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Florence Knoll, American Furniture Icon
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Tasteful, thoughtful, and timeless; the same adjectives serve well to describe both Florence Knoll’s work and the woman herself. The American architect, designer, and entrepreneur lived to be 101 years old and was the first woman to receive the Gold Medal for Industrial Design from the American Institute of Architects. Her legacy lives on today in homes, offices, and museums across the World.
Born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1917, Florence showed early interest and aptitude for the arts. She would go on to be mentored by and associate with the very best creatives of the era. While studying at the Cranbrook Institute of Art, her work caught the attention of the program’s president, Eliel Saarinen. Florence developed a close relationship with the Saarinen family, even traveling to Finland with them in the summers. She would, famously, go on to collaborate with Eliel’s son Eero on a variety projects, including the iconic tulip chair.
Florence’s (absurdly impressive) design training continued with her 1940 move to Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, she worked as an apprentice for Bauhaus luminaries Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius. She ultimately completed her education in Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where she studied under modernist-master, Mies van der Rohe.
Well prepared for professional success at this point, Knoll moved to New York to formally begin her career as an architect. In 1943, she was hired by the Hans G. Knoll Furniture company to build an interior design business unit. She later become Knoll’s business partner, and in 1946, his wife. Her early work at Knoll, focused on interiors, would proved transformative. The Knoll look, a more approachable and “humanized” modernism, was embraced by corporate clients including CBS, Seagram, Look Magazine, and H. J. Heinz.
Florence brought a simple but powerful vision to the Knoll Company. First, she professed that “good design is good business.” Second, she believed that the World’s greatest architects had an important role to play in furniture design. Here, her past relationships proved fortuitous. Knoll would go on to collaborate and produce furniture with icons including Mies van der Rohe, Isamu Noguchi, Marcel Breuer, Pierre Jeanneret, and many more. Works designed by noted designers and Florence herself quickly became coveted pieces for modern homes and offices.
The company’s commercial success seemed unstoppable with Knoll showrooms opening up in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas and other American cities, as well as in Europe, Asia and South America. Then, tragedy struck, when Hans Knoll was killed in car accident in 1955. Grief-stricken, but undeterred, Florence took over as President of the company, ultimately doubling the size of the business and releasing some of the company’s most beloved offerings.
In her later years, Florence continued to design for select private clients but avoided interviews and the spotlight. In 2022, U.S. President George W. Bush presented her with the National Medal of Arts, the nations highest award for artistic excellence.
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13855 SW Bonnie Brae Ct, Beaverton, OR 97005 (Price Cut $100K)