Florence Knoll Bassett (1917-), pioneer of midcentury modernism and unrivaled creative force celebrates her 100th birthday today. There are very few designers with a legacy as remarkable as hers- architectural prodigy, protégé of Eliel Saarinen and Mies, director of the revolutionary “Knoll Planning Unit,” designer of iconic furniture still in production, President of Knoll, and all around innovator who shaped America’s tastes. By defining the modern interior, Knoll changed the face of the design industry and revolutionized the way we live and work.
Just don’t call her a “decorator.”
To celebrate the designer's centennial, here are five of my favorite Florence Knoll moments (in no order).
1. 575 Madison Avenue (1951)
It is hard to imagine how novel Florence Knoll’s design for the Knoll Showroom must have looked during its time- her impeccable style shaping almost every gleaming, streamlined store that we visit today. But the showroom at 575 Madison Avenue in New York proved to be a triumph of design, changing the way we view interiors. Starting with only a blank, uninspired architectural canvas, Knoll created a dynamic space that demonstrated the vital potential of modern furniture. Under her creative direction, showrooms became an effective marketing tool that allowed customers to experience the possibilities of modern design.
Parallel Bar Series Chair (1954)
Inspired by her mentor Mies van der Rohe, the Parallel Bar Series remains a testament to Knoll’s elegant aesthetic. With its minimal, geometric profile, the chair exemplifies the rational design approach of the Bauhaus. It’s ideal form is sleek, timeless, and undeniably Knoll.
Model 75 Stool (1948)
Maybe not the most famous Knoll design, but it’s one that is synonymous with postwar modernism. Introduced by Knoll in 1948, the stool with the famous hairpin legs demonstrates the influence of the Cranbrook Academy of Art on the designer's artistic sensibilities. Compact, functional, and a bit whimsical, the stool remains so emblematic of the era that Knoll recently resumed production.
Florence Knoll Credenza (1961)
When Knoll completely transformed corporate office space by replacing the traditional executive-style desk with a table desk, the designer needed a new storage solution. This credenza was her answer. Suited for filing and storage, the low, sleek credenza is perfectly proportioned and elegantly utilitarian. Acknowledged as just a "filler" piece by Knoll, the credenza is still as popular as ever and has remained in production.
CBS Corporate Office (1965)
The CBS Corporate Office was Knoll’s last major project before retiring from the company in 1965. A collaboration with her lifelong friend, Eero Saarinen, the interiors of the CBS Building suited the skyscraper’s rectilinear architecture. Knoll used her own Parallel Bar Series, along with the Barcelona Chair, the Flat Bar Brno Chair, and the 657 ‘Sling’ Armchair to furnish the (at the time) unconventional open-plan office space. The result upended office design and showcased Knoll at her very best.
I don't think I need to explain the significance of Florence Knoll within the male-dominated design field- she not only made a name for herself, her friends (how about that Bertoia and Saarinen furniture?), and her company, but she led design into the second half of the twentieth century, forever changing how Americans interact with interior space. Pretty inspiring stuff.
You can read more about her here and here.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.