Florence Knoll (b. 1917)
Florence Knoll Bassett is an internationally recognized American architect and furniture designer, famous for her work in midcentury design and the Bauhaus style. Born in Michigan in 1917, Knoll trained under the masters of modernist architecture, Mies van der Rohe and Eliel Saarinen (father of Eero Saarinen), and later worked with Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Wallace K. Harrison.
She studied at the Kingswood School on the campus of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and earned her bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Armour Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1941.
Noted for her minimalist design rationale, Florence Knoll is celebrated for mixing wood and metal, and later including laminate as it became a prevalent furniture material. She is known for her work in the International Style, which was particularly popular during the corporate boom of the 1960’s. Her clean, uncluttered design language reimagined work spaces as open-planned layouts; perfect canvases for her clean, sharp furniture designs.
Knoll made other significant contributions to the modern American design aesthetic. She encouraged her husband, Hans Knoll, furniture maker and founder of Hans Knoll Furniture Company (now Knoll Inc.), to expand his business into interior design - a move which proved fortuitous. In 1953, Knoll Inc. was granted exclusive production rights for Mies van der Rohe’s “Barcelona” chair and stool. This chair and stool combo, along with several of Florence’s personal designs, became icons of 20th C. modernism and staples of the Knoll Inc. production line. Many of these designs, including Florence’s sofas, benches and tables, are still in production to this day.
Herself a pioneer of interior design, Knoll did not decorate space, but rather defined it. She operated on the philosophy that furniture should complement the architectural space, not compete with it. Her crisp design lines crisscrossed countless innovative office spaces in midcentury America. Florence contributed to the interior design of the lobby of the First National Bank in Miami, the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company headquarters in Hartford and the CBS Building in New York City.
Knoll received numerous awards and honors in her lifetime, including an Industrial Design Gold Medal Award from The American Institute of Architecture (AIA), the American Society of Interior Designers’ Total Design Award and the National Medal of Arts, presented to her in 2002 by President George W. Bush. Her pieces are highly sought after by collectors and command admirable prices on the secondary market.