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Knoll: Celebrating 75 Years
This week we focus on Knoll as they celebrate 75 years of modern design.
Last Thursday we were invited to the Knoll flagship store in London’s trendy Clerkenwell for an exclusive tour and workshop, in celebration of the company’s 75 birthday. We were treated to a fascinating tour of their impressive back catalogue, and were entertained along the way with anecdotes and stories from days gone by. We want to share a few snippets of our visit with you today, as well as documenting the company’s fascinating history.
To begin our trip, we were shown the impressive Knoll timeline – a wall-mounted timeline of Knoll furniture designs, which serves as a visual reminder of the company’s importance in design history. This timeline became our visual overview of the company as we delved into its intricate past.
The Knoll brand begins with one man, Hans Knoll – a German businessman and design enthusiast. After falling out of love with Europe, Hans moved to the US in 1937 with the aim of establishing his own design practice. He was heavily inspired by his European contemporaries who, at the time, were pushing the boundaries in furniture design with the Bauhaus movement. After only one year in the US, Hans Knoll set up his own factory in New York and began producing his own pieces. This was a mere single story room on East 72nd Street which he bravely named ‘Factory No. 1’.
A little later Hans Knoll met and hired a young designer named Florence Schust – a well-educated and well-connected designer from Michigan. She was an orphan but had a large inheritance and made excellent connections during her time at both the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Armour Institute.
In 1946, Florence Schust and Hans Knoll married and formed Knoll Associates. From the beginning, Florence played a critical role in the development and direction of the company and it was her idea to take a Bauhaus approach to furniture design. Together, Hans and Florence Knoll searched for and nurtured talented designers and brought them on board at Knoll.
The duo brought in architects Eero Saarinen and Franco Albini, and worked with artists such as Harry Bertoia and Jens Risom to develop a collection of pieces that are now widely recognised as classic designs. Later, Knoll acquired the exclusive rights to the Barcelona, MR and Brno collections by Mies van der Rohe as well as the Wassily Chair by Breuer, and began manufacturing these pieces to the exacting specifications of the original designs. This was a huge coup for Knoll who prided themselves on finding, funding and distributing cutting edge, innovative designs.
Interestingly, Harry Bertoia’s now-famous Asymmetric Chaise was actually originally only produced in a batch of one. It was made as a wedding gift for his daughter and was not intended for large-scale production. However, shortly afterwards Knoll borrowed the item and noted the exact measurements so that it could be brought back into production. To this day, the same care that was taken over the first one, is replicated in each and every one produced. Every join in the Asymmetric Chaise is hand-welded – something that distinguishes it immediately from the fakes.
In this time Florence was also designing her own pieces for Knoll, which she modestly labelled ‘fill-in’ furniture. Though this is a huge understatement of her talent, what she meant was that the architects and artists she had hired, in her view, created Knoll’s ‘star’ pieces, and Florence created furniture that would complement these designs – therefore curating a cohesive collection that would work well as a whole.
Her pieces have remained important items in the design sector and are still manufactured in their thousands to this day. We love the Credenza 190,Florence Three Seater Sofa and Florence Low Tables – all of which were proudly on display at the Knoll Clerkenwell showroom.
Knoll’s most recent collection is a range of ergonomically designed soft furnishings from British duo BarberOsgerby. Interestingly, these pieces have been designed with the upmost attention to comfort, with our modern-day lifestyles in mind. The backrests can be sat on, the arms can be comfortably leaned upon and the sizes are spacious allowing for modern-day sitting positions, showing that the Knoll brand remains ahead of its game, 75 years after its inception.
As well as a history of working with cutting-edge designers, Knoll also have a reputation for working with only the most talented professionals for all stages of production. For example, the pattern of the marble is selected by eye by a single employee in Italy who uses a template to hand-select the designs. Again, this shows Knoll’s commitment to exceptional quality and is something that cannot be replicated.
As a final note we couldn't resist sharing this fantastic picture wall full of Knoll vintage advertising. Doesn't it look fab?!
We had a fantastic time visiting the Knoll flagship store and learning about the company’s fascinating history. If you’re in the area, we highly recommend a visit!