People + Places

Florence Knoll: Happy 100th Birthday To A Design Icon

Put on your party hats, design enthusiasts, because today is Florence Knoll‘s 100th birthday.

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The design powerhouse was born Florence Shust on May 24, 1917. (Growing up, she earned the affectionate—and adorable—nickname of “Shu” by her friends and family.) She developed a love of architecture so deep that she enrolled in the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where she studied under Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. With his recommendation, she studied under–and worked with–some of the greatest architects of the 20th century.

She met Hans Knoll after moving to New York, and together they grew one of the most influential design companies in the world. (Oh, yeah, and they married in 1946.) Knoll’s insight and innovation earned her enough respect to receive accolades from Eero Saarinen (Eliel’s son), Harry Bertoia and Mies van der Rohe.

Much can be said about Knoll, but here are four of the many lasting contributions she’s made to the design world.

Simplicity Breeds Timelessness

Florence Knoll 78-Inch Dining Table by Florence Knoll, for Knoll

The more complex a piece of architecture, the more period specific it becomes. Is this a hard and fast rule? No. Nothing is. There are always exceptions. But generally speaking, a simple design will hold its appeal for a lot longer. Take the Florence Knoll 78-Inch Dining Table, for example. The reserved, angular form allows this piece to look just as good in a modern setting as it did in the 1960s when Knoll first designed it. It has a simple frame with a beautiful, natural-looking marble top. No bells, no whistles. Simple. Straightforward. Timeless.

Total Design

Florence Knoll Lounge Sofa and Lounge Chair by Florence Knoll, from Knoll

Knoll held the belief that furniture should complement the architectural space it inhabits, not compete with it. She called this her “total design” philosophy. The idea is to embrace everything about the area you’re working in: the architecture, the interior design, the graphics, the textiles. All should work in harmony. At the time, this was a revolutionary approach to space planning, but it has become the standard today. Her Lounge series–which includes a chair, sofa, bench, and settee–possesses clear, geometric profiles that perfectly encapsulate the tenets of this design approach.


Florence Knoll Four Cabinet Credenza by Florence Knoll, from Knoll

Knoll’s background in architecture allowed her to introduce notions of efficiency and space planning. Might seem like a pretty obvious concept these days, but the case could be made that Knoll is the reason we find it so obvious. She designed things practically. She saw a need, and she created something that met that need. For example, she needed a place to store files that had been cluttering her desk drawers. So, in typical fashion, she invented the Florence Knoll Credenza.

“I did it because I needed a piece of furniture for a job and it wasn’t there,” Knoll says. “So I designed it.”

The Barcelona Chair

Barcelona Chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, from Knoll

A small contribution, perhaps, but an ubiquitous one. While she may not have designed this chair, she definitely popularized it. Crafted by her old mentor, Mies van der Rohe, the Barcelona Chair was originally designed to receive the Spanish king and queen during their visit to his German Pavilion at the Barcelona Exposition in 1929. Knoll convinced him to let her bring the chair to her company, where she showcased it all around the world. Now there are Barcelona Chairs all over chic corporate offices and boutique waiting areas. Are you reading this in a hotel lobby? Then you might be sitting in one, and you have Knoll to thank.

Knoll’s influence continues to be felt in every corner of the design community, and we wish her a happy centennial.

Rhyen Clevenger

Rhyen Clevenger

Rhyen Clevenger is a site merchandiser at YBath. While he is new to the bath team, it does not hinder his enthusiasm for decorative plumbing. On the weekends he enjoys curling up with his fiancé and watching some good science fiction.

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