People + Places

Celebrating 100 Years of Florence Knoll

This year marks a century for Florence Knoll herself, and in celebration, Knoll is rolling out new designs inspired by the original Florence Knoll Lounge Collection. Capturing the essence of her iconic designs, Knoll is updating the collection to meet the needs of today’s modern home.

Celebrating 100 Years of Florence Knoll |YLiving
Florence Knoll via the Knoll Archive.

Florence Knoll is considered to be a female pioneer of modern design. Modest and humble, when asked if she considered herself a furniture designer, her answer was this:

“I am not. I never really sat down and designed furniture. I designed the fill-in pieces that no one else was doing. I designed sofas because no one was designing sofas.” Today, Florence’s “meat and potatoes” pieces (the term she humbly use for own designs) now stand side-by-side with the works of Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Her once filler pieces stand as some of the most influential and iconic modern furniture designs ever produced.

Celebrating 100 Years of Florence Knoll |YLiving
Florence Knoll Lounge Collection, via the Knoll Archive

Starting in the Knoll Planning Unit, it was apparent to Knoll that the design legacy for offices was less than impressive. With very little to work with, the dull olive green metal designs of post war American offices was to Florence, “so bad, it was easy to improve upon it.” But Florence did more than improve upon it. Coupled with her now-famous refusal to compromise on perfection, Florence put her natural eye for design to work. She was tasked with creating furniture that fit the architecture of commercial spaces. With no furniture available to meet the spacial needs, Florence did what she needed to do: design furniture to fit the space. By marrying furniture and architecture, she pioneered the idea of “total design.”

Celebrating 100 Years of Florence Knoll |YLiving
End Tables designed by Florence Knoll, via the Knoll Archive

Her practical solutions to commercial contracts upended conventional office furniture, replacing the tired pig legs with sleek metal frames and architectural figures, refreshing the corporate spirit from its dull one-size-fits-all mantra. Where problems of the modern office went unrecognized, Florence devised solutions. What she originally designed as solutions to commercial contracts were kept in the permanent line of Knoll products. Soon, the Knoll catalog that had once lacked the furniture to meet the needs of their clients spaces was now bursting with products designed by Florence Knoll.

Celebrating 100 Years of Florence Knoll |YLiving
Florence Knoll paste-up for Cowles Publication, via the Knoll Archive

Her designs remain an American interpretation of minimalism. Her vision for the new office was clean and uncluttered, featuring open-plan layouts that changed the way the corporate world worked. Her furniture matched this mantra, reflecting rationalist design theories. By using mixed materials of wood and metal, Florence channeled them into clean square designs.

It’s clear that Florence didn’t merely decorate a space, she created it. Alongside of introducing the modern notions of efficiency, space planning, and comprehensive design to office planning, she met the human longing for comfort, texture, and color in the corporate space. Her choice of furniture, the texture of the fabrics, and the vibrant primary color scheme not only became the face of Knoll, but addressed this very human desire that eventually bled from the commercial world and into the residential one.

Celebrating 100 Years of Florence Knoll |YLiving
Florence Knoll seating designs in the office of Cowles Publications, alongside an oval Saarinen coffee table, via the Knoll Archive

In 1954, the Lounge Collection made its debut. Florence’s innovative thinking gave way to creating the Lounge Chair, Settee, and Sofa with clean geometric lines, echoing the school of thought of form following function. She often felt that she designed furniture to fill in the gaps when no other suitable furniture was available. So, she left the sculptural showstoppers to people like Saarinen and Bertoia. Though her intent was never for the Lounge Collection to be standalone pieces, the clean lines of her designs began to make their way from the executive office and reception areas and into residential design. Comfortable in their own right, Florence had originally specified the classic collection for commercial use. But the collection’s refined aesthetic became popular in residential spaces as it continued to harmonize Knoll’s more sculptural pieces within the private home.

Celebrating 100 Years of Florence Knoll |YLiving
A Florence Knoll Lounge Sofa holds its own in a room alongside of sculptural Bertoia and Saarinen pieces.

In celebration of the Florence Knoll Lounge Collection, Knoll is presenting new products inspired by the Florence Knoll archive, but made for use in our homes. The Sofa, Settee, and Lounge Chair will all be receiving deeper cushions for added comfort, while a series of Dining Tables and a Mini Desk will reflect past designs.

Celebrating 100 Years of Florence Knoll |YLiving
The Florence Knoll Square Dining Table

Although these new products are designed to meet the needs of modern day comfort in the home, their structures still maintain the same spirit of minimal function and honest composition that Florence originally intended.

For More Inspiration:

Lizzy Harford

Lizzy Harford

Lizzy is a writer who is passionate about modern design and creating a comfortable space where relationships can grow. When she isn't writing, she's on the hunt for vintage mid-century modern pieces and sipping on a Mai Tai.

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