Hans and Florence Knoll, 1946

Hans and Florence Knoll, 1946

Hans Knoll


Together with his wife Florence, a prominent interior designer, German-born immigrant Hans Knoll played a significant role in introducing modernist design into the market for high-end residential and office furniture through his firm Knoll Associates.


German-born immigrant Hans Knoll (born May 8, 1914, in Stuttgart, Germany; died October 8, 1955, in Matanzas, Cuba) was the founder of Knoll Associates, one of the leading American design furniture companies of the middle decades of the twentieth century.[1] Together with his wife Florence, a prominent interior designer, Hans Knoll played a significant role in introducing modernist design into the market for high-end residential and office furniture in the United States. The company’s interior design “planning unit” created a distinctive “Knoll look,” that came to shape the appearance of corporate offices in 1950s and 1960s America, so effectively portrayed in the critically acclaimed television series Mad Men. For their designs, the Knolls drew on a wide network of European émigré artists and designers, whose modernist appeal was marketed prominently by the company. Through the subsidiary Knoll International the company was also active globally in Europe and elsewhere during the postwar decades, setting the standard for modern American furniture design abroad.[2] While this article focuses on Hans Knoll as a first-generation immigrant entrepreneur, Knoll Associates was very much a partnership between him and Florence, herself the daughter of Swiss immigrants to the U.S. Both contributed through their particular talents and networks to the success of the company. The combination of Hans Knoll’s business savvy and European background in modernist furniture design with Florence Knoll’s design talents and wide-ranging connections among American design circles made the company a prime example of transatlantic cross-fertilization and exchange.

Family and Ethnic Background

Hans Knoll came from a family that had been in the furniture business for several generations. In 1865, his grandfather Wilhelm Knoll (1839–1907) had opened an outlet for leather-upholstered furniture in Stuttgart and soon began manufacturing as well. In 1890 the company became an official supplier to the Württemberg royal court. The family company—which by that time had expanded to include a second manufacturing site in Stammheim, a factory in Vienna, and also had a licensing agreement with a British manufacturer—was taken over by Wilhelm’s sons Wilhelm and Walter in 1907. Walter C. Knoll (1876–1971), who was Hans’ father, remained involved in the family venture for a while, but by 1925 he had founded his own company, Walter Knoll & Co. The new firm produced decidedly modern furniture that drew on design innovations by Werkbund and Bauhaus artists of the period who strove to create quality designs for mass production. These designers emphasized functional forms and experimented with new materials and production forms, such as bent wood and tubular steel designs. Walter Knoll & Co.’s successful “Prodomo” system, for example, was introduced in 1929 and featured modernist furniture based on steel tubes.[3]

Hans Knoll was born in 1914 in Stuttgart to Walter and his wife Maia (née Vollmoeller). He learned the furniture trade as an apprentice in the family business, but as a youth also spent time in Switzerland and in Great Britain as part of his practical education. While his brother Robert was in the United States during the early 1930s, Hans worked with Jantzen Knitting Mills in Brentford, England (from 1933 to 1935) as well as for Plan Ltd. (1935 to 1938), companies with business ties to his father’s firm.[4] Plan Ltd. provided Knoll with his first exposure to a company that exclusively focused on modern designer furniture. Specializing in metal-tube designs, it was headed by Serge Chermayeff, a Russian émigré who would later also move to the United States and become the second director of the Chicago Institute of Design, also known as the New Bauhaus.[5] When Plan Ltd. ran into financial trouble in 1938, Hans Knoll briefly returned to Germany only to set out for the United States soon afterwards. According to the recollections of a later business partner, the relationship between Hans Knoll and his father Walter was strained. The father’s overbearing character and his enthusiastic support for the National Socialist regime had contributed to Hans’ initial move to England in 1936 and his ultimate decision to form his own business in the United States.[6] It appears Knoll may have been considering the move across the Atlantic for some time, following the path of many European modernist designers who sought refuge in the United States during the late 1930s. Already in 1937, Bauhaus émigré László Moholy-Nagy, who had just moved to Chicago to set up a new design school, received a letter from his wife Sibyl, who was still in England. She told her husband of a young man, Knoll, who was dealing in patent furniture and planned to visit Moholy in the United States and was bringing “quite new and interesting ideas” with him.[7]

Hans Knoll arrived in the United States a 23-year-old and unattached young man. Shortly after his arrival, in January of 1939, he married Barbara Southwick, then a student at the National Academy of Design in New York City, with whom he had two children, Peter and Maia.[8] This first marriage was short-lived, however, and in 1946 he married the designer Florence Schust who also became his business partner and would play a significant role in the success of Knoll Associates.

