Originally published in Knoll Textiles, 1945–2010, edited by Earl Martin, Paul Makovsky, Bobbye Tigerman, Angela Völker, and Susan Ward. Published for Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, New York. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011. 74–101.

From the exhibition: Knoll Textiles, 1945-2010.

The beginnings were very tough. Not only was it difficult to get contemporary work, but it was extremely difficult to get the furniture produced once we had the client and the job. Everything was difficult. Fabrics were difficult. Even the glues were inferior glues. The only material available at the time was wood. Everything was on a wartime basis. We had to use ingenuity to get anything produced at all.

—Florence Knoll Bassett1

Knoll, which would become one of the premiere design firms of the postwar period, came into being at an inauspicious moment—World War II was sweeping through Europe and would soon engulf much of the globe. This meant wartime restrictions on materials for the furnishings industry, but it was these same wartime shortages that forced the fledgling company founded by Hans G. Knoll to search out new materials and to find new uses for old ones, a practice of innovation and experimentation that remained a hallmark of the company in the postwar years. During this time Hans Knoll also made valuable connections in the United States and abroad with manufacturers, suppliers, and designers, one of whom, Florence Schust (later Florence Knoll Bassett), brought a creative vision that transformed the company’s product line and its design philosophy. Among her innovations was Knoll’s textile division, which was established in 1947. However, its development is interwoven with the early history of the company and must be understood in that context.

Hans Knoll and the Founding of the Knoll Furniture Company

Little is known of the early career of Hans Knoll (1914–1955). Eszter Haraszty, the head of Knoll Textiles in the first half of the 1950s, later recalled, “Hans had lots of stories, but nobody could confirm them, and really, nobody cared.”2 He was the son of Walter Knoll, a leading furniture manufacturer in Feuerbach, Germany, just outside Stuttgart. Founded in 1925, Walter Knoll & Co. quickly gained much success and acclaim for manufacturing innovative modernist furniture.3 In 1928 the company developed the popular Prodomo seating system, which featured a new patented design of flat steel web springing—an elastic steel suspension for the seat and back—making it possible to use lightweight upholstered cushions or to affix the upholstery directly to the frame with tacks. Prodomo was more economical to manufacture than traditional furniture, and customers could choose from a wide variety of colorful upholstery fabrics. During the early 1930s, the line was extended to include sofas, lounge chairs, and cantilevered tubular steel furniture. In World War II, however, Walter Knoll & Co. was pressed into war production, until bomb damage in 1942 forced the factory to close, not to reopen until after the war.4

Hans Knoll’s first job was in the textile business, working in London from 1933 to 1935 for the British branch of Jantzen Knitting Mills, an American manufacturer of knitted products, such as sweaters, hosiery, and jackets, and, later, swimsuits.5 Based in Portland, Oregon, Jantzen was a forward-looking company, working with new materials such as Lastex, a rubberized yarn, and with synthetics such as rayon blended with cotton or silk.6 Knoll, whose exact role at Jantzen is unclear, was thus exposed early on to the profitability of working with new materials and the importance of branding.

In London, Knoll also worked from 1935 to 1937 with Plan, Ltd., a furniture and interiors company founded by architect Serge Chermayeff in 1932.7 The company sold modern wood and tubular steel furniture, hand-knotted rugs, and lighting. A licensing agreement also allowed it to retail British-made versions of Walter Knoll’s Prodomo lounge chairs and occasional furniture, and Hans Knoll had joined the company to introduce his family firm’s Elbo range of low-slung lounge chairs with the same spring mechanism.8 Plan, Ltd.’s upholstery fabrics were woven by Donald Brothers, a company based in Dundee, Scotland, that gained prominence in the 1930s for its high-quality linen and textured upholstery textiles and which would later supply some Knoll Textiles patterns.9 In 1937 Hans Knoll returned to Nazi Germany, and by June 1938 Plan, Ltd. had gone into liquidation. Despite its brief history, Plan, Ltd. has been characterized as “one of the more significant modernist experiments in the manufacture and retail of contemporary furniture and furnishings in Britain during the interwar years.”10

By the late 1930s the political and economic situation in Germany had worsened, and there were strong rumblings of the coming European conflict. In 1937, at the age of twenty-three, Hans Knoll immigrated to the United States, assisted by the family that owned the Jantzen Knitting Mills.11 Knoll arrived in New York on the SS American Farmer on September 21, 1937, his passage paid by the prominent American lawyer Bronson Winthrop, for reasons unknown.12 Winthrop, a partner at the Manhattan law firm of Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts, had strong political and social ties to the upper echelons of New York society and a few years later helped Knoll secure an important government commission to design the interiors for the offices of Henry Stimson, the secretary of war (1940–45). Knoll initially planned to stay in the United States for only a year and listed both Winthrop and the New York office of Jantzen in the Empire State Building as contacts.13 By January 1939, however, he had put down roots in his new home, marrying Barbara Southwick, a native of Long Island, and settling in Brookville, New York.14

