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The 1920s


This year Knoll measures 75, but the company’s roots extend well into the creative and artistic fervor of the early 20th Century, at home and abroad. Explore this timeline to discover Knoll and its place in modern design history.

To set the scene: the Deutscher Werkbund, formed in 1907, was born out of the confusion and concern regarding the place of the artist in the second half of the 19th Century. The Bauhaus came soon after. Meanwhile, Hans Knoll, born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1914, is the second son of Walter Knoll, a successful second-generation furniture manufacturer. His grandfather, Wilhelm Knoll, founded the family business in 1865 and built a reputation for high-quality furniture. Walter and his brother, Wilhelm II, who followed the Werkbund movement closely, chose to redirect the business and create furniture for new modernist interiors. Hans would soon follow. Across the Atlantic, Florence Margaret Schust is born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1917.






The 1930s


Amid escalating unrest in Europe, a new era of design is born in and exported to the United States. Just before the Bauhaus closes, The Cranbrook Academy of Art is established in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and inspired experimentation continues there and elsewhere throughout the US. The decade ends with the foundation of Knoll in its earliest iteration – The Hans G. Knoll Furniture Company – a furniture exporter established in a small space on East 72nd Street.

Above: Harry Bertoia, future Knoll Collaborator, as instructor of the Academy of Art Metals Department. 1939. Cranbrook Academy Archives. 4879-9. Photograph: Richard G. Askew







The 1940s


During Knoll’s first decade, the company grew quickly, changing in its early years from an importer to a manufacturer, and by the decade’s end, evolving from a purveyor of objects to an influential interiors style reference. Florence and Hans Knoll brought in the best creative minds to their cause and their company, and they redefined the modern office, a remarkable achievement in any era—and all the more noteworthy when viewed against the backdrop of a world war and its aftermath. ©Brian Lutz







The 1950s


In the 1950s Knoll emerged as a factor in the postwar proliferation of industry and technology. The Knoll Planning Unit prospered under Florence Knoll’s direction, expanding its customer base and strengthening its imprint on the emerging discipline of interior design; the collection of Knoll furniture designs continued to grow, with contributions from the brightest young product designers, both American and European; Knoll production was augmented by a talented group of industrial designers, who were part of the earliest product development group at the East Greenville factory. Sadly, the decade was marred by the tragic death of Hans Knoll. By the end of the decade Florence Knoll had sold the company. ©Brian Lutz







The 1960s


The 1960s was a decade of transition for Knoll. Florence Knoll Bassett completed her last Planning Unit project for Frank Stanton at Eero Saarinen’s CBS headquarters building. Bobby Cadwallader and the new management at Knoll revitalized product development, while the company expanded its product range with the acquisition of the Italian company Gavina SpA, beginning a program of extensive import activity. Production capacity was expanded with a new factory, and product development was directed toward a range that would be more suitable for the greater volumes required in the contract market. ©Brian Lutz







The 1970s


Knoll’s acquisition of Gavina SpA in 1968 was the centerpiece of the trend toward importing and commissioning European designs that continued through the first half of the decade. The panel-systems era arrived at Knoll with the launch of the Stephens System and grew with the introduction of the Zapf System. In 1977 Marshall Cogan and Stephen Swid bought Knoll and began a program of revitalization of the company’s design heritage, targeting the general office market. ©Brian Lutz







The 1980s


In the 1980s Knoll was transformed by sweeping programs of change implemented by Marshall Cogan and Stephen Swid, the company’s new owners. Associations with a new generation of architects and designers resulted in a fresh face for the company and its products. Knoll’s market position was effectively re-established in the general office sector with new systems and seating. The company’s product scope was increased with a renewed program of textile developments, as well as the acquisition of Spinneybeck Leather. ©Brian Lutz







The 1990s


In the 1990s the Knoll Group was formed when the Westinghouse Electric Corporation acquired Knoll along with Reff and Shaw-Walker. After a management buyout, Knoll expanded its market share with strong new office products. KnollStudio, dedicated to the classic collections and fine design products, emphacized Knoll’s design legacy. KnollTextiles, under the direction of Suzanne Tick, established itself as a recognized brand for leading style and innovation. In the 1990s Knoll earned its strongest market position to date. ©Brian Lutz







The 2000s


Knoll continued to strengthen its market position as it entered the 21st century with an aggressive program to engage the full market spectrum of customers. Budget-conscious buyers could access the Knoll look with new systems and seating. The Knoll legacy of modernist product expertise was well-served by the reintroduction of mid-20th-century furniture designs and archival textiles. Knoll Luxe was launched as a market changing textile brand, and Generation returned Knoll office seating to prominence in the industry. ©Brian Lutz







The 2010s


Knoll continues to steer itself toward good, innovative design, seeding creative partnerships with Antenna, Marc Krusin, Rem Koolhaas, and David Adjaye among others. Its Generation family grows and espouse the company’s dedication to efficiency, ergonomics, and comfort. Knoll’s focus on quality, dedication to the environment, and its stewardship of good design yield a prestigious Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award.










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