It was Florence Knoll more so than Hans who was well connected with leading design circles in the United States.[9] Born on May 24, 1917 in Saginaw, Michigan to Swiss immigrant parents, she became one of the most influential interior designers of the twentieth century. She was initially trained as an architect at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, outside of Detroit, under the tutelage of Finnish-born architect Eliel Saarinen. Not unlike the German Bauhaus in some respects, Cranbrook was an artist colony and school which by the 1930s had become one of the centers of modernism in design and architecture in the United States, training the likes of Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, and Ralph Rapson.[10] From 1938 to 1939 she was at the Architectural Association in London and in 1940 began to apprentice with Bauhaus émigrés Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius in Boston. In 1941 she finished her architectural education at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago under the supervision of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, another influential former member of the Bauhaus group. Florence Knoll’s connections to Cranbrook-trained designers as well as to the European modernists who had fled to the United States from the National Socialists would prove to be a crucial asset to the young company that Hans Knoll founded.

Business Development

Upon his arrival in New York City Hans Knoll initially intended to distribute his father’s company’s designs, but in 1939 he incorporated an independent firm, Hans G. Knoll Furniture Inc., with a small office at 444 Madison Avenue.[11] Knoll’s goal was to bring “modern furniture” to the United States at a time when the strict and functionalist forms of the Bauhaus designers had only a limited following among Americans and were nearly entirely absent from the American furniture industry. “It was my whole idea,” he later recalled, “to develop new products working with well-known designers and to encourage their particular talents.”[12] Within two decades, Knoll Associates would leave a mark on the industry and contribute to a growing emphasis put on design and designers themselves within the business.

The rise of Knoll falls into a transition period for American furniture makers. Since the late nineteenth century, the American furniture industry had been dominated by a network of corporations which produced residential and office furnishings in large quantities. Chicago, Illinois, and especially Grand Rapids, Michigan, formed the center of furniture production early in the century, producing predominantly reproductions of earlier period styles as well as arts-and-crafts style pieces.[13] The industry had long been a bastion of specialized batch production with companies focused on frequent model changes to anticipate shifting consumer demand.[14] By the interwar period, furniture production began to shift to the American South were labor costs were lower and raw materials were more easily accessible. North Carolina emerged as a serious competitor for the traditional industry, particularly in the field of residential furniture. The Great Depression posed another severe challenge to the industry, and by the 1930s Grand Rapids corporations were searching for alternative markets for their products. Many shifted entirely to commercial and office furniture and to contract work for public facilities. World War II and the postwar economic boom led to a dramatic expansion in government and corporate office space, and would make non-residential furniture a viable alternative for the coming decades.

As in other industries at the time, industrial design became professionalized and increasingly integrated into marketing strategies in the furniture industry.[15] The Michigan-based Herman Miller Corporation, best known today for its Aeron chair, Knoll’s principal competitor in the postwar era, pioneered the industry’s foray into high-end commercial furniture.[16] From 1930 onwards, the Herman Miller company was advised by the designer Gilbert Rhode, who emphasized the growing importance of design, and particularly modern design, for the company and the industry in general. By the 1940s, designers such as George Nelson and Charles Eames—who, like Florence Knoll was connected to Cranbrook— were helping to make Herman Miller an explicitly design-driven corporation, a model that set it apart in a still largely traditional industry and that would make it a direct rival to Knoll and its modern design-driven vision.

Hans Knoll came onto this American scene as an outsider, yet he could draw on his training in the family firm back in Germany and on his already substantial international experience. His father’s company had had connections to modernist architects and designers, supplying furniture, for example, to the Werkbund’s Weissenhof model estate near Stuttgart, built in 1927. Weissenhof, built as part of an international exhibition, foreshadowed elements of later International-style architecture and was conceived as a model for modern workers’ housing.[17] Hans Knoll’s association with Plan Ltd. in London had similarly attuned him to the possibilities and challenges involved in the serial production and mass marketing of modernist furniture. Knoll’s business benefitted from a growing interest in the United States in functionalist European design and the growth of Knoll Associates paralleled the rise in influence of Bauhaus émigrés in American arts, academia and professional schools.[18] Although business records for the early years are lacking, Hans Knoll presumably also brought some capital and business connections with him to the United States. Thus, he arrived by no means empty-handed, and his entrepreneurial vision rested on a relatively solid foundation.

