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Florence Knoll, leading light in contemporary design

On January 25, 2019, Florence Knoll passed away at her home in Coral Gables, Florida. She was nearly 102, and left behind an extraordinary body of work created during a life that has forever shaped exclusive design. She also developed a new approach to domestic architecture and interior design. Because of her remarkable furniture designs and her spatial awareness, Florence Knoll has left us with an unforgettable legacy.

The master influence of the design world

Florence Schust was born in Michigan USA, in 1917, daughter of a German father and a Canadian mother. However, she was orphaned at the age of twelve. This misfortune prompted her to study art, which led to her meeting with master Finnish designer, Eliel Saarinen. She followed Charles Eames's urban planning course at Columbia University before leaving to study architecture in London. Here, she embraced Le Corbusier’s International Style. Before the Second World War started, she returned to the United States and continued her studies. Visible influences in her work include those of Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school of design, and of Bauhaus director, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

- Tulip Chair by Florence Knoll

The creation of Knoll Associates

After the war, Florence Schust met Hans Knoll in New York. Knoll had just founded his furniture company and hired the young Florence. From the beginning, he thrust her into a design role. Early on, she persuaded her future husband to collaborate with architects and sculptors in designing furniture, which was then a revolutionary concept for contemporary designers. Famous architect Eero Saarinen and sculptor Isamu Noguchi were now putting their expertise into designing tables and chairs. In 1946, Florence became official partner of the company, which was renamed Knoll Associates. Production hallmarks were simplicity and bright colour, and the pieces appealed to wealthy Americans, like Rockefeller, who were in search of luxury design. Among the company’s most famous creations was the Settee sofa or the Knoll Bench.

International recognition for interior design

In 1951, Knoll Associates became Knoll International, with Florence’s success reaching far beyond the US borders. Even after the death of her husband in 1955, the company’s creations continued to grace salons around the world. Modernity, original composition and use of texture and colour distinguished Knoll furniture. Although she retired as company director in 1965, the designs of Florence Knoll and her collaborators are still owned by famous people and found in prominent museums of contemporary art, such as MOMA in New York. 

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