Remembering Florence Knoll Bassett

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THE VISIONARY DESIGNER FLORENCE Knoll Bassett, who transformed the look of the modern workplace with her keen eye for efficient, handsome design, passed away this past January at 101. A giant of postwar modernism and an out-of-the-box thinker, Knoll pioneered a new aesthetic, favoring clean, functional forms and open office plans.

Born and raised in Michigan, Knoll showed an interest in architecture at a young age. While a student at the Kingswood School for Girls, a finishing school near the Cranbrook Academy of Art, she met Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and became a good friend of the family. Mentored by Saarinen, Knoll went on to study with Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Florence Knoll with the Model 108 coffee table by Alexander Girard, designed in 1945, and her dog Cartree. COURTESY OF KNOLL, INC.

In the early 1940s, after moving to New York, she met and married her business partner, Hans Knoll, with whom she formed Knoll Associates and built one of the most successful and influential design companies in the world. As the firm’s creative force and founder of the Planning Unit, she designed projects for some of the largest corporations in America, putting into action her “total design” approach for companies like CBS, IBM, and H. J. Heinz. Beyond creating her own furnishings, she also had a knack for recognizing talent, and tapped the top designers of the day to collaborate with Knoll, including Breuer, Harry Bertoia, and Eero Saarinen.

An innovator and problem solver at heart, Florence Knoll broadened the landscape of American design with her no-nonsense, straightforward ethos. In an industry dominated by men, she forged her own path, and, by doing so, paved the way for many women designers. She will be missed, but her talents will be remembered and celebrated through every elegant, functional design she gave us.