Still, the company struggled in its initial years. Early on, Hans G. Knoll Inc. particularly lacked designers who could create furniture pieces. An early associate was Danish-born architect Jens Risom, whom Knoll knew from London.[19] Risom designed the first line of furniture for the company and Knoll and Risom teamed up to promote the company on a nationwide tour in 1941. Knoll made use of German-American acquaintances and visited people with ties to his father’s company on the West Coast and elsewhere.[20] In addition to inherited German business connections, it was government contracts during World War II that kept the company afloat in the beginning. Major contracts included offices for the United States Information Service (USIS), for Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and for the United Service Organization (USO) at Times Square.[21] Hans Knoll’s success, finally, was also aided by his personal business skills with clients and staff. Murray Rothenberg, an employee from the early years, recalled: “Hans was a superlative salesman. He could sell almost anything. He was always selling – himself, his product, the company. You would do almost anything for him.”[22]

The need for a trained interior designer, a position often filled by female architects at the time, brought Knoll in contact with his future wife Florence.[23] By 1943 Florence had begun to work regularly with the company and over the course of the 1940s its emphasis shifted increasingly from residential to commercial work as well as from the Scandinavian wood designs of Risom to more radically modernist forms. In 1946 Florence Schust, now Knoll, became a partner in the firm which changed its name to Knoll Associates. While Hans remained in charge of the business end of the firm, Florence increasingly shaped the design end. By 1943 they had already created the so-called “planning unit,” a designated group of employees headed by Florence who played a central role in the company’s success.[24] The planning unit was an innovation in that the company worked very closely with clients to create interior designs that met their needs; they designed office spaces rather than simply the office furniture to fill them. For corporate contracts, Florence Knoll and her team would interview company executives and then custom-design the furniture and interiors down to the fabrics and colors. The company’s color palette typically included “hot violent shades” of pink, violet, fuchsia, yellow and peacock blue. While the work was individually suited to each client, a trademark “Knoll look” emerged from the work of the planning unit that entailed a strict functional modernism and bright, vivid color schemes, as well as an almost residential furniture arrangement for offices.[25]

By the early 1950s, the “Knoll look” became a staple in corporate offices across the United States. Notable clients during the late 1940s and 1950s included Alcoa, the Bando Hotel in Seoul, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, the Dow Chemical Company, the Federal Reserve Bank in Detroit, the Heinz Corporation, the Center for Advanced Study at Palo Alto, and the Universities of Rochester and Michigan. An influential early client was Nelson Rockefeller, a prominent businessman and philanthropist art collector whose offices Knoll redesigned in 1945 as he returned to private life after serving as an Assistant Secretary of State.[26] Of particular importance for Knoll’s reputation and business development was the interior design work done for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) during the early 1950s. In 1954 Knoll redesigned the offices of CBS president Frank Stanton.[27] Knoll’s work received extensive coverage both in the general press such as the New York Times and in leading trade journals such as Interiors and Architectural Forum, thereby amplifying the impact of their designs.

Alongside its contract work, the company expanded its lines of designer furniture. Over the years, Knoll Associates built up a substantial network of modernist designers they could draw on. Ralph Rapson, for example, designed metal outdoor furniture for Knoll, Eero Saarinen contributed the molded “tulip” chairs, and Isamu Noguchi, George Nakashima, and Abel Sorenson were also among these early designers.[28] Italian-born Harry Bertoia designed some of the most successful pieces of the Knoll collection, including his famous lattice steel-wire Diamond chairs.[29] Knoll also reproduced earlier Bauhaus designs from the interwar period, which were by then considered classics, under licensing agreements, including Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair made of bent metal tubes and Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair.[30]

Expanding far beyond its original New York office, the firm opened showrooms for its furniture across the United States. By 1950 it had established additional showrooms in Chicago and Atlanta, and further locations in Boston, Dallas, San Francisco and elsewhere soon followed.[31] The showrooms provided Knoll with an opportunity to prominently showcase the interior design strengths of the company and to market directly to customers.[32] Direct marketing, circumventing furniture retailers to some degree, had been introduced by Herman Miller already in 1941 when it opened a showroom in New York City and began to sell items from its product catalogue; Knoll’s first catalogue came out in 1942.[33] In 1945 Knoll Associates moved its production facilities from New York City to East Greenville, Pennsylvania, an area with a strong German-American community where it is still headquartered today. Other production facilities were added during the 1950s, including a joint venture called “Knoll-Drake Furniture,” established in Austin, Texas, in 1955.[34]

