Florence Knoll

It could be argued that Florence and Hans Knoll were singlehandedly responsible for bringing the international style and modernism to the eyes of millions in the 1940's and beyond. Hans was impactful in running the business, whereas Florence was the design mastermind behind making Knoll one of the leading creators of modern products. Florence Schust was born in Michigan and orphaned at a young age. Her caretaker enrolled her in school within the Cranbrook Academy as part of their boarding school, where she excelled in the arts and was connected with the art academy president Eliel Saarinen. Florence then enrolled in their architecture program, left to study town/urban planning at Columbia University, and came back to study at Cranbrook, where she worked with Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. Her education continued in London at the Architectural Association, though soon moved back to the US to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she apprenticed under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. Florence then moved to what is now Illinois Institute of Technology to study under Mies Van Der Rohe, finally receiving her Bachelor of Architecture in 1941. She worked briefly as an architect for Harrison & Abramovitz before joining Hans Knoll's furniture company in 1943.

After jointly forming Knoll Associates with Hans, Florence helped to transform the small company into an immensely influential design brand. Through the Knoll Planning Unit, Knoll's interiors division, Florence Knoll would design and deliver new works to complement and create post-war corporate interiors within the US. This included the likes of General Motors, IBM, and CBS, along with the interiors of countless influential architects of the mid 20th century. Florence would bring established and untested designers to the Knoll company to produce new works, seek out existing designs from those such as Mies Van Der Rohe to produce through Knoll at scale, and when other designs were needed still, she would create the "meat and potatoes" herself. Those "fill-in" furnishings often included less-desirable products such as sofas and credenzas that other designers did not take interest in, however, her expansive catalog of works have now become as recognized or more than Knoll's icons by other designers.

Early collaborations and designed works for Knoll included the likes of Jens Risom, who created a number of iconic wooden chairs with webbing and upholstery, along with organically-shaped tables. Florence brought on friends such as Eero Saarinen and the sculptor Harry Bertoia to create pieces such as the Womb Chair and iconic wire chairs. Isamu Noguchi would design the cyclone table and a lamp for Knoll, while George Nakashima was brought in early in his career to create a small series of wooden chairs and tables. Into the 1960s, Richard Schultz and Warren Platner worked with knoll to create the 1966 Collection of outdoor furniture and the Platner series of wire furniture. Ten years after Hans Knoll's sudden death in 1955, Florence sold the companies after again growing Knoll under her leadership. For the remainder of the 20th century and up until today, Knoll continues to lead in design, with collaborations from world-class designers and with broad impacts across offices and homes.




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