Knoll was founded in 1938 by Hans G. Knoll, the son of one of the pioneers among the German manufacturers of modern furniture who emigrated to the United States of America. Thanks to his apprenticeship in England and Switzerland, Hans Knoll met the Bauhaus and many embossing figures of design and architecture of the 20th century, among them Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe.
Hans Knoll ended up in New York City in 1937 and founded the Hans G. Knoll Furniture Company one year later in a room of the second floor of a building on the East 72nd street, bravely placing a panel with the following writing: Factory No. 1.
As for many visionaries, his business aim with today’s eyes was simplistic, because he was simply convinced about modern architects needing modern furniture.
During the second world war, Hand Knoll met a young room designer named Florence Schust, who he employed in his company. Florence Schust came to Knoll with impressing references. She had a degree of the Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, a degree in architecture at the Architectural Association in London, studied together with Mies van der Rohe at the Armour Institute in Chicago and in the architecture offices from Gropius and Breuer in Boston.
Florence Schust and Hans Knoll got married in 1946 and founded the Knoll Associates. With the foundation of the partnership Florence began to play a deciding role regarding development and direction of the company. It was her idea to use the Bauhaus approach on their furniture design, she wanted to offer objects that represented design excellence, technologic innovation and mass production. Together Hans and Florence Knoll searched for talented designers to encourage them; they were strongly convinced about honoring designers with their names, and that they should get royalties for their work – a tradition that is still cared about at Knoll today.
Thanks to numerous design contacts from Florence and Hans in Europe and America, the products soon received international flair. They contacted architects such as Eeso Saarinen and Franco Albini and cooperated with artists such as Harry Bertoia, Jens Risom and Isamu Noguchi, together they all developed a collection of furnishing items that are considered classics in the Pantheon of modern design. Later on, Knoll received the exclusive rights for the collection Barcelona, MR and Brno from Mies van der Rohe as well as for the Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer and begun producing these classics by respecting the exact specifications of the original designs.
Knoll opened a showroom exceptionally for textiles and published the foundation of a company department for textiles in 1947. The New York Times said about it “a half dozen of the talented designers of this country and Europe” represented the company. The original collection was strongly embossed by clothes for men; Florence Knoll was in despair about the few high quality upholstery fabrics and searched around in fashion industries, to find a manufacturer for innovative fabrics for Knoll furniture. Besides it, also delighting fabrics were part of the early textiles collection that came out of woven-arts and that were adapted on weaving machines for mass preparation for the first time.
At the end of the war, Hans Knoll began to build the first base for furniture production outside of New York City. As tenacious supremacist of quality and brilliant company leader, he was attracted by the Eastern Pennsylvania, a country with a huge number of American emigrants with German roots. There was not only precise handicraft in that place, but also a good potential of working crafts that didn’t want to continue being farmers. Knoll’s first purchase was an ancient molding factory in Pennsburg near Quakertown. In the early fifties the company bought a building in the near East Greenville. Today there is the company’s base as well as the greatest production location of Knoll.
The most important and influencing part of the whole design work at Knoll Associated followed by planning “Unit”, a department that worked directly with the customer and identified therewith their demands directly at the working desk, finding solutions for interior furnishing and furniture. This integrated working place is considered as model for today’s approach of room-shaping in companies, Knoll made pioneering work there. Architects and leading crafts in companies, both value this approach. During that time, Florence Knoll embossed the phrase: “Good Design is good business” – a credo that became the company’s hymn.
After the soon death of Hans Knoll in a car crash in 1955, Florence lead the company during five more years before she finally became consultant for the company. In 1965 she left the company completely and gave Knoll to those that she taught and inspired.
Today Knoll is the continuation of the heritage of excellent design as it was founded by Hans and Florence Knoll. Knoll still works with the most famous designers, developing classics and also modern, fresh design that will never age. Also, Knoll still cares contact to their customers, to fulfill individual business demands at working place design. Still Knoll believes that “good business is good design”.