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Knoll: 8 Decades, 9 Chairs

At the heart of Modernity is the tenet “form meets function.” Perhaps no one company embodies this idea more than Knoll. From a constellation of studios and designers under the iconic Knoll name, the designs produced and beloved for decades have secured their places in the annals of modern design history.

Founded in 1938, the company’s 80th anniversary is this year (a fact celebrated in their “Eight Decades of Design” installation at ICFF). Here, we have a look through eight decades of famous furniture from the incredible minds that lend Knoll its sterling reputation.

1940s – Saarinen Womb Chair

Florence Knoll just wanted a nice chair to curl up in. Eero Saarinen met her demand for a seat that was “like a basket full of pillows” with 1948’s Womb Chair, which quickly became a mid-century modern treasure. Saarinen’s success with organic forms initially took shape with his collaborations with Charles Eames involving molded plywood. But he began to consider newly available fiberglass as a material that could be ideal for his curvy, comfy designs. Saarinen and Knoll met a skeptical New Jersey boat builder who was working with fiberglass and, after some begging, managed to get him to join in the experiment. The world of design has their enthusiasm to thank for this iconic seat.

1950s – Diamond Lounge Chair with Seat Cushion

One of the earliest values at Knoll was that of freedom of experimentation. Hans and Florence Knoll encouraged the designers they collaborated with to explore, which often led to some major innovation. Sculptor Harry Bertoia arrived at his signature wire seating designs with an assignment to show the Knolls something interesting if he discovered it. Rather than exhaustively research seating or design, Bertoia just played with ideas of what he would like to feel as he sat in a chair. After plenty of tinkering, the Bertoia collection–including the Diamond Chair–was born.

1960s – 1966 Collection Contour Chaise

Richard Schultz began designing aluminum outdoor furniture in the early 1960s after Florence Knoll moved to Florida and requested some designs that could withstand the climate. Unlike traditional outdoor furniture–often heavy, stamped metal with floral motifs–Schultz’s design was elegant and immaculately detailed, right down to the hidden connectors that stretch the slings across the frames. Modern design aficionados recognized the collection as the new standard for modern outdoor living. And the 1966 Collection designs have retained their modern appeal for the last 50 years.

1970s – Spoleto Chair

Ufficio Tecnico is Knoll’s expert in-house team of technical engineers and designers. In 1971, they set out to create an even more spare and pared-down chair in the vein of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s iconic designs. Spoleto was designed to fit into small spaces, offering an elegant solution for urban living or otherwise close quarters. And its versatility is exemplified in a rainbow of colors of cowhide, which allows the minimalist design to complement any color scheme.

1980s – Toledo Stacking Chair

Born in the heart of Barcelona’s gothic quarter, Jorge Pensi’s Toledo Chair (1988) has become not only an icon of Spanish design, but an award-winning fixture in the Museum of Modern Art. Toledo is crafted from aluminum to stay cool even in warm climates, and may be stacked for easy storage. This practicality is belied by the simple, beautiful lines that cement the seat in the modern design canon.

1990s – Maya Lin Stones Seat with Optional Cushion

To celebrate Knoll’s 60th anniversary in 1998, architect-sculptor-designer Maya Lin brought a cross-cultural perspective to the line with her Stones stools and coffee table. Toeing the line between art and design is a hallmark of her aesthetic, as much as holding onto simplicity of form and engaging the observer with line and color. Lin created Stones with non-Western influences in mind, from Chinese porcelain pillows to pre-Colombian thrones, and a childlike wonder at discovering the curvature of the earth.

2000s – Chadwick Chair

Considering Knoll’s place in the evolution of the modern workplace, it only makes sense that they would help lead the way in ergonomic seating. One of the best examples of this is the Chadwick Chair, created by Don Chadwick in 2005. The design is understated, easy to use and supportive; in other words, the ideal representative of modern work seating. One version with basic controls and another with tilt stop control are available for just the right amount of adjustability.

2010s – Newson Chair

The Newson Chair was designed just this year by Marc Newson, also in honor of van der Rohe’s cantilevered designs. Its seat cantilevers inward, an element made possible by the chair’s aluminum frame–lightweight and flexible, yet strong. The same can be said of the breathable mesh seat and back panels. All-in-all, this deceptively simple chair shows just how far Knoll has come while still staying true to time-tested engineering tenets.

Honorable Mention – Barcelona® Chair

Finally, this chair may have come long before Knoll was founded, but it still holds a special place in the company’s history. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s best recognized maxim, “less is more,” produced one of the best recognized objects of the 20th century: the Barcelona Chair. Van der Rohe was an up-and-comer in Modernist circles when he designed the chair to represent Germany in the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona. He brought his foundation in structure and materials to the project, along with (reportedly) a nod to ancient Roman campaign seats to create the design that has been in continuous and exclusive production by Knoll since 1953.

Kelsey Kittle

Kelsey Kittle

When she’s not polishing up promotions as a Web Content Specialist, Kelsey is practicing how to properly pronounce Danish, if only to be able to say “home is where the ‘hygge’ is.” Aside from Scandinavian design, she spends a lot of time thinking about organic gardening, mini farms, honey bees and England.

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