The guiding light behind Knoll Associates, Florence Knoll was instrumental in the success of the company and revolutionized interior design as we know it today. We are proud to have offered many of Knoll’s own designs, as well as works by designers whom she championed throughout her extraordinary career. Her influence on the world of design cannot be overstated.
No compromise, ever.
8 Things to Know About Shu
Affectionately known as Shu to her friends and family, Florence Knoll was born Florence Marguerite Schust on May 24th, 1917.
Her enormous shaggy sheepdog named Cartree was the unofficial Knoll mascot.
Her father Frederick Schust ran a family baking company in Saginaw, Michigan.
She vacationed with the Saarinen family in Helsinki during her summer breaks from school.
Her use of fabric swatches during client presentations became an industry standard.
She organized and color-coded her archives which she then gifted to the Archives of American Art in 2000.
Her request for a chair “like a great big basket of pillows” inspired Eero Saarinen’s iconic Womb chair.
In 2003, President George W. Bush awarded her with the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest artistic honor.
Each time I go East I see something you have done. It is always good, and I feel grateful to you for doing such work in a world where mediocrity is the norm.
Charles Eames in a letter to Florence Knoll
The Planning Unit
In 1945, Florence founded The Planning Unit, a division of Knoll dedicated to interior design and rooted firmly in her Modernist ideals. Over the years, The Planning Unit set the standard for postwar corporate interiors and built an impressive client list that included Connecticut General Insurance Company, Cowles Publications, IBM and CBS to name a few. Florence’s Planning Unit solidified Knoll as more than just furniture makers, but also as the visionaries behind some of the most revolutionary interior spaces of the time.
“The Planning Unit began when I joined Hans Knoll at 601 Madison. As the projects grew, three or four designers were hired. In spite of the size of some of the projects like Connecticut General, the group never exceeded six to eight designers. We somehow managed to get the job done and on time. I don’t think I could have worked with a larger group. Peter Andes, a PU member, called it 'Shu U' as other young designers were siphoned off by architectural firms who began to start their own interior design divisions.” Florence Knoll
Auction Results Florence Knoll
Custom wall-mounted cabinet for H.J. Heinz Co, Pittsburgh
As part of the planning process, Knoll created paste-ups—fully textural and dimensional renderings of finished interiors that incorporated fabric samples, furniture materials and miniature artworks. These vignettes illustrate Knoll’s discerning eye and acute attention to even the tiniest detail.
Florence Knoll 1917–2019
Florence Knoll (née Florence Schust) was born in Michigan in 1917. As a child, she was enrolled in the Kingswood School, a division of the Cranbrook School of Art. Eliel and Loja Saarinen, parents of architect Eero Saarinen, quickly noted her talents, and she became a close friend of the family often joining them on vacations to their summer home in Finland. In 1935, Knoll studied urban planning at Columbia University and continued her degree at the Architectural Association of London from 1938 to 1939. World War II brought Knoll back to the United States where she finished her degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago studying under Mies van der Rohe. After graduating, Knoll moved to Massachusetts to work in the office of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.
In 1941, she moved to New York City, where she began working for furniture producer Hans Knoll. The two married in 1946 and the following year she founded the textile division for Knoll, Inc and began to design her now- iconic modernist upholstery fabrics. After Hans died in a tragic car accident in Cuba in 1955, she took over as president of the company, and created over 100 furniture designs including her revolutionary Planning Unit. Her designs were featured in several shows at the Museum of Modern Art, New York including both of the famed Good Design exhibitions. In addition to designing furniture, Knoll also had an innate eye for the work of other modern designers, and she licensed seminal forms such Harry Bertoia’s Diamond Chair and Isamu Noguchi’s Cyclone Table for Knoll.
In 1960, she resigned as president of the company to focus on the development and design departments later retiring in 1965. In 1977, Knoll was awarded the Total Design award by the American Society of Interior Designers. In 1985, she was inducted into the Interior Designers Hall of Fame and honored with a retrospective of her career at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2004 which she herself curated. In 2010, the Bard Graduate Center in New York devoted a show to her textile creations. Florence Knoll’s work rests in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design among many others. In January of 2019, Knoll passed away at the age of 101.