Connections to European émigrés remained a staple of the firm’s business strategy in later years as well. For its graphic design work, Knoll Associates turned to Swiss-born Herbert Matter. Matter designed the company’s iconic “K” logo and was involved in prominent advertising campaigns for the firm. Matter’s 1955 ads, Knoll’s first concerted national advertising effort, made a splash on Madison Avenue because of their unusual modernist motifs, humorous approach and sparse use of type copy.[35] Hungarian-born immigrant designer Eszter Haraszty was the company’s color specialist from 1949 to 1955. When Florence Knoll decided to design and produce textiles in-house through a new subsidiary, Knoll Textiles, she turned among others to textile designer Anni Albers, who like Matter had been affiliated with the Bauhaus prior to her emigration to the United States. In the textile field in particular European connections remained vital, and the company retained suppliers and artists in Scandinavia, Italy, France, and Germany among other places.[36]

The networks Hans and Florence Knoll had been able to build within the design community provided a significant comparative advantage to the young company. While it was Florence more than Hans who had the direct links to the design world, Hans’ German background came into play as well. Pennsylvania was chosen as a site for their first large production facility, Florence Knoll later recalled, in part because the area’s high number of German-American immigrants with traditional ties to furniture and cabinet-making provided an ideal workforce for the company.[37] According to furniture designer Richard Schulz, many of the workers even spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect not unrelated to that of Hans Knoll’s Southwest German origins.[38] Hans Knoll’s ties back to Germany also helped the international expansion of Knoll Associates in the postwar era. A manager at Herman Miller, one of Knoll’s competitors, later wrote that these ties allowed Knoll to “have the jump on us” in Europe.[39]

Knoll International was set up in 1948 in Paris to facilitate the internationalization of Knoll’s business. Both Knolls had traveled back to Europe frequently soon after the war was over, and Florence especially enjoyed spending time in France for professional inspiration and recreation.[40] An office in Stuttgart soon followed in 1950 and ties to the firm of Hans Knoll’s father were rebuilt. Both the Walter and Wilhelm Knoll companies had shifted much of their production to war needs after 1939 and both had been badly damaged by bombing campaigns. Jens Risom began to design furniture for Walter Knoll while that company produced furniture for Knoll International. During the mid-1950s, however, the cooperation between Walter Knoll and Knoll International came to an end soon after Hans’ death.[41] By 1960 Knoll International had become interior designers for many corporations and government offices in Germany and elsewhere on the continent, including AEG, Hoechst, Krupp, MAN, Daimler Benz, Rosenthal, and Volkswagen.[42] Knoll was very conscious of emphasizing the exclusivity of its designs (as if marketing a Rolls Royce, a Spiegel report observed) and its uncompromising, comprehensive modern vision. “It is not our goal to penetrate every apartment through mass production,” the Stuttgart office chief stated, even if that meant turning down business from wealthy industrialists of the “economic miracle” who desired a Knoll chair or couch for their living rooms. Knoll aspired to design and furnish representative office spaces, and European director Toby Rhodes was confident that “the right people will come to us.”[43] This understated approach paid off, as Knoll International had begun opening showrooms in several European cities such as Brussels, Milan, Stockholm, and Zurich, as well as many more offices globally in thirty countries, including Canada and Cuba. As will be discussed in more detail below, Knoll had become the face of modern American furniture abroad.

Hans Knoll died prematurely in 1955 as the result of a car accident on the island of Cuba, where the company not only had a showroom, but also redecorated the U.S. embassy.[44] A young woman, Hans Knoll’s girlfriend, also died in the crash—while Florence and Hans were still running the company jointly, they had begun to go their separate ways privately and were preparing to divorce.[45] The executive management of the Knoll Group, which included Knoll Associates, Knoll International and Knoll Textiles, now passed on to Florence who remained its guiding force until her retirement in 1965. In 1958 she remarried the Florida banker Harry Hood Bassett, and in 1959 she sold Knoll Enterprises to Art Metal Construction Company for an undisclosed sum, while retaining the presidency of all three Knoll companies.[46] After her retirement the company continued producing designer office furniture, changing ownership several times over the subsequent decades. Today, the Knoll Group is still a leading manufacturer of office furniture with offices in the United States and abroad.[47]

