On May 24, 2017, Florence Knoll Bassett, known throughout her life by her friends as "Shu", turns 100 years old.
1917: Early Years
Florence Margaret Schust was born to a baker in Saginaw, Michigan in 1917. Her rise to the top of the design world began in tragedy, when she was orphaned at age 12.
Fortuitously, her guardian brought her on a tour of possible boarding schools, among them the recently opened Kingswood School for Girls in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The school was designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen; at the time, he was also headmaster of the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Florence boarded the school and befriended Saarinen's entire family - she even vacationed with them in Finland. The studies at Kingswood and later at Cranbrook were the foundations of her deep relationship to architecture and design.
1941: Knoll Associates
Aiming to pursue work in architecture, Florence moved to New York City and there met Hans Knoll.
Hans Knoll was the third generation of a Stuttgart-based furniture manufacturing family, and he sought to bring European Modernism to a new audience in the United States. With Florence's design skills and Hans' business acumen and salesmanship, the pair, who married in 1946, grew the young company into an international arbiter of style and design.
1945: The Planning Unit
In 1945, Florence Knoll established the Knoll Planning Unit, an interior design division of the furniture company that set the standard for the mid-century modern interior.
In 1947, Florence Knoll launched a textile program to fill another gap she perceived in the market for contract furniture upholstery. This would later become KnollTextiles.
1950s: Graphics & Showrooms
Under Florence Knoll's stewardship, the company also developed a distinctive graphic identity, collaborating with Herbert Matter to design everything from advertisements and stationery to the company's distinctive logo.
Her influence on the "total design" sensibility of Knoll cannot be overstated.
But in 1955, her life was struck by a second tragedy when Hans Knoll was killed in an automobile accident, and she suddenly found herself as Knoll's sole owner.
Still, Florence Knoll continued to run the Knoll Planning Unit and oversaw all design related aspects of the company, including showroom designs, marketing and advertising.
In 1957, the Knoll Planning Unit began work with the First National Bank of Miami. She married the bank's head, Harry Hood Bassett, the following year.
Florence Knoll Bassett continued in her capacity as Knoll's president and later as its director of design, but eventually sold the company to Art Metal Construction Company in 1959. Even after her departure from Knoll, the company continued to be inspired by her synthetic view of design and rigorous standards.
1961: Designing the credenza
Prior to the pioneering approach of Florence Knoll and the Knoll Planning Unit, executive offices in America were nearly all planned identically.
Florence Knoll described this standard layout in her 1964 "Commercial Interiors" entry for the Encyclopedia Britannica: "In such an office there was always a diagonally-placed desk, with a table set parallel behind it, a few chairs scattered around the edge of the room, and a glassed in bookcase. The table behind the desk generally became an unsightly storage receptacle."
Seeking to create a space better suited to the executive's primary function — communication — Florence reconsidered the illogical layout from an architectural perspective. She eliminated the imposing desk, replacing it with the more inviting table desk, placed parallel to the back wall. Storage was moved to behind the table in a low, matching credenza.
To execute this new layout, Florence introduced the 2544 Credenza in 1961. The elegant design exuded executive quality, and clearly exhibited Mies van der Rohe's impact on Florence's approach to design. Design historian Bobbye Tigerman notes that, "the furniture is architecture miniaturized...The structure of a large case balanced on thin peripheral columns recalls Mies' Seagram Building." Like Mies, Florence Knoll would endlessly refine each detail of a design in order to achieve simple, seemingly effortless beauty.
1965: After Knoll
Although she retired in 1965, Florence Knoll Bassett periodically rekindled her relationship with Knoll, completing one last planning project and working on exhibitions related to the legacy of the company and her own work in furniture and interiors.
In 1975, she attended the opening of the seminal "Knoll au Louvre" in Paris
The discipline of her practice and the inspired arrow of her ideas were lifelong attributes. In 2002, Florence Knoll Bassett was awarded the National Medal of the Arts, the highest honor for achievement in the field presented annually by the President of the United States.
Její obří (a velmi milovaný) pes byl maskotem společnosti Knoll
Her enormous (and beloved) sheepdog was Knoll's company mascot.
Image and texts courtesy of Knoll ©