The Real Force behind Knoll

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This week’s topic was originally intended to be on Knoll and the furniture company’s 75th anniversary.  Knoll is an influential and prolific company that, from its origins, celebrates good design and promotes Bauhaus Modernsim.  However, after researching my facts about Knoll I became enamored with the story of Florence Knoll and her intelligence, talent, longevity and design sensibility. I believe this woman is why Knoll is who they are today.

Florence was born in 1917 and was orphaned at age 12 after her mother died.  She was sent to a boarding school in Michigan where she met the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen who was teaching at Cranbrook Academy of Art.  He took her under his wing and brought her into his large family.  Florence designed her first house at age 14 and continued to study architecture and planning at Cranbrook, the Architectural Association of London and at ITT in Chicago.

Florence married Hans Knoll in 1946 who had immigrated from Germany and who at the time had just started Knoll Associates.  Florence designed showrooms, set standards for interior planning and promoted the cutting edge of Modernism through furniture design.  Her resume and story is too long to recount thoroughly here, but one of her most significant achievements was her leadership in bringing many of Modernism’s significant designers at the time (Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, the Saarinen brothers, Harry Bertoia, Marcel Breuer, etc..) to create designs for Knoll’s production.  Not only was the quality of her work remarkable but for a woman in a male-dominated profession in the 1950’s, she achieved significant respect and revolution.

Hans Knoll was killed in a car accident in 1955, forcing Florence to lead the company until she sold it in 1960, yet she kept on as a senior designer for years thereafter.

She has never been pigeon-holed in the title furniture designer, architect or interior designer, rather she referred to her work as the ‘total design,’ meaning not just the building, but everything from the spoon to the city block .

Florence is 96 years old today and lives in Florida.  Oh yes, and the prodigious furniture company Knoll is celebrating 75 years this year for bringing quality Modernism to the mass-produced world, but only thanks to this amazing woman.

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