Knoll Associates never rivaled the large furniture manufactures in Grand Rapids, North Carolina and elsewhere and most American consumers would never have considered—or been able to afford—to furnish their homes with Knoll pieces. Knoll did decrease its prices by some 20 percent as volume increased during the second half of the 1940s, selling chairs for as low as $20 and loveseats for $50 (roughly $180 and $450 in 2010 value).[48] Generally, however, the company did not compete on price and remained at the higher end of the price range. The American mass market of the 1950s, described as the era of “populuxe” by historian Thomas Hine, was also less open to the company’s radical modernism than the corporations and avant-garde elite who ranked among Knoll’s clients.[49] Still, Knoll certainly left its mark on the American furniture industry, grossing about $3 million annually in the early 1950s (or $27.2 million in 2010 value), and its products were sold in over 250 stores in the United States alone.[50] The Knoll look and designs were frequently copied and imitated. The company’s business strategy of emphasizing strictly functional modern forms and materials and providing a prominent role to design and designers did gain wider acceptance within the industry. The interior design work of the planning unit similarly set standards for corporate remodeling in subsequent decades.[51]

Social Status

The company’s most enduring legacy, however, is perhaps less in its commercial impact as in its influence on the world of mid-twentieth century design art. Like its two founders, Hans and Florence Knoll, Knoll Associates successfully straddled the line between arts and commerce. In 1972, for example, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris devoted a major retrospective to Knoll designs.[52] Already during the 1950s, Florence Knoll’s work was repeatedly part of the Museum of Modern Art’s “Good Design” exhibitions. In 2012, over forty Knoll pieces were part of the permanent design collection of the museum, according to the company’s own count.[53] The connection to the arts world also played out in the company’s work as Knoll designed or redesigned spaces for several American museums, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1953.[54]

Hans Knoll, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1947, was quickly integrated into prominent American social circles. By the early 1950s Hans and Florence Knoll lived in a spacious Manhattan apartment overlooking the East River and Hans had become a member of New York’s exclusive River Club, which had been founded in 1930 by Kermit Roosevelt and counted such leading families as the Vanderbilts among its members.[55] He also belonged to the Arts Club of Chicago, which had a long history of supporting modern art in the United States dating back to the interwar period. Both socially and as entrepreneurs the Knolls were important networkers, bringing together American and European modernists from the Cranbrook and Bauhaus circles with businessmen and corporations on both sides of the Atlantic.[56] For the Knolls, personal connections to business clients such as Frank Stanton and Nelson Rockefeller mixed with those of designers such as Harry Bertoia, the Eameses and the Saarinens.[57] They were part of a larger symbiosis of modern art and architecture and corporate America that was characteristic of the postwar boom years in the United States and that was fostered by a host of institutions, including museums, universities, and foundations.[58] As especially large multinational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic increasingly adopted modern designs for their products and in other elements of their corporate identity formation, Herman Miller and, prominently, Knoll Associates provided the interior design and office furniture to go with it.[59]

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, which played a singularly important role in popularizing Bauhaus modernism in the United States, features centrally in Knoll’s success as well. MoMA exhibitions and competitions for modern and “good” design were part of a larger effort by museum officials Alfred Barr and Edgar Kaufman, Jr. to popularize modern design, frequently promoting European-born artists. As noted above, these exhibitions regularly featured Knoll related work. MoMA-curated traveling exhibitions in postwar Europe were also part of Cold War efforts to utilize good design as a tool of cultural diplomacy, representing American goods abroad.[60] The Museum of Modern Art, in cooperation with the Ford Foundation and the U.S. government, not only set out to “elevate” the tastes of Americans, but also to establish the United States as a cultural force in postwar Europe.[61]

Knoll International profited from the Cold War competition over consumer product design in several ways, including through large orders placed by American administrations in Germany. In 1951 the U.S. State Department ordered furnishings for houses of American civil servants in Germany and Knoll also provided the interiors for several of the so-called “Amerikahäuser,” American cultural missions across West Germany.[62] Knoll also refurnished several U.S. embassies abroad, including those in Stockholm and Copenhagen. Knoll’s designs were part of an “international style” in furniture design that influenced postwar European developments as well. Designers at Braun, one of the most innovative companies in postwar German product design, named Knoll International along with the work of Charles Eames and others as inspirations for their work.[63] The company was thus part of a wider transatlantic exchange and with its employment of European and American designers functioned as a translator and intermediary in a postwar transnational discourse over modern design.