According to Knoll corporate histories, Hans Knoll started his company in 1938, when “in a single second-story room on 72nd Street, he constituted himself the Hans G. Knoll Furniture Company, bravely nailing up a sign which read: Factory No. 1.”15 Despite this romantic account, it seems more likely that the company was founded in 1940.16 In his 1943 naturalization papers, Knoll stated that between 1938 and 1940 he worked as a salesman for George Ditmar, a furniture retailer and wholesaler with a showroom on Madison Avenue.17 Through Ditmar, Knoll began to establish connections in the American furniture business, first focusing on building a network of sales contacts, then developing a product line. The two must have struggled—in March 1940, Ditmar filed for bankruptcy, and Knoll leased space in the same building under his own name and a year later, in December 1941, moved to 601 Madison Avenue, which would be the company’s home for nearly a decade.18

Knoll’s first initiative was to sell his father’s Prodomo chair to architects and designers. In 1938 he most likely brokered an agreement between his father’s company and the Mueller Furniture Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, to produce and sell “a line of Swedish modern furniture for both living room and office.” Marketed under the Prodomo name, the line included chairs featuring Walter Knoll’s patented spring system.19 In 1940, at the second season of the New York World’s Fair, Hans Knoll supplied the Prodomo chairs displayed in architect Allmon Fordyce’s “Living Kitchen” installation in the America at Home exhibition.20 They featured a single cushion covering back and seat in a bold blue, green, and white striped fabric, rather than a traditional heavy upholstery, giving them a functional and contemporary look. The cushion could easily be removed for cleaning, and the design was lauded as “a new type of chair construction” that was “both comfortable and sanitary.”21

In May 1941 Hans Knoll became the wholesale sales representative in the metropolitan New York area for Artek-Pascoe, Inc., a joint venture between Clifford Pascoe and Artek, the Finnish company that manufactured, distributed, and promoted architect Alvar Aalto’s plywood furniture.22 The market for modern design in the United States was small but growing, and Artek was perhaps the favorite manufacturer among American modernist architects and designers at the time—from Harwell Hamilton Harris and William Wurster in California to Edward Durell Stone, G. Holme Perkins, and Carl Koch on the East Coast, among others.23 Hans Knoll’s business arrangement with Artek, however, was short-lived. Only two known commissions specified Artek furniture through Knoll in 1941, and the following year Knoll’s first product catalogue makes no mention of Artek-Pascoe.24

Collaboration with Jens Risom

In 1941 Knoll hired Jens Risom, a twenty-five-year-old Danish designer. Risom had worked in the design department at Nordiska Kompaniet (NK), Sweden’s largest department store. This was followed by a position in a small design studio and retail outlet in Stockholm that specialized in residential furniture which Risom has described as “Funkis”—the term used at the time to describe modern Scandinavian functionalist design.25 From 1936 to 1938 he studied furniture design with Ole Wanscher at the Kunsthåndvaerkerskolen (School for Arts and Crafts) in Copenhagen, Denmark, where his classmates included Hans Wegner and Børge Morgensen.26 In 1939 he immigrated to the United States, later acknowledging that “by and large it was a gamble.”27

Risom found work in New York with the respected textile and interior designer Dan Cooper, who had a showroom in the Fuller Building (Madison Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street), and sold his own textile designs as well as imported Scottish linens and wool fabrics.28 Cooper hired Risom to create contemporary printed fabrics which Risom later described as simple patterns with dots and curves and no overlapping designs. According to Risom, “I don’t think they sold well, but I don’t think anything sold well in those days.”29 Risom eventually convinced Cooper to let him design furniture, and he created a small collection of four or five pieces.

The Cooper office was a meeting place for young designers and architects such as George Nelson and Edward Durell Stone. In 1940 Stone commissioned Risom to make furniture for Stone’s “House of Ideas,” a model house sponsored by Collier’s magazine, built on a terrace at Rockefeller Center, overlooking Fifth Avenue, and including “a marvelous exhibition of furniture, fabrics and colors.”30 Risom also recalled, however, that “Dan Cooper was getting all the credit, but I was doing all the work, so it was one of the reasons why I felt I should go out on my own.”31 In 1941 he did just that.

