5 Knoll Designers Everyone Should Know
Furniture & Lighting
Our Knoll Classics Sale, which offers a 15% reduction (along with complimentary delivery) on some of the most famous furniture designs of the Mid Century era, is as good an occasion as any for revisiting the visionaries behind these objects of desire. Having distinguished themselves with unbridled imaginations and singular creative drive, these Knoll luminaries have, over the course of half a century, transitioned from revered design stars to broader cultural figures—and top our list of names that even those with a cursory interest in design ought to know.
“The urge for good design is the same as the urge to go on living.”
Italian born artist Harry Bertoia may never have considered furniture design had he not entered the cauldron of creativity that was Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1937. Upon being awarded a scholarship to study painting and drawing at Cranbrook, Bertoia’s serendipitous meeting with fellow Cranbrook residents Charles Eames, Florence Knoll and Eliel Saarinen helped direct his focus towards three-dimensional work.
After establishing a metal workshop at Cranbrook, where he taught, among other things, jewelry design (he made Charles and Ray Eames’ wedding rings), Bertoia’s instinct for experimentation and innovation was crucial (if officially un-credited) in the evolution of the famous Eames plywood chair, which may never have seen mass production were it not for Bertoia’s penchant for innovative problem solving.
Encouraged by Florence and Hans Knoll to continue his explorations with metal, Bertoia emerged with the remarkable ‘wire’ furniture collection, an ethereally beautiful, inspired melding of sculpture and design, fitting for a man long accustomed to visual expression via the built form. Introduced in 1952, Knoll’s Bertoia collection, in continuous production for more than half a century, remains both a technological and visual benchmark of 20th Century design—but just a single data point in a rich artistic life defined by more than 50,000 created works.
“I needed a piece of furniture, it was not there, so I designed it.”
An architect by training, but an esthete by instinct, Florence Knoll’s place within the milieu of American industrial design is unparalleled. In a field dominated by men, Florence Knoll set herself apart with an innate feeling for the applied arts—and by proposing a holistic esthetic in which architecture, furniture, textiles, graphics, and interior decoration worked in visual harmony. This ‘total design’ concept, unprecedented in the 1950’s, established a standard for space planning that resonates through today.
In a career and life that crossed paths with exalted names in architecture and design—she studied under Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen, and worked for both Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer—Florence Knoll’s founding of Knoll Associates (in 1948) with her husband Hans Knoll, remains a benchmark moment in the evolution of modern furniture design, owing to her visionary idea of commissioning designs from some of world’s most famous architects, including Saarinen, Mies, and Harry Bertoia.
A brilliant designer herself, Florence Knoll’s furniture, defined by their elegant forms and exquisite visual clarity, remain icons of the modern world, and helped establish a new standard for the office environment. Florence Knoll was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2002.
“A classic is something that you look at often and always accept it as it is. You can see no way of improving it.”
A Yale-educated architect and accomplished interior designer, Warren Platner will be remembered, above all, for a suite of furniture that yielded some of the most recognizable symbols of 1960’s Modernism. Platner’s architectural career began with stints in the offices of celebrated figures, including Eero Saarinen, Kevin Roche, and I.M. Pei, and culminated in the Rome Prize for architecture—which recognizes the most promising American talent in a range of creative fields—awarded to Platner in 1955.
In the 1960’s, Platner, who believed that architecture was as much about interior design as exterior form, began to distinguish himself in the arena of interiors, most notably, creating the impossibly glamorous, exceedingly elegant interiors for Windows on the World, the legendary sky-high restaurant atop the World Trade Center. Still, it’s the Platner Collection, a suite of seating and tables noted for their sculptural ribbed steel profiles, and introduced by Knoll in 1966, with which Warren Platner is most closely linked.
Harboring a fondness for metals, Platner composed a distinctive base for the collection’s tables and upholstered seating, comprised of slender, nickel-plated steel rods, a gleaming, instantly iconic visual device that seemed tailor-made for the exuberant 60’s—but timeless enough to warrant continuous production well into this 21st Century.
“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context — a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
Universally acknowledged as a master of 20th Century architecture, Eero Saarinen’s prodigious accomplishments must be considered monumental in light of a life cut short at just 51. The Finnish born Saarinen, created dramatic built works—the TWA Terminal at JFK airport in New York; Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC; and the St. Louis Arch—that reflected Neo-Futurism’s embrace of new technology and its potential for creating a more engaging world. Saarinen’s furniture designs—like his elegant pedestal-based Tulip collection, and the sculptural Womb Chair—pieces created for Knoll, are ubiquitous symbols of Mid-Century industrial design, arguably more famous than his buildings, and no less revolutionary.
The son of the revered Finnish architect and urban planner Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen studied architecture in Paris and at Yale, but a teaching position at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield, Michigan, led to a pair of legendary collaborations. Together with Charles Eames, whose interest in new technologies rivaled his own, Saarinen’s experiments with molded plywood resulted in a first-place award for the duo in the Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition held by the Museum of Modern Art in 1940; while his relationships with Cranbrook associates, Hans and Florence Knoll, began a storied partnership that lasted until his death.
“With outdoor furniture there is more freedom to be playful…”
For Mid Century design aficionados, classic outdoor furniture begins and and ends with Richard Schultz—and its easy to see why. Until 1966, when Schultz designed a suite of aluminum furniture for Knoll, outdoor furniture had been relegated to the sidelines, doomed to be bit players in a drama where indoor designs were the full-fledged superstars. But Schultz, asked by Florence Knoll to design furniture that remained impervious to the salt air of her Florida seaside home, responded with a suite of outdoor furniture so refined and elegant, outdoor industrial design suddenly had a sophisticated new benchmark.
A midwesterner who studied mechanical engineering and design, Schultz was hired by Knoll, Inc. soon after graduation to assist Harry Bertoia in the development and production of the indoor/outdoor Bertoia Wire Collection. While at Knoll, his own initial foray into furniture design yielded an award-winning Mid-Century classic: the whimsical Petal Table, an outdoor model introduced by Knoll in 1960. When the Museum of Modern Art selected for its permanent collection Schultz’s 715 Chaise Lounge, a 1961 design created to complement Bertoia’s Wire Collection, Richard Schultz’s reputation as an outdoor furniture specialist was cemented. His ageless Petal and 1966 Collections, representing seminal moments in furniture design, continue to remind us just why.
Images via Knoll