Functional Designs

Herbert Matter and Harry Bertoia for Knoll

Herbert Matter graphic advertising the Bertoia Diamond Chair by Harry Bertoia. Photography by Herbert Matter. Image from the Knoll Archive

Herbert Matter worked as the chief graphic design consultant at Knoll during some of the company’s most formative years, from 1946-1966. Having studied graphic design in Switzerland and created posters for the Swiss National Tourism Office, Matter arrived in the United States in 1936 bringing with him dramatic compositions with strong ties to photomontage and the post-war avant-garde movements of Europe. He immediately secured a position at Harper’s Bazaar and later moved on to contract advertising for Vogue and Art + Architecture before finding a place at Knoll in 1946. The company’s business was flourishing and Herbert and Florence Knoll were eager to have a graphic presence that would match their vision. Utilizing Bauhaus and Modernist styles at which he was so adept, Matter began by redesigning the Knoll logo as well as its showroom on Madison Ave. before turning his attention towards ad development. He worked with great creative license, collaging and layering images of the furniture designs, many of which were photographs taken by Matter himself, and creating striking and profound compositions that ultimately defined the identity of Knoll and some of which continued to be published for over ten years. 

“The best of Matter’s ads have a way of sticking in the mind.” - Eric Larrabee, author of Knoll Design

Though Florence Knoll already knew Harry Bertoia from her days at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, it was at Matter’s recommendation that she and Herbert flew to California to discuss with him the possibility of a line of furniture. Bertoia took the job, moving east to Bally, Pennsylvania and in 1952 presented a collection of wire seating that continues to be recognized as one of the greatest achievements of 20th century furniture design. Matter produced numerous ad designs to compliment the ingenuity of Bertoia’s works and the concepts of geometry and simplicity that both men shared, created a harmonious body of graphic and furniture designs that are just as compelling today as they were 80 years ago.