By this time, Risom had met Hans Knoll, who was selling what Risom remembers as “furniture of no importance.” Knoll needed a designer and someone to oversee manufacturing, while Risom was looking for someone with a showroom, sales ability, and connections. “We needed each other,” Risom explained. They worked out an arrangement whereby Risom provided Knoll with sketches for furniture and oversaw their production, while Knoll secured the clients. One of their first commissions was to design and fabricate pickled and bleached walnut furniture for architects Robert I. Powell and Alexander Perry Morgan for the reception foyer of the Johnson & Johnson Ligature Laboratory in New Brunswick, New Jersey (1941).32 Risom described these as a “majestic group of pieces for a very large reception room with tables and chairs” and recalled that “we just went out and bought the fabrics. It was just really the basic design of the pieces and then getting them made. Hans didn’t know anything about fabricating. He knew people in Grand Rapids but didn’t want to have anything to do with that. We farmed it out to several of the top, expensive cabinetmakers in town and they were happy to have the work.”33

A larger commission was for Glen King, who owned the Ford dealership and the U-Tote-Em grocery chain in McKenzie, Tennessee.34 Risom designed the interior furnishings for a new house for King’s son, Chandler, and his new bride, Sybil West, and remembers the furniture as “plain and modern; not great; it filled a couple of big vans and the furnishings were basically one-offs, because at that time, we had nothing else.”35 Intrigued by the scope of the commission, Risom and Knoll decided to travel to Tennessee and personally oversee the installation. They also used the opportunity to travel around the country, visiting architects and designers, making important contacts, and studying the potential market for a new line of modern furniture that would be designed by Risom and sold by Knoll. Armed with a list of the leading architects and contemporary furniture stores, given to them by Howard Myers, the publisher and editor of Architectural Forum, they visited Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities from May to September 1941.36 While traveling, Risom worked at night and on weekends, making scale drawings of designs for orders from salesman running the Knoll office back in New York. The trip cemented their resolve: “We were convinced after that if we did things right, did it well, and fast enough, we would succeed,” recalls Risom.37 The move from fabricating furniture for others to offering design services and eventually a standard furniture line began to resonate with Knoll and Risom. As their client base grew, more and more upholstered furniture was specified, and, as a result, more textiles were needed.

By the spring of 1942, Knoll assembled the furniture Risom had designed into a collection that was offered to architects and interior designers via Knoll’s first catalogue.38 This initial product line was indicative of the direction the company was hoping to take at the time—wood home furnishings and some upholstered pieces in a modern idiom. Risom designed fifteen pieces, mostly to be fabricated from cherry wood. One pair of chairs had interlaced leather strips forming the seat and back, while an upholstered studio couch featured built-in storage space. There were two easy chairs, one upholstered in a houndstooth pattern with a recessed wooden base (Model 620), the other in a large-scale plaid pattern with sides in a solid weave and a wooden sled base (Model 621). The catalogue also featured a collection of upholstered seating from a Grand Rapids manufacturer as well as five upholstered pieces with splayed legs by the Austrian-born designer Ernst Schwadron, then head designer for Rena Rosenthal, Inc.39 The soft curves of these pieces were covered in a range of fabrics—a leaf pattern overlaying a dotted ground, a chenille-like solid, and a nubby texture—that are difficult to identify from period black-and-white photographs.

The catalogue specified sizes and choice of woods but did not offer a choice of upholstery textiles, suggesting that these were selected on an ad hoc basis and were not then considered an important part of the business. Risom later recalled that the upholstery textiles were simply purchased from local suppliers in a few basic colors and plaids.40 A page at the end of the catalogue, however, showcased the sheer drapery fabrics designed by Frances Breese Miller, Knoll’s first textile designer. These were printed on “ninon and marquisette, for practical and unique window treatments” and were available in any color or as “special orders on your own material.”

Miller may be best remembered today for The Sandbox (1933), her modernist house in Bridgehampton, New York, but she was well known during the 1930s and 1940s for rug and textile designs.41 She adapted traditional techniques to create handmade hooked rugs with discreet abstract patterns that relied largely on texture and were precursors to today’s machine-made “carved” carpets.42 Experimenting with a variety of textiles, she created abstract airbrush patterns on woven cellophane, prints on fishnet, and stencils on satins. Many of these motifs were marine based—inspired by shells and the motion and reflection of water—which is evident in the examples offered in Knoll’s 1942 catalogue.43

By the early 1940s, Miller had received rug and textile commissions from many of the top New York architects, designers, and decorators including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Frances Elkins, Henry Dreyfuss, and McMillan, Inc. Her printed textiles received an honorary mention in the Museum of Modern Art’s influential 1941 Organic Design exhibition.44 Miller’s prominence in New York society and her increasing stature in the design circles undoubtedly appealed to an ambitious entrepreneur like Knoll, but just how they met is not known. Her innovative textiles matched the aesthetic of the company’s fledgling line, but they were probably not in the line for very long, since her work is only included in the first catalogue. The ever-increasing restrictions on raw materials and manufacturing for civilian use brought about by World War II seem to have led Knoll to concentrate on developing a furniture line first. In any event it would be five years before another textile designer would enter the company’s line.