Hans and Florence Knoll’s business leadership expresses quite well an understanding of “entrepreneurship” as the brokering of information which–following Mark Casson–emphasizes the process of synthesizing information and using social networks to direct transnational flows of information. These flows moved from the Knoll firm into American corporations, as well as to Europe and elsewhere through the company’s postwar internationalization, and were then recapitulated by designers in Europe informed by Knoll’s design aesthetics.[64] As shown, they were able to draw in part on Hans Knoll’s ties back to Germany as well as on the couple’s involvement with a prominent community of German and other European émigrés and immigrants to the United States. Knoll Associates, furthermore, provides an ideal case study for recent historiographical attempts to bridge the divide between business history and design history in an era during which industrial design became increasingly central to corporate marketing strategies.[65] European design traditions did retain a significant sway in the United States, even at the height of the postwar era of American mass consumption; immigrants such as Hans Knoll played a central role in this vibrant transatlantic exchange and helped to shape U.S. commercial culture by re-packaging interwar European design innovations by Bauhaus artists and others as “American” design modernism after World War II.[66]

Hans Knoll’s immigration experience and eye for good design had a pronounced impact on the development of the company. This was most immediately tangible during the internationalization efforts of the company after the war. However, it can be also be traced in the conceptualization of the company’s business model—its effort to translate experiences with modern furniture in European markets to the United States—and the early growth of Knoll Associates which heavily relied on immigrant designers and, partially, a labor force with a German immigrant background. Hans Knoll’s salesmanship and organizational talent combined with Florence’s design background made for a potent entrepreneurial combination with a transatlantic impact.


[1] I am grateful to Corinna Ludwig for her research assistance and helpful commentary in preparing this essay.

[2] On the history of Knoll Associates and its affiliated companies see Brian Lutz, Knoll: A Modernist Universe (New York: Rizzoli, 2010), and Steven and Linda Rouland, Knoll Furniture: 1938–1960, 2nd ed. (Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 2005). On Hans Knoll see “Hans G. Knoll,” in Current Biography Yearbook 1955, pp. 334-336, and “Hans G. Knoll,” in Who Was Who in America, Vol. III 1951-1960 (Chicago: Marquis’ Who’s Who, 1960), p. 485.

[3] On the history of the Wilhelm and Walter Knoll companies see Walter Knoll: Design Reloaded (Herrenberg: Walter Knoll AG & Co., 2006). See also Lutz, Modernist Universe, chap. 2. On the Werkbund movement see Joan Campbell, The German Werkbund: The Politics of Reform in the Applied Arts (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978), and Frederick Schwartz, “The Werkbund: Design Theory and Mass Culture before the First World War,” Ph.D. diss. (Yale University, 1996).

[4] Rouland, Knoll Furniture, 4.

[5] On Plan Ltd. and its ties to the Walter Knoll company see Barbara Tilson, “Plan Furniture 1932-1938: The German Connection,” Journal of Design History 3.2/3 (1990), 145–155.

[6] Toby Rodes, Einmal Amerika und zurück: Erinnerungen eines amerikanischen Europäers (Stuttgart: Verlag Huber, 2009), p. 169.

[7] Sybil Moholy-Nagy to László Moholy-Nagy, September 7, 1937, in Sybil and László Moholy-Nagy Papers, reel 945, Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art.

[8] “Barbara Southwick Wed,” New York Times, January 19, 1939, 26.

[9] On Florence Knoll and her career as an interior designer see Philip Hofstra, “Florence Knoll, Design and the Modern American Office Workplace,” Ph.D. diss. (University of Kansas, 2008) and Bobbye Tigerman, “‘I am Not a Decorator’: Florence Knoll, the Knoll Planning Unit and the Making of the Modern Office,” Journal of Design History 20.1 (2007), 61–74. Her papers are available at the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art: “Florence Knoll Bassett Papers,” Archives of the American Art Journal 39 (1999), 59-61.

[10] On Cranbrook and some of its most accomplished designers, including Florence Knoll, see e.g. Paul Goldberger, “The Cranbrook Vision: The Metropolitan Museum Commemorates an American Giant among Schools of Design,” New York Times Magazine, April 8, 1984, 49–55.

[11] “Bickford’s Rents 505 5th Avenue Unit,” New York Times, March 21, 1940, 50.

[12] Margaret Warren, “Top-Flight Rating Comes in 10 Years to Home Furnishing Team,” Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 25, 1950, 6.

