On May 24, 2017, Florence Knoll Bassett— known throughout her life by her friends as ” Shu “—turned 100 years old.
About Florence Knoll
Born on May 24, 1917, Florence Marguerite Schust’s ( aka Shu ) rise to the top of the design world began in tragedy when she was orphaned at age 12. Fortunately, her guardian facilitated her enrollment at the Kingswood School for Girls in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. As Florence Knoll developed a keen interest in architecture, she caught the attention of Eliel Saarinen, architect of the Kingswood School for Girls. Florence went on to become lifelong friends with Eliel’s son, Eero Saarinen, and would later commission him to design modern furniture for Knoll.
Florence went on to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art followed by a brief stint at the Architectural Association in London, which was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. Back in the United States, Florence Knoll finished her studies at what is now the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. During these years, she worked under some of the greatest 20th century architects including Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Having met Hans Knoll in 1941, Florence Knoll’s role in his young furniture company escalated rapidly, as she became responsible for aesthetic development in addition to the design of office interiors. The pair married in 1946, renaming the company to Knoll Associates.
Florence Knoll set the standard for modern corporate interiors of post-war America with the founding of the Knoll Planning Unit in 1946. She introduced ideas of efficiency, space, planning, and comprehensive design to office planning. Florence ardently maintained that she did not decorate space – she created it.
Florence Knoll’s capabilities were not limited to the highly-regarded Planning Unit. She designed some of Knoll’s most iconic pieces of furniture. Responding to direct needs encountered while working on projects and finding the market lacking, Florence Knoll designed seating, tables, and case goods.
The discipline of her practice and the integrity of her ideas have been lifelong attributes. In 2002, Florence Knoll was awarded the National Medal of the Arts, the highest honor for achievement in the field presented annually by the President of the United States.