Wartime Shortages—Furniture, Textiles, and Material Innovations

The United States entry into the war meant restrictions on the civilian use of many raw materials and manufactured products as well as the conversion of many factories to wartime production. Furniture and textile production were among the industries affected. Limited quantities of metals, for example, forced designers to develop wood replacements for steel springs or to eliminate springs altogether by substituting foam rubber and bent plywood, until these materials also became unavailable.45 Upholstery textiles became scarce as the war went on, with textile mills concentrating on military contracts.46 By 1945, under government orders, furniture manufacturers had reduced the number of designs to 35 percent of those made in September 1941.47 Moreover, the shortage of skilled textile workers, government limitations on dyes, and number of plants doing war work severely limited manufacturing output, or as one writer put it, “Sateen and glazed chintzes have gone to war. Even cotton fabrics are scarcer. Printed goods are at a premium.”48 Upholstered furniture was also limited during the war because down and other feather fillings were being used for flight suits and sleeping bags for service personnel rather than home furnishings. Knoll began to rethink the way it manufactured its products and by 1943 had developed a system for prefabricating furniture using standardized parts that could be assembled by the consumer without screws or nails. First came the Model 666 side chair, a Risom design that contained “no metal, no plywood, no springs, and no accessories.”49 It was soon followed by the 650 line, a group of five chairs and two settees, also designed by Risom, which allowed for “the use of non-essential materials without sacrifice to comfort, design, or durability.”50 The pieces consisted of seat and back components that could be upholstered in the traditional manner or with interlaced webbing and that were cradled in a structural frame of blond, natural-finished birch. A Knoll brochure for the line highlighted its “flexibility, economy, and comfort” as well as its production based on “minimum labor in manufacture and assembly.”51

The chairs and settees in the 650 line required only two yards of fabric to cover a seat and back component, but the brochure did not offer specific upholstery options for the line. The company most likely was still accommodating upholstery orders on an ad hoc basis. Of the two 650 line chairs illustrated in a New York Times review of the collection, one was covered in striped canvas and another in cotton tweed, while the article noted that “rough-textured upholstery fabrics, canvas and even occasionally non-priority leather” were used on this “beautiful, well-designed, easily shipped furniture, at pleasant prices.”52

Knoll’s use of interlaced cotton webbing to replace traditional upholstery was another wartime accommodation. Webbing as a furniture material was certainly not new—Shaker furniture makers had used it in the nineteenth century as had Scandinavian modernist designers such as Bruno Mathsson and Alvar Aalto in the 1930s and these predecessors were almost certainly well known to Knoll and Risom.53 The stripped-down and utilitarian look of Knoll’s webbed furniture in the 1940s offered a fresh, contemporary choice in the American market of the time.

Risom recalled that Knoll first acquired webbing from prewar supplies until the government requisitioned it.54 Made of cotton or jute, it came in a natural color and was sold by upholstery supply stores as stretchers for underneath cushions or to reinforce springs but was not meant to be seen. As these supplies dried up, Risom discovered quantities of cotton parachute belting that had not met government specifications, and Knoll was able to purchase these defective materials. “We didn’t care if it was strong enough to swing a man in the air in a parachute,” he recalled.55 Initially Knoll’s standard webbing was “olive drab” dictated by its military origins or could be dyed green or brown at a slightly higher price.56

In September 1944 Walter Baermann, a designer then heading Knoll’s Planning Unit, wrote about the challenges facing manufacturers of upholstered furniture, a field that was still essentially craft-based and resistant to mass industrial production.57 Perhaps reflecting on Knoll’s success during the war years, he argued that “war-time restrictions have fostered engineering ingenuity, and war-time technology has produced many new materials and production methods. The upholstered furniture industry must and will use all these advantages. It will grow up into a real industry; it will mass produce and pre-fabricate.”58

By 1945 Knoll was collaborating with Bridgeport Fabrics, a Connecticut-based supplier of webbing for the government as well as furniture manufacturers, to develop webbing in a variety of colors, textures, and eventually with subtle patterns.59 With postwar furnishing requirements in mind, Bridgeport set about expanding the range of webbing options in addition to trying to improve colorfastness, tensile strength, elasticity, and weave construction.60 The results included “salt & pepper,” which had been “designed expressly for H. G. Knoll.”61 Knoll’s success with the 666 and 650 lines of chairs and settees led to further experiments with webbing after the war, including webbing manufactured with plastic fibers.62

The use of webbing had allowed Knoll to produce lightweight chairs with stripped-down forms and simple construction and to turn a profit during difficult economic times. Knoll’s reputation grew, and for at least the next two decades, it was heralded as a leading manufacturer of modern furniture in the United States, a position maintained in large part through the design leadership of Florence Knoll Bassett.63

