Florence Marguerite Knoll Bassett née Schust was born May 24, 1917 in Saginaw, Michigan. Florence studied Architecture under Eliel Saarinen at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1934. In 1936, she started to explore furniture making with Eliel’s son Eero and the now legendary Charles Eames.
Florence discussing the now infamous Tulip base with Eero Saarinen
In 1940, she moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and worked for Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, and was highly influenced by the principles of the Bauhaus school and Breuer’s furniture, primarily constructed with tubular steel frames. She would further pursue her fascinations with furniture production at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where she studied under Mies van der Rohe.
In 1943, 5 years after Hans Knoll founded Knoll Inc., Florence (then Schust) convinced Hans she could help bring in business to his company even in America’s wartime economy by expanding into interior design by planning interiors alongside architects. With her architectural background and deep understanding of interior design, she succeeded. She has stated that she was not a furniture designer, perhaps because she didn’t want her furniture pieces to be viewed on their own but rather as an element of her holistic interior design. Her methods of interlacing architecture with interior design has proven to be hugely successful though, to this day, is still not widely practiced.
Hans and Florence
Hans would propose to Florence in 1946, as well as becoming Hans’ wife, she became a full business partner and together they founded Knoll Associates. A new furniture factory was established in East Greenville, Pennsylvania, and dealers of Knoll’s furniture were carefully added over the next several years quickly growing their business.
Knoll felt architects should contribute their design ability to furniture as well. Some of these furniture designs would become design icons of the 20th century and have remained in the Knoll line for decades due to their timeless design.
When Hans Knoll died in a car accident in 1955, Florence Knoll took over operation of the company. She designed chairs, sofas, tables and case-goods during the 1950s, many of which remain in the Knoll line to this day. In 1958 she married Harry Hood Bassett. In the 1950s her work was often included in The Museum of Modern Art’s “Good Design” exhibits. Although Knoll did a great deal of residential work, she worked in the International Style that was especially successful in corporate offices.
Letter from Alexander Girard (Sandro to friends) to Florence soon after Hans’ passing.
As an architect, Knoll’s most famous creations are the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company Headquarters building in Bloomfield, Connecticut (above) and the interior of the CBS Building in New York City (below). Her vision for the new office was clean and uncluttered, and the corporate boom of the 1960s provided the perfect opportunity for her to change the way people looked at how they worked in their offices.
She retired as Knoll president in 1960 but remained with the company as the director of design until 1965 when she retired completely.
In 2002, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts for her contributions to 20th century modern design. (above)
We absolutely love Florence’s innovation and raw talent, she relentlessly gave so much of herself to our industry. Thank you Florence! …and Happy 100th birthday!
We’ll leave you with a short video produced by the folks at Knoll. Hear Florence reminisce in her own words:
Here is a small selection of the classic Knoll pieces, available for online purchase, still in production today.