Artists & Designers

Knoll International

Hans G. Knoll, founder of Knoll Furniture Company, was born in 1914 in Germany to a family of furniture makers; his father, Walter Knoll, was a manufacturer of "modern" furniture. Hans was raised in Stuttgart and trained in the family business. By 1938, he immigrated to New York, where he established himself as the Hans G. Knoll Furniture Company at East 72nd Street. Florence Knoll (née Schust) studied at the Architectural Association in London, the world's oldest school of architecture. She returned to the United States to complete her training at the Armour Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology) where Mies van der Rohe was the professor of Architecture. Knoll would later produce a number of designs by van der Rohe.

By 1943, Florence was working for Hans Knoll, taking on extra jobs on a part-time basis. The two formed Knoll Associates and were married in 1946. Florence was a full partner in the business, an unusual arrangement at that time. The Knolls were dedicated to establishing a firm where designers could create and achieve their full potential. Knoll aimed to produce exclusively modern designs. Other firms might produce a modern line along with traditional furniture, but Knoll was determined to focus on a singular approach, and eventually Knoll became synonymous with the word "modern." Material shortages caused by war restrictions in the late 1940s caused a stall, but by the early 1950s the Knolls flourished in the postwar proliferation of industry and technology, expanding its customer base and strengthening its imprint on the emerging discipline of interior design. While modern buildings were constructed, and older buildings redesigned, there were no modern interiors to complement them. There was, as Florence Knoll would say, a "conflict" between the buildings' external structures and internal spaces. Florence Knoll was one of the first to carefully consider this issue.

In 1951, Knoll Associates moved to new headquarters on the fourteenth floor at 575 Madison Avenue in New York, and Florence Knoll directed the redesign of the interior space under the watchful eye of the design industry at large, as the building itself had challenging architectural oddities that could make modern design problematic. Florence Knoll rose to the challenge; she was able to “destroy the architectural faults of the space” and remind “the visitor that modern furniture has more to offer than utilitarian advantages of comfort and economy.” [1]

By 1955, Knoll Associates had expanded greatly, with showrooms in Los Angeles, Stuttgart, Dallas, Milan, Chicago, Miami, Boston, Brussels, Stockholm, Zürich, and Toronto. Manufacturing facilities were established in East Greenville, Pennsylvania and in Europe. Knoll International was formed in 1951 as a result of a United States State Department request to make furniture for American personnel stationed overseas. By 1964, Knoll was truly global, with twenty-one overseas offices, numerous showrooms, and many licensees selling Knoll products. Tragically, Hans Knoll died in a car accident in 1955 at the age of 41 while on business for Knoll in Cuba. Florence then became president and continued to oversee the company's growth and development, remaining president until 1960. In 1958, Florence Knoll remarried, becoming Florence Knoll Basset. As Knoll grew larger in scope and scale, Florence found the business aspects of the company overly complicated and, ultimately, not of interest to her. In 1959 she sold the company to Art Metal Construction Company.

After the Knolls, the company continued to carry on its tradition of design successes by creating (or buying) a design based on merits of appearance, function, and appeal, and then determining the most efficient production methods. Knoll was formally recognized for its contribution to modern furniture design when the Louvre Museum hosted an exhibition, called "Knoll au Louvre," in Paris from January 12 to March 12, 1972, featuring the design classics for which the company was known. Knoll has a permanent place in the history of modern furniture design for the classics it produced, including (but not limited to) Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chair (1990.130.2), Harry Bertoia's wire chairs (1988.73), and Eero Saarinen's womb chair (2001.281.1), all found in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art.

[1] Interiors magazine writer, Olga Gueft, reproduced on Knoll International, Our Timeline and History: 1951, Accessed May 12, 2016 http://www.knoll.com/discover-knoll/timeline#y_1951

Drawn from

  • Steven and Linda Rouland, Knoll Furniture: 1938-1960. (Atglen: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1999).
  • Brian Lutz, Knoll: A Modernist Universe. (New York: Rizzoli, 2010).

Web Resources