Florence Knoll and the Making of Knoll Associates

Florence Knoll Bassett was born Florence Margaret Schust on May 24, 1917, in Saginaw, Michigan. Orphaned in 1931, she was sent a year later to Kingswood School, a boarding school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.64 The school was part of the Cranbrook educational complex that included the Cranbrook Academy of Art, which opened in 1932 and would soon become a celebrated breeding ground for modernist designers in America.65 Cranbrook’s buildings and furnishings were largely designed by members of the Finnish Saarinen family—Eliel, a leading architect, his wife, Loja, a weaver and textile designer who directed Cranbrook’s weaving studio, and their son Eero, an architecture student and budding designer—who had come to Cranbrook by invitation in 1925. The campus and its furnishings had a profound impact on Florence Schust, who recalled, “It was a visual heaven for me to see all these wonderful objects and materials and everything which was entirely new to me…. Everything was handmade which was really extraordinary. It was such a stunning event for me that there was no question that that was where I wanted to be.”66

In this environment Schust gravitated toward architecture as a career, and her earliest mentor was Rachel de Wolfe Raseman, a Cornell-trained architect and the art director of Kingswood. When Raseman asked her student if she wanted “to go into fabric or dress design,” Schust replied, “I think I’d like to design a house.”67 Schust concentrated on this first design assignment, taking “as much time as I could spare away from my other studies to draw the plans and elevations and make a model.”68 The interiors of the house were an important part of the plan, and integration of textiles was a significant lesson for the young designer. In the model Schust drew furniture and added swatches of fabrics to represent those to be used—a working method she would use throughout her time at Knoll.69

She also became close to the Saarinen family at Cranbrook, including their children, Eero and Pipsan, traveling through Europe with them and staying at their summer home, Hvitträsk (built 1901–3), not far from Helsinki, Finland. Like Cranbrook, the house featured fully integrated interiors. Textiles were particularly prominent. Largely done by Loja Saarinen, they included carpets and ryijy (handwoven textiles designed to be attached to a wall and draped over a bench to provide warmth). The artful combination of color, pattern, and texture of textiles integrated with furniture, lighting, and art in these interiors had a profound impact on Schust.70

Schust graduated from Kingswood in 1934 and then studied design at Cranbrook from September 1934 to June 1935, and intermittently after that until 1939.71 In her first year she engaged in a seminal project for her development as a designer: space planning and designing furniture for her dorm room.72 She also designed and fabricated textiles for the project—striped carpet, upholstery, and a wall hanging with a geometric motif influenced by the work of Loja Saarinen.73 As she recalled, “It was a very important event, and gave me the direction for the rest of my life.”74

After leaving Cranbrook in 1935, Schust went on to study briefly at Columbia University and the University of Munich, and then the Architectural Association in London. She had been encouraged by Alvar Aalto, a friend of the Saarinen family, to attend the Architectural Association, where she enrolled in the advanced studies course, only leaving in 1939, when the outbreak of the World War II required all American students to return home.75 In late 1939 she interned in the offices of architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then continued her architecture studies at the Armour Institute (later Illinois Institute of Technology) in Chicago under Mies van der Rohe, who, she later wrote, “had a profound effect on my design approach.”76 After graduating in 1941, she moved to New York and began freelancing with different designers and architectural firms such as Herbert Bayer, Raymond Loewy, Richard Marsh Bennett, and the partnership of Wallace K. Harrison, Max Abramovitz, and Jacques-André Fouilhoux.77

During this time, Florence Schust met Hans Knoll. She remembered him visiting Harrison, Abramovitz, and Fouilhoux, trying to sell chairs, and Ann Hatfield, another designer who was working as a consultant to the office, introduced them.78 He asked Schust if she would be interested in designing interiors for a project he had secured. She later recalled that “he didn’t know how to do them since he wasn’t a designer. He asked me to do them for him on a freelance basis.”79 Her first freelance job for Knoll, turned out to be Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s office in the newly built Pentagon building.80 Completed in late 1942, the space had an ornate nineteenth-century desk and heavy club chairs that Architectural Forum described as “quiet, conservative, and completely in the manner of Government’s executive offices from time immemorial.”81 In its traditionalism it was unlike Florence Knoll’s later work for the company but led to more contracts from the government which increasingly involved integrated interiors.82

The Knoll Planning Unit and H. G. Knoll Associates

Florence Schust’s early success at designing interiors for Hans Knoll ultimately led to her heading the Knoll Planning Unit. Soon the roles of the company’s two main figures became defined—Hans Knoll would take care of the business end of things—making sales and securing contracts as he always had—while architect-designer Schust would act as design director for the company, eventually overseeing the entire product line, clarifying the firm’s graphic identity, and serving as head of the Planning Unit. In 1944 Hans Knoll established the Planning Unit, which was first led by industrial designer Walter Baermann. This entity was initially dedicated to product design development and working with other manufacturers to help them enter the home furnishings market. However, by late 1945 Baermann had departed and Florence Knoll came to head the Planning Unit, transforming it into the interior design division of the firm, where all aspects of a project—textiles, furniture, and space planning—would be systematically and carefully coordinated. A Knoll brochure published during the mid-1950s explained that the Planning Unit “grew out of a demand by private clients to provide interiors in which the concept embodied in the Knoll line of furniture and fabrics is carried to its logical conclusion: fusion of its architectural space and its contents.”83 The careful coordination of design meant that there would be a growing need for specific textiles and furniture. As the Planning Unit projects grew in size and scope, the furnishings line expanded, along with the need for textiles.

