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Florence Knoll

American, born 1917

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As an architect, interior space planner, and furniture designer, Florence Knoll Bassett defined the look and market for modern design in corporate America in the 1950s and, in the process, made modern American design an international style. Her pioneering interiors profoundly influenced post-World War II design, and her reductive aesthetic of light, open spaces furnished with elegant woven fabrics, furniture grouped for informal conversation, and brightly colored wall panels made the company founded by her husband, Hans Knoll, one of the most influential design firms of the time.

Born Florence Schust in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1917, Florence Knoll Bassett studied architecture during the 1930s at Kingswood School and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and at the Architectural Association, London. In 1940-41 she attended the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Taught by Eliel Saarinen and Mies van der Rohe, and associated professionally in the early 1940s with the firms of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer in Cambridge, and Harrison & Abramovitz in New York, Bassett's training was international in outlook and interdisciplinary in approach.

In 1946, she married furniture manufacturer Hans Knoll (1914 - 1955) and the couple established Knoll Associates, Inc. Her notable planning projects for the firm included the interior design of the CBS, Seagrams, and Look magazine offices in New York City, as well as the Heinz company headquarters in Pittsburgh--which featured an open plan consisting of two freestanding walls that created space for an office, conference room, and utility case. The walls had interior sliding panels that could be closed for privacy.

After Knoll's death, Knoll Bassett served as president and continued as design director of the company until 1965, when she resigned to pursue a career as a freelance designer.

A recipient of the 2002 National Medal of Arts, Knoll Bassett has received four Museum of Modern Art Good Design Awards, the American Society of Interior Designers' Total Design Award, and the American Institute of Architects' Industrial Design Gold Medal Her work is represented in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Florence Knoll Bassett: Defining Modern, 2004

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