People + Places

How Florence Knoll Revolutionized How People Work

Post-World War II brought on massive change for the U.S., especially when it came to design. With the economy booming, America began to take on a new shape within the home and the office. The latter was due largely to the contributions of one woman. Opulent offices became a thing of the past after Florence Knoll stepped in to change the modern workspace.

Florence Knoll. Courtesy of Knoll, Inc., image via

The Knoll Planning Unit

Prior to the war, corporate office design was much different compared to what it would soon become. Offices were generally closed off and furnished with heavy carved wood desks that were typically arranged diagonally in a room.

To Florence Knoll, such a design scheme lacked intuitiveness and merely continued outdated traditions. Because of her architectural background, modernist principles of form following function and a focus on “total design” (architecture, furniture, interior design, etc., all conceived together), Knoll designed from a straightforward, resourceful and efficient point of view. Her intention was to create spaces that would answer the needs of the workers and the workspace.

Knoll Planning Unit. Image via

After marrying Hans Knoll and entering into a business partnership with him, Florence Knoll created the Planning Unit in 1946. The department was an extension of the established Knoll furniture company, and offered personalized interior design services through a team of architects and designers. Comprised of architects like Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, Pierre Jean­neret and Hans Bellman, the department quickly became a force to be reckoned with under Knoll’s leadership.

Knoll client office. Image via

Their main focus? The workplace. The team helped companies like IBM, GM and CBS revitalize their work environments by conducting heavy research into working behaviors, the management hierarchy and how the overall flow of each office space could be improved upon.

Corporate Office Space

Soon enough, other corporate office spaces took note of the improved efficiency and productivity that such redesign created. So they, too, began taking on a different look. It was one defined by open spatial planning and lightweight furniture with intuitive functionality and streamlined modern design.

Heavily carved furniture was replaced with simple, visually light pieces that worked in conjunction with the room and the furniture that surrounded it. Offices were rearranged from diagonal placements to four-square modular layouts that encouraged collaboration and improved the overall flow throughout an office space. Closed-off storage units were placed behind the desk for ease of access and visual flow, and to provide the storage that open-based desks and other work surfaces lacked.

Florence Knoll 78-Inch Oval Table Desk, Saarinen Executive Chair with Wood Leg and Life High Performance Chair in AutoStrada® Office System, from Knoll. Image via

Knoll and her team demonstrated the importance of having a work environment that encourages productivity. And her office furniture designs and space planning have proved timeless, as these same forward-thinking modernist design philosophies are still employed within corporate workspaces to this day. Modern furniture designers and interior designers continue to adhere to the same principles when answering efficiency needs.

Home Office Space

Albini Desk, Bertoia Molded Shell Side Chair and Platner Stool from Knoll. Image via

The same principles apply to home offices. In residential spaces, modern home offices have adapted to the same layout, in order to create a modern workspace that’s intuitive and sensitive to typical working behaviors. Everyday, design savvy people easily achieve such aspirational office design by going simple and following arrangements similar to those used in corporate office spaces.

It all just makes sense, doesn’t it? By following the same modernist principles Knoll used, it’s easy to create a clean and modern office furniture arrangement. Ready to take your office to the next level–efficiency and style-wise? Then be sure to check out the extensive selection of office chairs, desks, storage solutions and more modern workspace designs available from Knoll.

Yvette C.

Yvette C.

Yvette is a Site Merchandiser for YLiving. Her deep appreciation for design stems from a background in art history and interior design. During her off hours, she enjoys ogling cute animals, reading, catching up on TV series, following blogs, and enjoying the quirks of California's Bay Area.

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