One of Schust’s earliest interiors projects for H. G. Knoll Associates was a recreation lounge for defense workers at an unnamed aircraft plant published in Interiors magazine in 1943.84 The low-cost, flexible space, which included a dispensary for equipment and soft drinks, a stage, and gaming areas, clearly reflected Schust’s skill at creating complex and original interiors by selecting different materials and using varied textures and color combinations. While it is unclear if this project was actual or prospective, it also points to the financial benefit brought to the young firm by interior design commissions—rather than selling one or two chairs to a residential consumer, they would be able to specify large quantities of Knoll furniture for the interiors of a governmental or corporate customer. Significantly, government contracts became an important avenue of growth for the company during the war.85

The Calvert Houses, located in Maryland about seven miles from central Washington, D.C., and built to house government workers and employees of a local factory, was another early Knoll commission that demonstrated the potential profitability of working on large-scale government projects.86 Completed in 1943, the complex consisted of forty apartment buildings designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill under the authority of the National Capital Housing Authority, a government agency. Apartments were arranged in a variety of configurations including eight one-bedroom “minimum apartments” in buildings that also featured a “club room”—a communal living and recreational space. Knoll was commissioned to furnish these club rooms. They employed varied combinations of Risom-designed chairs, settees, and tables, which, in turn, meant specifying significant quantities of webbing and upholstery fabrics for each room.87

The new company name, H. G. Knoll Associates, had begun to be used in the summer of 1943.88 By that fall, according to Hans Knoll, there were five employees in the offices and showrooms at 601 Madison Avenue and nine in an upholstery factory on East Forty-ninth Street.89 In 1944 Knoll began to exhibit and sell its furniture through Bloomingdale’s, the leading New York department store.90 The arrangement was not without its problems: Florence Knoll Bassett recalled having to cover Hans’s obligations to Bloomingdale’s with $50,000 from her trust fund.91 Such a commitment to the company effectively made her co-owner of the firm.

Florence Knoll and Early Textiles

As the interior design projects grew in number, the need for fabrics coordinated to Knoll’s modern interiors became more apparent. Florence Knoll searched for suitable alternatives to what she later characterized as the “brocade and chintz with cabbage roses” that were “the current vogue in the textile showrooms.”92 She found viable options in men’s suiting fabrics in “ranges of grey and beige flannels and tweeds from Scotland,” which she thought looked elegant on a chair and could be readily purchased in quantity from New York tailors.93 She later recalled that the idea of using this type of fabric originated in a “very handsome Scottish linen of heavy weight” which she had used in her student days at the Architectural Association in London.94 Two surviving samples, supplied by W. Bill Ltd. of London, give an indication of the kind of British suiting fabrics purchased by Knoll.95 Their plain weave, textural quality, and subtle colors are typical of suiting fabrics favored by Florence Knoll which made Knoll’s upholstery textiles as fresh and interesting as its furniture. The company used such fabrics as upholstery for a fairly short time, most likely between 1944 and 1946.96

In early 1945 Knoll introduced a new collection of furniture with designs by Ralph Rapson, Abel Sorensen, and Jens Risom, including several chairs that expanded on Knoll’s use of webbing and upholstery. Marketed under the slogan “Equipment for Living,” the collection was launched in a series of room settings at Bloomingdale’s.97 The group included several Risom-designed chairs that had been introduced in 1943 as well as new side chairs by Sorensen which were first used in the Planning Unit’s project for the interiors of the Air Transport Command at Washington National Airport (1945).98 In addition, there were striking new designs by Ralph Rapson—a series of chairs and a rocker (with and without arms), all of which were offered in webbed or upholstered versions.99

Florence Knoll embraced the use of textiles as a crucial element in the company’s design of interiors, not only in meeting the client’s need for upholstered furnishings, draperies, and wallcoverings, but also in spurring the creation of new designs to fulfill that need. The New York Times wrote of the collection that “even more striking, possibly, than the design details of these chairs are the unusual fabrics used for coverings—not one of which in normal times would have been called an orthodox upholstery material. But they reflect not only today’s textile troubles but also a possible trend for the future, since the Knoll designers say they adopted them as much from choice as from necessity and will probably use similar weaves after the war.”100 Several pieces were upholstered in “soft wool suitings such as a gray flannel-like fabric with a woven green stripe or a deep wine basket weave with a bright blue fleck,” reported to be the first used on “ready-made” furniture.101 Other upholsteries in the collection included a “brightly dyed sturdy cotton” that was originally intended for military use and government surplus “creamy tan cowhide.” At a time when quality fabrics were still scarce, the company was taking upholstery fabrics in a refreshingly new direction and setting the stage for further growth.

