Just weeks ago, I received a few of the cool new fabrics from Knoll and it got me thinking about their design legacy. The fabric that served as the culprit for my trip down my memory lane was “Mod Plaid” – a heavy upholstery with a bold rectilinear pattern in bright colors balanced by warm or cool neutrals – depending on the colorway. Even the description of the fabric reminds me of the overriding idea of what Knoll could be thought to stand for: a community ‘design house’ that is dedicated to the unwavering exploration of modern design through its inventory of furniture, fabrics and selected lighting from a variety of talented designers dating all the way back to the early 1950’s and continuing today.
I accidentally discovered Knoll by searching for a showroom to see and sit in the Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer (1925). I was intrigued by the chairs minimal, skeletal frame and compositionally placed leather straps as well as the “story” behind the chairs origin. I can not remember if I read this somewhere or if a professor told me, but the story was that Marcel Breuer was interested in using tubular steel as a frame for furniture – fascinated by the minimal frame of a bicycle. Once a chair frame began to form he discovered he needed an actual ‘seat’, so he used straps of leather as the functional parts of the chair. Unsure of how his early prototype looked he sought the opinion of a trusted friend and college, Wassily Kandinsky (a college at the Bauhaus). Kandinsly loved the conceptual design and the direction of the chair and voila ~ the Wasily Chair was born.
I am inspired by Florence Knoll’s career because of her status as architect, interior designer and business woman. She was innately interested in multiple disciplines and how they could benefit (not stay separate) from each other. Her background includes studying architecture at Cranbrook Academy of Art and quickly becoming a protégée of Eero Saarinen. Early in her design career, she worked for Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer and in 1946 Florence married Hans Knoll and together they formed Knoll Associates. “An exceptional architect in her own right”, Florence Knoll is known for pioneering interior space planning with the belief that “total design” includes the rigorous combination of architecture, manufacturing, interior design, textiles, graphics, advertising and presentation. The simultaneous thinking of all of these “disciplines” in the 1950’s was quite a departure from the norm.
Another thing I love about the Knoll (legacy and showroom) is that within one showroom, hundreds of designers creations can be found – from Walter Gropius to Maya Lin – spanning a shared history of good, modern design. Below are a few of my favorite pieces from Knoll: KnollTextiles, KnollStudio and KnollHome…