Remembering the woman who shaped the very concept of modern American design… #FlorenceKnoll the creative force behind one of the most influential design brands of the 20th century died at age 101. Her remarkable legacy lives on in the furniture she designed, the women she inspired to become designers and of course in every house her signatures lives!
Florence Knoll Bassett was born Florence Schust (the origin of her nickname, “Shu”) in Michigan in 1917. With an early aptitude for design, she attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where she was mentored by early modernist Eliel Saarinen—father of Eero Saarinen, who would later create the Womb chair for Knoll under Knoll Bassett’s direction. She went on to study at Columbia University’s School of Architecture in 1935 before apprenticing for Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer and studying under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Armor Institute (later the Illinois Institute of Technology) in Chicago. During World War II, she began to work for German furniture manufacturer Hans Knoll, whom she later married, embarking on a creative and business journey that would last even after his death in 1955, until her retirement in 1965.
Along the way, Knoll Bassett designed such landmark projects as the Seagram Building interiors and CBS headquarters with the Knoll Planning Unit, innovating the “paste-up” technique and utilizing her signature “total design” philosophy, an approach that considered everything from the floor plan to furniture to wall covering, fixtures, and, of course, textiles—after all, she founded KnollTextiles in 1947. Throughout her life, Knoll Bassett was honored for her contributions to architecture and design, including the 1961 AIA Gold Medal for Industrial Design, the first ever awarded to a woman, and the National Medal of the Arts in architecture in 2002. Though, perhaps, she’ll best be remembered through the lives she touched as a leader in design.
I needed a piece of furniture… It was not there so I designed it”Florence Knoll
“Over the years, ‘Shu’ would call me unexpectedly and comment on our showrooms and products,” Knoll CEO Andrew Cogan recalled in an address to the company’s associates, using Knoll Bassett’s lifelong nickname. “She reminded me of the time she spent with associates on the factory floor and ideas they had about ways to do things better. She humored me with advice on building our brand and creating new products. Florence Knoll’s commitment to design and communication with clients, teaching them along the way, inspires us today.”
For many, Knoll Bassett’s legacy remains felt in the open offices and sleek furniture that her work inspired. Above all, she’ll be best remembered through the Knoll mission, to be modern, always.