Knoll Associates and the Postwar

One of the few times Hans Knoll revealed his business strategies was in a 1945 article for Upholstering magazine, when he expressed his concerns about the direction the home furnishings industry might take after the war.102 Knoll saw a danger in rapid conversion of factories from wartime to civilian postwar production and feared that a quest for quick profits might damage the home furnishings industry.103 He described his concern as related less to increased competition than to having the market flooded with “ill-considered products” that he claimed would lower consumer confidence in the industry. His own company, however, would create “the best of all possible furniture in terms of design, of structure and of economy”—a tagline featured in Knoll’s advertising campaign in early 1945. Knoll argued that wartime shortages had proved a valuable education for the company as a manufacturer of upholstered furniture, forcing it to become resourceful and innovative. The company’s use of old materials in a new way—such as government-surplus webbing and cotton and men’s suiting fabrics—paved the way for postwar experimentation with new processes and materials such as molded fiberglass, plastics, and synthetic textiles. Knoll outlined the key role that the company’s Planning Unit would play—by conducting market research on consumer needs and new materials, by determining the sales potential of new designs, and by working with new designers to develop original products.104 A miniature model of an interior by Florence Schust—complete with her designs for a modular storage system and prototype Ralph Rapson chairs of aluminum and foam rubber—demonstrated the experimental nature of the Planning Unit at the time. It was not only a space for creating interior solutions, but also a laboratory in which products were developed.

Knoll wasted no time in bringing newly developed products to the peacetime market. In 1946 the company launched a new Jens Risom–designed line of upholstered furniture that was again featured at Bloomingdale’s as well as at Abraham & Straus in New York. The New York Times highlighted one of the chairs, a modern interpretation of the classic wing chair which was upholstered in a “tweed fabric,” and described it as “roomy but not too overpowering” and “made for comfort but not for napping.”105 Men’s suiting fabrics, selected by Florence Knoll, were beginning to provide a “signature” look for the company: “Texture and coloring of the tweeds, many in dark brown and tans, have evidently appealed on their own merits rather than on a basis of availability.”106 The Times review also noted other Risom-designed upholstered furniture in the new collection, ranging from individual chairs to settees for three and featuring a new type of spring construction that prevented edges from sagging. Highly textured weaves—a “rough cotton mixture woven like burlap”—were available in multiple colorways.107

Hans Knoll and Florence Schust had been de facto partners at least since 1945 when she covered his debt to Bloomingdale’s. On August 1, 1946, they were married, two months after the business had incorporated under a new name, Knoll Associates, Inc.—better reflecting the equal status of the partners.108 As president and general manager of the small company, Hans continued to handle the finances, administration, and sales with a charisma and entrepreneurial spirit that helped position Knoll as a leader in the field especially in the postwar years. Florence’s creative talents provided a more focused design direction.109 Early on there were differences between the two partners. Looking back at the early years of the company, Knoll Bassett would be somewhat critical of the design direction: “Many of the designs Hans had at that time were too romantic and they didn’t quite fit in with my ideas. They were Scandinavian. I suggested to him that he try to find other designers to work with him.”110

After their marriage, Hans and Florence Knoll traveled to Sweden, where they visited architect Elias Svedberg, head of furniture design at the Nordiska Kompaniet (NK) store in Stockholm.111 The Knolls quickly formed a partnership with this venerable Swedish company to import Swedish design into the United States. In a company newsletter Svedberg endorsed Hans Knoll as the only person who had succeeded in making modern furniture a successful business in the United States.112 Sweden was a logical choice for the Knolls as a source for contemporary design. From 1930 to 1950, the country had the highest growth rate in the world, and Swedish functionalism enjoyed a golden age during this period.113 Sweden, which had been neutral during World War II, had been an incubator for designs that were launched into production soon after the war.