[13] On the transformation of Grand Rapids and the furniture industry see Christian Carron, Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America’s Furniture City (Grand Rapids: The Public Museum of Grand Rapids, 1998), and Norma Lewis, Grand Rapids: Furniture City (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2008).

[14] On specialized batch production in the furniture and other industries see Philip Scranton, Endless Novelty: Specialty Production and American Industrialization, 1865–1925 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997).

[15] On the Depression-era rise of industrial design in the United States, see Jeffrey Meikle, Twentieth Century Limited: Industrial Design in America, 1925–1939, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001).

[16] On Herman Miller see Hugh de Pree, Business as Unusual: The People at Herman Miller (Zeeland, Mich.: Herman Miller, 1986).

[17] Walter Knoll, p. 60.

[18] On the reception and success of the Bauhaus in the United States see Margret Kentgens-Craig, The Bauhaus and America: First Contacts, 1919–1936 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999); Kathleen James, Bauhaus Culture: From Weimar to the Cold War (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006) and Jill Pearlman, Inventing American Modernism: Joseph Hudnut, Walter Gropius, and the Bauhaus Legacy at Harvard (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007).

[19] Wood-crafted modern Danish furniture came to enjoy tremendous popularity in the postwar United States. Risom’s work in some ways foreshadowed this trend, even though his designs were closer to the functionalism of the Bauhaus. See Per Hansen, “Networks, Narratives and New Markets: The Rise and Decline of Danish Modern Furniture Design, 1930-1970,” Business History Review 80 (2006): 449-483.

[20] On Hans Knoll’s cooperation with Jens Risom and the early years of the company see Lutz, Modernist Universe, 16-22.

[21] Florence Knoll, “After Cranbrook,” Florence Knoll-Bassett Papers, Archives of American Art, box 1, folder 1.

[22] Quoted in Cherie and Kenneth Fehrman, Postwar Interior Design: 1945–1960 (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1987), p. 38.

[23] On the gendered connotation of interior design and Knoll’s role in the professional transformation from interior decorating to interior design, see Hofstra, “Florence Knoll,” 133-150.

[24] See Tigerman, “‘I am Not a Decorator.’”

[25] On the “Knoll look” see Craig Miller, undated manuscript, Florence Knoll-Bassett Papers, Archives of American Art, Box 3, Folder 5, esp. pp. 53–57. Miller was curator of the 1984 show on the Cranbrook School at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

[26] See e.g. Nelson A. Rockefeller to Hans and Florence Knoll, December 14, 1946, Florence Knoll-Bassett Papers, box 4, folder 2; and “A Humane Campus for the Study of Man: Palo Alto, California,” Architectural Forum, Jan. 1955.

[27] “CBS Offices by the Same Designer,” Architectural Forum, Jan. 1955, in Florence Knoll-Bassett Papers, box 1, folder 2.

[28] See “Modern Design Doesn’t Pay or Does It?” Interiors, March 1946 and Florence Knoll, “Early Designers,” Florence Knoll-Bassett Papers, box 3, folder 6.

[29] On Bertoia’s work for Knoll see for example Katharine Elson, “Architect Designs New Furniture,” Washington Post, March 24, 1957, F16.

[30] Sarah Booth Conroy, “So Cranbrook Married Bauhaus and We’ve Lived More Happily Ever After,” Washington Post, Feb. 6, 1972, H1.

[31] “Noted Furniture Designer to Open New England Showroom in Boston,” Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 1950, 2; “Knoll, Chicago: New Tune in the Same Key,” Architectural Forum 1951, 3+5.

[32] “Knoll Associates: Showroom,” Architectural Record, Nov. 1948, 1–2; “Furniture Showrooms in New York,” The Architectural Review 110, Dec. 1951, 383–386.

[33] De Pree, Business as Unusual, p. 18.

[34] “Furniture Plant Set up in Austin,” New York Times, April 27, 1955, 50.

[35] William Freeman, “News of the Advertising and Marketing Fields,” New York Times, June 19, 1955, F11. On the cooperation with Matter see also items in Florence Knoll-Bassett Papers, box 3, folder 7.

[36] See items in Florence Knoll-Bassett Papers, box 3, folder 8.

[37] “Knoll: Im Haut- und Knochenstil,” Der Spiegel, 16/1960 (April 13, 1960), 64–75.

[38] Hofstra, “Florence Knoll,” 47.

[39] De Pree, Business as Unusual, 69.

[40] Warren, “Top-Flight Rating.”

