In January of this year the design world lost one of their few living geniuses from the modernist period. A leading voice and craftswoman in the American furniture world, Florence Knoll just passed away at 101 years old.

Born Florence Marguerite Schust in Saginaw, Michigan, she is considered responsible for popularizing and improving most concepts in American modernist design.

We hope she lived a long and fulfilling life, and we will keep trying our best to create quality furniture replicas inspired by her pivotal legacy in furniture, interior, and even office design. News of her passing were announced by a spokesperson in the Knoll company.

The importance of Florence Knoll for the mid-century modern world

Knoll was regarded by many as the woman behind the essence of American mid-century furniture. She translated her Scandinavian (and otherwise European) design leanings to the American home, creating functional pieces with appealing, minimal aesthetic.

She started at the famous Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1934, two years after the Bauhaus had been forced to close, and began making furniture formally in 1936. She collaborated with Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe.

Her work with the Knoll company would also help some of these designers, and many others that I’ve failed to mention, to produce and market their furniture designs. She also worked with, and inspired designers like Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, and Walter Gropius.

Particularly, she was most influenced by the Saarinen’s (she also met Eero’s father Eliel), and Mies van der Rohe. Conceptually, she always kept a distinctive style. Her take on the club chair and sofa became very ubiquitous during the 60s and 70s, creating a whole new way of manufacturing furniture.

Her furniture and legacy

Like other successful American designers, her work was even copied repeatedly, but her essence was never properly captured. However, those padded and sleek sofas still remain a staple in many modernist homes and contemporary offices.

The Knoll company still manufactures them, and they currently sell for upwards of $4,000. An original Knoll piece from that period might cost tens of thousands.

Some designers that had Knoll to thank for some of their fame, as well as American distribution and outreach regarding their work, were Harry Bertoia and Isamu Noguchi. The Womb chair from Eero Saarinen might also be her brainchild, though inadvertently.

She told Saarinen that she wanted a chair that was “like a basket of pillows” where she could really “curl up” in. These words inspired him to come up with the idea for the Womb chair, which she later helped market and popularize.

It seems that Florence Knoll had an impact of every aspect of American modernist design. Knoll, currently, is also the certified American manufacturer for the Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, also thanks to her. That chair (and its surrounding collection) will turn 90 years old next April.

Florence Knoll in office furniture

Aside from her chairs and sofas, like we mentioned, Florence Knoll also revolutionized the office world with both furniture and interior design. She enjoyed interviewing workers, and learning about the human aspects of the workplace. She might also be responsible for sparking the first modern concerns about employee wellness in America, as well as ergonomic office furniture.

Most of her documents are now preserved by the Archives of American Art, at the Smithsonian Institution, including her detailed drawings, sketches, and notes.

She received the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush in 2003, and was the first woman to receive the Gold Medal for Industrial Design from the American Institute of Architects in 1961. Some of her pieces now rest at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum (both New York), and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Florence Knoll furniture in Manhattan Home Design

We invite you to check out our Designer of the Week series to learn more about Florence Knoll, that’s because her legacy extends, as we’ve said before, to much more than just the furniture she produced.

You can find snippets of her design work in many other designers and their own work. If you read about Eero Saarinen, the Eameses, Harry Bertoia, chances are the Knoll name is going to pop up at some point.

At Manhattan Home Design, you’ll find the closest rendition of replicas related to her work in the Button collection of sofas, loveseats and ottomans. These items are directly inspired by the Knoll Collection which is still in production.

They are extremely sleek and modern, very comfortably padded, and incredibly priced. You can get any of these items for less than a fifth of what you would pay for the original, and the quality remains the same because of our manufacturing practices.