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Florence Knoll is 100 years old today! Her life is another beautiful fairy tale that goes through the history of design and of one of the most famous companies.

Florence was born on May 24th (just like my grandmother’s, happy birthday grandma!) 1917 in Michigan. Her story looks like a movie, she was orphaned at a young age, she grown up dreaming of studying architecture and she attended the best schools in the ’30s and’ 40s. She met at school the Saarinen family and they practically adopted her. During her studies she becomes friends with those who will be the greatest American designers: Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, Ray Kaiser (the future Mrs. Eames), Harry Bertoia, Isamu Noguchi, George Nakashima and others.

She worked and studied under Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius and then at the Illinois Institute of Technology under the one who most influenced her: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

In New York the design story became romantic: she met there Hans Knoll, a young German immigrant with a furniture company. Together, as a couple, they change and innovate the workplace design.



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Florence and Hans Knoll (back row, right) with the Saarinen family in 1949. Image copyright Cranbrook Archives, Saarinen Family Papers


Florence’s Knoll Planning Unit transformed the standard American workplace: she worked to create a space that made sense from the user’s standpoint, not to just decorate, but to design. Rational distribution of spaces, materials, colors and the perfect mix of “sculptural” furniture and side pieces, as she called “meat and potatoes”.

To create these sculptural pieces, she called her friends and with them they created some of most iconic pieces of Modern design: Eero Saarinen designed for her the Tulip serie, Harry Bertoia the Diamond Chair, Mies van der Rohe gave her his Barcelona armchair from 1929, Isamu Noguchi and George Nakashima created for Knoll projects combining Western and Eastern culture…

And what about the “potatoes”? She designed side furniture to connect all the elements. Perhaps only a woman would have been able to do that!



Florence Knoll with Eero Saarinen


Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen and the Tulip chair base

In Florence’s projects there were always plants, flowers, colors and works of art. To show her projects to clients she abandoned the traditional way and started creating scale models, colorful sketches and collages:florence-knoll-1


Sketch for a Knoll advertisement by Florence Knoll. Image from the Knoll Archive.


Sketch for a Knoll advertisement by Florence Knoll. Image from the Knoll Archive.


Collage for a Knoll advertisement by Florence Knoll. Image from the Knoll Archive.

In 1955 Hans Kn0ll suddenly died in a car crash and Florence became Knoll’s CEO. For 10 years she led the company to be a market and international leader. In 1965 she retired in Florida with her second husband and she remained a consultant for Knoll.


Florence Knoll in 1961. Photo Ray Fisher

She has known as the First Lady of Design… as a woman I’m very happy to sent my best wishes to her in this important day: 100 years, a century of design!
Happy Birthday Florence!



Photo Knoll International