[41] See Rodes, Einmal Amerika, 166–171, and Walter Knoll, 63.

[42] On Knoll’s development in Germany see also “Knoll: Im Haut- und Knochenstil” and Charlotta Heythum, “Ten Years – Knoll International in Germany,” Deutsche Bauzeitung, Oct. 1961, in Florence Knoll-Bassett Papers, box 4, f older 4.

[43] “Knoll: Im Haut- und Knochen-Stil,” 66.

[44] “Knoll, Textile Man, Dies in Cuban Crash,” New York Times, October 10, 1955; “Hans G. Knoll,” Washington Post, Oct. 12, 1955, 16.

[45] Toby Rodes, personal communication with Corinna Ludwig, July 21, 2011.

[46] “Art Metal Buys Three Companies,” New York Times, June 10 1959, 51; Rita Reif, “Pioneer in Modern Furniture Is Charting Expansion Course,” New York Times, June 17, 1959, 29.

[47] Knoll was bought by the General Felt Industries Inc. in the early 1980s, which took the company public for a brief period following 1983. The initial stock offering raised $56 million, but by 1986 it was privately held once again. The company was sold to Westinghouse in 1990, but continued to struggle making profits. By 1995, the Knoll Group had 4000 employees and $576 in annual sales. See Funding Universe, “Knoll Group Inc. – Company History” (accessed February 23, 2012).

[48] “Modern Living: New Chairs,” Life, May 20, 1946, 47–48.

[49] Thomas Hine,Populuxe (New York: Knopf, 1986).

[50] “Drum Beaters for Modern,” Life, March 2, 1953, 72–76.

[51] See Sylvia Katz and Jeremy Myerson, “The First Lady of the Modern Office,” World Architecture 1989, 76–78.

[52] “Florence Bassett’s World on Display,” Miami Herald, March 12, 1972, 1L.

[53] See Knoll, “About Knoll,” (accessed February 22, 2012).

[54] “Hans G. Knoll,” Current Biography, 225.

[55] See “River Club Interests Society:New Organization on East Side to Have Complete Athletic, Social and Boating Facilities,” New York Times, May 4, 1930, 11.

[56] Hofstra, “Florence Knoll,” 35.

[57] See Charles Eames to Florence Knoll, June 11, 1957, Florence Knoll-Bassett Papers, box 4, folder 3, as one example of the close personal relationships the Knolls maintained with designers documented in the Florence Knoll-Bassett Papers.

[58] See, for example, James Allen, The Romance of Commerce and Culture: Capitalism, Modernism, and the Chicago-Aspen Crusade for Cultural Reform, rev. ed. (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2002). See also Alexandra Lange, “Tower, Typewriter, and Trademark: Architects, Designers, and the Corporate Utopia, 1956–1964,” Ph.D. diss. (New York University, 2005).

[59] See Jonathan Woodham, Twentieth Century Design (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 151–154.

[60] On the broader strategy to use consumer goods and consumer design as political tools in the Cold War see Greg Castillo, Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), and Greg Castillo, “Domesticating the Cold War: Household Consumption as Propaganda in Marshall Plan Germany,”Journal of Contemporary History40.2 (April 2005), 261–288.

[61] Gay McDonald, “Selling the American Dream: MoMA, Industrial Design and Post-War France,” Journal of Design History 17.4 (2004), 397–412, here p. 406.

[62] See Heythum, “Ten Years.”

[63] See Christopher Oestereich, ‚Gute Form‘ im Wiederaufbau (Berlin: Lukas, 2000), 181, 185.

[64] Mark Casson, “Der Unternehmer. Versuch einer historisch-theoretischen Deutung,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 27 (2001): 524-544, here 525.

[65] See e.g. Regina Blaszczyk, introduction to Producing Fashion: Commerce, Culture, and Consumers (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), who places special emphasis on the importance of “fashion intermediaries” who “mediate the relationship between producers and consumers and help companies better understand demand.” (6) While the Knolls performed these functions to some degree, they would more likely be considered “taste-makers” in Blaszczyk’s terminology because of their drive to not simply satisfy, but to change and “reform” the tastes and demands of consumers.

[66] Another prominent example of transatlantic design exchange is the fashion industry; see Veronique Pouillard, “Design Piracy in the Fashion Industries of Paris and New York in the Interwar Years,” Business History Review 85 (2011), 319–344.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Hans Knoll
  • Coverage 1914-1955
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 27, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018