Founded in 1948, Knoll Associates commissioned and manufactured modernist home furnishings that are among the most highly regarded in the world. Learn about a number of the designers who conceived these pieces, including Florence Knoll, who founded the company along with her husband Hans.
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Furniture by Florence Knoll
Like many other modernist visionaries, Florence Knoll trained to be an architect. She admitted that a void for furniture to suit her own needs led her to contemplate a form of design outside her original vision as a professional. While following this path, she found herself melding architectural principals with forward-thinking furniture styling.
Working in a field where men were dominant, she studied under Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen, and worked for both Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, according to 2Modern.com. "Florence Knoll set herself apart with an innate feeling for the applied arts—and by proposing a holistic aesthetic in which architecture, furniture, textiles, graphics, and interior decoration worked in visual harmony."
Florence Knoll's sofa and settee designs fit in with current decorating trends today as well as they did in the 1950s. She designed office furniture such as conference tables, desks, and credenzas that are still highly regarded for their sleek and timeless style.
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Eero Saarinen's Innovative Designs
Eero Saarinen, born in Finland, is well known for his contributions to the field of architecture. One of his most recognizable accomplishments is still revered today: the St. Louis Arch.
While teaching at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in the mid-1930s, he met several noteworthy individuals with whom he would work in the future. This includes not only Hans and Florence Knoll but Charles Eames, who, along with Saarinen, had a keen interest in new techniques using molded plywood in his chair designs. Saarinen and Eames developed the Organic Chair together, which won first place in the Organic Design Home Furnishings competition hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in 1940.
Some of his more recognizable designs for Knoll are, however, more ubiquitously attached to his name. The Womb Chair, with its exceptional sculptural feel, is shown here along with the matching footstool. His Tulip collection, featuring gracefully molded chairs and tables with pedestal bases, rightfully has many fans in modernist circles.
Saarinen's design partnership with the Knolls lasted through the end of his life, which was cut short at age 51.
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The Bertoia Collection
Knoll Associates commissioned artist Harry Bertoia to design several chairs in 1950. These artful creations reflected Bertoia's expertise as a metalsmith and sculptor. The chairs were indeed sculptural but also served as functional furniture.
Bertoia's "Diamond Chairs," which have lattice-like metal under a fabric cover, are well known among fans of the top modernist designers. But there were other open-weave metal designs in the original Bertoia Collection for Knoll–five to be exact. They were all made for many years, but those made through 1969 were marked with Knoll Associates labels. You can identify later versions by looking for a Knoll International label if it is still present.
Among other Bertoia chairs were the Bird Chair (shown here) and metal lattice indoor/outdoor chairs. Vintage versions of his dining chairs are usually sold in sets by dealers specializing in modernist furniture.
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Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe's Barcelona Chair
Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe was an architect and designer who served as the director of the Bauhaus from 1930 to 1933. He came to America in the late 1930s and not only continued his architecture career, but designed furniture for Knoll Associates as well.
This designer is well known for using open space in his furniture pieces, just as he did in his work as an architect. This included chairs with cantilevered seats that seem to be suspended in mid-air even when being used. One of his most recognizable designs, however, is the Barcelona chair.
This chair, known for its "less is more" design, was first made for the International Exposition of 1929 held in Barcelona, Spain. It is, in fact, a style that often comes to mind when the modernist conversation includes the name Mies. Knoll International (the moniker this company has used since 1969) still produces the ever-popular Barcelona chair today.
Be aware, however, that other companies have made this style of chair. Without a Knoll label, they are usually sold as "after" or "inspired by" rather than originals.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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The Platner Collection
The Platner Collection for Knoll Associates was envisioned by Warren Platner who, like Eero Saarinen, studied architecture at Yale. He is also known as an accomplished interior designer. One of his achievements was creating the original modernist ambiance in the storied Windows on the World restaurant atop the North Tower of the original World Trade Center in New York.
His tables and chairs designed for Knoll, seen as classics by modernism enthusiasts today, were introduced in 1966. These pieces are known for the thin, vertically oriented nickel-plated or bronzed rods forming distinctive cage-like bases. The seats and backs of the dining chairs were upholstered, providing additional comfort to the semi-circular designs. This style was indeed embraced in the 1960s but possesses a timeless quality that is still in demand today in both vintage and newly made renditions.
In addition to dining sets, Platner's work for Knoll included sofas, a number of chair styles, stools, coffee, and side tables, and office furniture. Most of these pieces have the acclaimed caged bases.
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Outdoor Designs by Richard Schultz
Modernism got its day in the sun, literally, with the designs of Richard Schultz. He joined the Knoll team in 1951, but before his own pieces were produced, he assisted Harry Bertoia. Together they brought the Bertoia Wire Collection, which could be used both in and out of doors, to fruition.
While there were many outdoor furnishings made during the Mid-Century era, Schultz practically corners the modernist market with his innovative designs. In 1966 his aluminum furniture was conceived at the request of Florence Knoll, who longed for outdoor designs that were not only stylish but would stand up to the sun and salty air at her home in Florida. These outdoor furnishings set a "sophisticated new benchmark," as noted on 2Modern.com.
Schultz' first outdoor design for Knoll, however, was the award-winning Petal Table that hit the market in 1960. This, along with the 1966 Collection, set the stage for Schultz to become an exalted outdoor furniture designer. In fact, the Museum of Modern Art added his 715 Chaise Lounge (made in 1961 to coordinate with Bertoia's Wire Collection) to its permanent collection.