oval meeting tables, sofas and desks with chrome legs and multilevel interiors,more architectural than decorative, with open-riser staircases that seemed to float in the air.
Florence Knoll Bassett’s contributions tomodernismand American design are immeasurable. For these reasons, she was honoured with theNational Medal of the Artsin 2002.

Florence Knoll is honoured with the National Medal of the Arts for her immeasurable contributions to modern design, 2003.
Florence Knoll Bassett is awarded the National Medal of Arts for her immeasurable contributions to modern design, 2003.

Image source:https://www.knoll.com/the-archive/?mode=timeline&filtertype=tag&filtervalue=KnollTextiles

Design Pioneer

Florence Knoll’smeticulous methodsof assessingaclient’s needsand patterns of use were clear in her sketches, annotations, and especially the“paste-up” cardboard modelsshe used to demonstrate envisioned spaces.A unique visual planning technique, her paste-ups would feature folding walls, drawings of the furniture and fabric samples of the upholstery, all accompanied by detailed notes.

Responding to direct needs encountered while working on projects and finding the market lacking, Florence Knoll designed seating, tables and case goods. Over the years, Florence Knoll designs, which she had conceived as background architecture, have proven to bedesign classicsall their own.

Florence Knoll
Florence Knoll

Image source:https://www.knoll.com/the-archive/?mode=timeline&filtertype=tag&filtervalue=KnollTextiles

Main Works

  • Florence Knoll Lounge Collection
  • Florence Knoll Relaxed Lounge Collection
  • Florence Knoll Tables and Storage
  • Florence Knoll Coffee and End Tables

Many of the works by Florence Knoll are considered realmasterpieces of American Design. One that is worth mentioning is theFlorence Model 75 Stool. The early design was based on Shu’s wire studies done while she was a student at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, which were eventually translated to the immensely popular design for Knoll. Another example of the reserved and cool designs of Florence is theFlorence Knoll Dining Table. Severe and angular, it reflects the objective perfectionism of the early 1960s. The communion of marble and steel confers the piece lasting appeal and structured simplicity.

Florence Knoll relaxed lounge collection (sofa).
Florence Knoll relaxed lounge collection (sofa).

Image source:https://www.knoll.com/shop/living-room/sofas

The Knoll seating collection, which includes mid-century modern dining chairs.
The Knoll seating collection, which includes mid-century modern dining chairs.

Image source:https://www.knoll.com/shop/dining-room/dining-and-guest-chairs

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