Florence Knoll (Michigan 1917-)

“Good design is good business.” Florence Knoll Bassett(nee Schust), architect and designer influenced over 50 years of buildings' interiors. Shu, the nickname by which she is popularly known, is famous for her philosophy of "total design," and as the director of the Knoll Planning Unit, she revolutionized interior space planning. While a student at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Florence Knoll Bassett (née Schust) studied architecture, working under mentor Eero Saarinen. From there, she earned degrees at the Architectural Association in London and the Armour Institute (Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago). While in Chicago, she studied with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for what she would later call a very valuable year. She worked briefly in Boston for Walter Gropius, before moving on to New York to work for Wallace K. Harrison. While there, she met Hans Knoll who asked her to collaborate on a design for an office for the Secretary of War. More collaboration with Hans Knoll followed, and in 1946, she and Hans married and formed Knoll Associates, Inc. Her philosophy was to embrace everything about a space, its architecture, interior design, graphics, textiles and manufacturing. This was a substantial departure from the standard mid-century practice in space planning, but it caught on and continues to be the standard today. Florence Knoll also designed a small collection of pieces herself. She humbly referred to her own creations as “fill-in pieces that no one else wants to do.” She would speak of her own line of lounge seating as the equivalent of “meat and potatoes,” asserting, “I needed the piece of furniture for a job and it wasn’t there, so I designed it.” As with other Florence Knoll designs, the Lounge collection had a spare, minimalist profile that reflected the standards of objective perfectionism that marked modern design in the early 1960s. Knoll was herself an accomplished furniture designer but perhaps her greatest and most appreciated skill was her keen eye for talent. It was under her leadership that many of the modern masters created collections for Knoll. Iconic pieces like Eero Saarinen's Tulip chairs and pedestal tables, Isamu Noguchi's coffee table and Harry Bertoia's wire furniture were produced under her reign.