For the Love of Good Design

Meet the Women Behind the Designs: Florence Knoll

Meet the Women Behind the Designs: Florence Knoll

As a proud woman-owned, woman-focused business, Graymoor Lane Designs is excited to launch a mini-series on our For the Love of Good Design blog focused on the incredible women behind some of the mid-century’s most iconic designs. On both sides of the Atlantic, and throughout the twentieth century, women have played a pivotal role not only in creating Modern design, but also in marketing and manufacturing it. Throughout the year, we will introduce you to some of these amazing women. And where better to begin than with Florence Knoll.

You may not have ever heard of Florence Knoll, but this powerhouse businesswoman single-handedly put modern design in all of our houses.

Image of Florence Knoll, courtesy of Knoll Inc.

Courtesy of Knoll Inc.

The Greatest Designers of the Mid-Century Era

Florence Schust was born in Michigan in 1917. This local, Midwest girl studied art and architecture at the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art alongside a Who’s-Who of Modern Design legends: Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, Ed Bacon, Harry Weese, and Harry Bertoia, just to name a few. After Cranbrook, she honed her interior design skills under the instruction of Walter Gropius, Marcel Bruer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Her credentials, as well as her eye for design, were unrivaled.

Working in New York during the War, she met and married Hans Knoll, a German furniture designer who was launching a new company. Florence, or “Shu,” as she was known, quickly became the powerhouse behind the firm.

Florence launched the Knoll Planning Unit, a design division responsible for the entire plan of a project, from spatial harmony to items of furniture. Knoll furniture started appearing in homes across America after World War II, but through her Planning Unit, Florence also pioneered a revolution in corporate interiors, designing the offices of IBM, GM, and CBS.

Select pieces from the Cypress Collection from Graymoor Lane Designs

Select pieces from the Cypress Collection

International Style

When Hans Knoll founded the Knoll Associate, later Knoll International, he brought with him a native interest in Scandinavian Modernism. Florence, on the other hand, introduced the International Style. She welcomed her friends into the company, becoming the American manufacturer for the likes of Saarinen, Eames, Mies van der Rohe, and others.

The sleek, organic lines of iconic Knoll designs all originate from Florence’s vision and personal connections: the Eames Pedestal Table; the Bertoia Diamond Chair; Mies’ Barcelona Collection; and more. Even some of Florence’s own designs have become iconic in their own right.

Doing it all, and Doing it in Style

When Hans Knoll died tragically in 1955, Florence took over the company entirely. She led the organization into the 1960s as America’s pre-eminent design firm. Florence launched a Knoll Textiles branch; she hired a graphic designer whose bold, “K” logo would become an iconic symbol of Atomic Age design.

After she retired in 1965, Florence continued to be passionate about design. President George W. Bush awarded her the nation’s highest art award, the National Medal of the Arts, in 2002.

At Graymoor Lane, we are inspired every day by the dynamic energy and relentless commitment to design that drove Florence Knoll to such great success. She proves to us how it is not only possible, but in fact passionately important, that a woman can lead the way to new, modern, iconic designs. We aspire to be, like Shu, designer, businesswoman, marketer, saleswoman, and, most of all, elegant and amazing to the very end.

Courtesy of

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