Early Years and Training
Florence Knoll (née Florence Schust) was born in 1917 in Saginaw, Michigan. At the age of 12, she was orphaned. A foster guardian enrolled her in Cranbrook’s Kingswood Boarding School for Girls, adjacent to the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Eliel Saarinen was President of the school at the time and noticed her interest in architecture. He and his wife, Loja, a textile designer, took young Florence under their wing, and she became lifelong friends with their son, Eero Saarinen.
Knoll went on to study architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where her classmates included Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, and Harry Bertoia; all went on to create successful furniture designs, often in collaboration with one another. She later studied under German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and worked in Boston with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, influential Bauhaus teacher and founder.
‘Total Design’ at Knoll
After moving to New York, Florence met her husband, Hans Knoll, who was establishing his namesake furniture company. When she joined the company in 1943, Knoll was already a highly skilled designer and architect in her own right, producing designs by Eero Saarinen and Mies as well as many of her own designs.
At Knoll, she practiced a philosophy of ‘total design,’ considering every part of the environment, from a building’s structure to its furniture, colors, graphics, and textiles. She was especially influential in the field of corporate interior design, outfitting companies such as IBM, General Motors, and CBS. She founded the Knoll Planning Unit in 1945 and the KnollTextiles division in 1947, leading both and designing their showrooms.
Upon Hans Knoll’s death in 1955, Florence Knoll assumed the role of President, a position she held until her retirement in 1965. In 2004, at age 87, Knoll Bassett (she remarried in 1957) was invited to curate and design an exhibition of her work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Florence Knoll Bassett: Defining Modern.”
Today, Knoll’s work is represented in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. A recipient of the 2002 National Medal of Arts, Knoll Bassett has received four Museum of Modern Art Good Design Awards.Contact a Specialist View all Artists/Makers