A-Z of Design: K is for Knoll

As we continue with our A – Z of design, K is for Knoll, specifically Florence Knoll Bassett. Born Florence Schust, and known to close friends and family as Shu, she was the driving force behind one of America’s most iconic design brands…

[Image above:  Saarinen Dining Table and Executive Tables. Photography by Joshua McHugh. Courtesy of Knoll, Inc]

Opened by Hans Knoll as a furniture company in 1938, the company initially struggled due to the onset of the Second World War. Despite the wartime economy, Florence who had studied architecture under Mies van der Rohe, and worked with Bauhaus leader Walter Gropius, was convinced that the business could be a success if it worked with architects and expanded into interior design. In 1943 she finally managed to convince Hans, and in 1946 not only did they became equal partners in the business – but they also got married.

Florence’s architectural background ensured a succession of designer creations, produced either in collaboration with the architects or by herself. She believed that architects should apply their design talents to furniture as well as buildings and many of the designs she commissioned went on to become design icons of the 20th century. Architects and designers who worked with Knoll included Marcel Breuer, Frank Gehry and Pierre Jeanneret.

Florence took over as President after Hans died in 1955. In 1958 she married Harry Hood Bassett and became Florence Knoll Bassett.

It was soon after that Florence had a vision for the modern office, which was simple and uncluttered. She used the corporate boom of the 1960s as an opportunity to change the way people thought about their working spaces. Her open-plan layouts created the perfect backdrop for her growing range of furniture.

[Image above:  Mies van der Rohe Collection.  Courtesy of Knoll, Inc.]

Florence retired as president of Knoll in 1960, but remained with the company as the director of design until 1965. In 2002, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

[Image above: Bertoia Side Chairs. Photography by Joshua McHugh. Courtesy of Knoll, Inc]

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Katie Treggiden, Guest Editor

View all posts by Katie Treggiden, Guest Editor