The Knolls also visited many of NK’s suppliers, choosing examples of furniture, textiles, and accessories by some of the best-known designers in Sweden—Svedberg, Bruno Mathsson, Fritz Hansen, and Erik Wörtz (furniture); Astrid Sampe and Sven Markelius (textiles); and Lisbet Jobs-Söderlundh (ceramics). In January 1947 Knoll Associates presented what was said to be the first postwar shipment of Swedish furniture and textiles installed as an “Authentic Swedish Room” in the firm’s New York showroom.114 The installation, which was aimed at buyers from department stores, was divided into living and dining areas intended to represent a middle-class Swedish home or apartment.115 Along with NK’s affordable and easy-to-assemble Triva furniture designed by Svedberg, which shipped flat-packed (thereby avoiding higher duty tariffs), the installation featured furniture from Dux and Bruno Mathsson.116

The textiles in the display were products of NK’s Textilkammare (textile design studio), headed since 1936 by Astrid Sampe, and were much admired by the media. Upholstering magazine commented on the bright colors, natural wood tones, and small-patterned textiles that would “dispel some of this country’s current ideas about Swedish home furnishings.”117 The magazine featured a sofa with tufted back that was covered in a bright raspberry-colored woven texture, as well as a deep butter-toned printed drapery fabric called Markelius, after its designer, Sven Markelius.118 Most of the upholsteries, however, as well as the handwoven rugs, were designed by Sampe and featured only texture or small-scale motifs in colors ranging from clear delicate blues, browns, red-and-gray, or green-and-gray combinations.

The “Authentic Swedish Room” project marked the beginning of an ongoing relationship that Knoll would have with NK. Knoll imported NK furniture for a few years, and NK became Knoll’s licensee in Sweden when the company began expanding overseas in the 1950s. Swedish fabric designs remained part of Knoll’s offerings through the 1960s.

Planning Unit projects also continued to provide impetus for the development of new designs. One important early commission, completed in 1946, was an office suite for the Rockefeller family located on the fifty-sixth floor of the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center, which featured Florence Knoll’s inspired planning and use of materials. In thanking the Knolls for their work, Nelson Rockefeller wrote, “One rarely finds such an effective blending of good taste, originality and administrative ability.”119 Among the new designs featured in the office was a boat-shaped conference table that would later become a signature product in the Knoll line as well as upholstered desk and side chairs, designed by Florence Knoll. The chairs cradled the sitter in a continuous curve for an added “sense of luxury.”120 While it is unclear exactly which upholstery fabrics Florence Knoll used in this commission, one of the firm’s first printed drapery fabrics, Isles, was used as curtains in the conference room, probably for the first time. The pattern had been developed by Cranbrook-educated designer Shirley Fletcher Rapson (later Nickerson) and was presented to the Knolls by her husband, designer Ralph Rapson.121 Knoll Associates introduced Isles commercially as part of the new textile division’s first collection in early 1947.

During the second half of the 1940s, textiles assumed a more prominent place in the company, especially as Knoll’s product line expanded, its interiors commissions increased, and company showrooms opened around the country. The foundations that Hans Knoll had built and the design direction that Florence Knoll had given the company resulted in a thriving textile division that became an industry leader in the postwar period.

© Bard Graduate Center, Paul Makovsky.

Research on Florence Knoll Bassett and Knoll’s early years has been supported by a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. I am grateful to Horace Havemeyer III, publisher of Metropolis magazine, for his support in publishing several articles on Florence Knoll which laid the foundation for this essay’s research. Florence Knoll Bassett generously shared her memories and this essay is dedicated to her.

1.Florence Knoll Bassett (hereafter FKB), interview, draft 3, ca. 1977, p. 3, FKB designer file, Knoll Archive, Knoll Inc.

2.Estzer Haraszty, interview, ca. 1977, p. 12, Estzer Haraszty designer file, KnollTextiles Archives.

3.The information in this section is drawn from “Courage for the Modern Age,” Walter Knoll: Design Reloaded (Herrenberg: Neunplus 1, 2006), 58–65. One of Walter Knoll’s early triumphs was manufacturing many of the furniture designs shown in 1927 at Die Wohnung (The Dwelling) at the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart. This seminal exhibition is best known for showcasing the work of modernist architects and designers such as Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Mart Stam, see ibid., 60.

4.By then the company had moved its headquarters from Feuerbach to Herrenberg, about twenty-five miles south of Stuttgart. Ibid., 62–63.

5.“Hans G Knoll,” Current Biography Yearbook (New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 1955), 334–36.

6.Timeline, Jantzen web site, www.jantzenswim.com/timeline.asp.

7.Hans Knoll, naturalization statement, DSS Form 304, Alien Personal History and

Statement, Order No. 2401A, October 8, 1943, File NYS, RG 147, Box 59, National Archives Northeast Region, New York (hereafter referred to as Knoll Alien Personal History and Statement). The entry for “Hans G Knoll” in Current Biography Yearbook (p. 335) described Hans as being president of Plan, Ltd. between 1935 and 1937, although this has not been confirmed.

8.Barbara Tilson, “Plan Furniture 1932–1938: The German Connection,” Journal of

Design History 3, nos. 2/3 (1990): 145–55. The information in this paragraph largely derives from this article.

9.Donald Brothers later produced Knoll Textiles’s Scotch Linen, Kerry Linen, Highland Tweed, and Highland Stripe. For Donald Brothers early history see Helen Douglas, “The Feel for Rugged Texture,” in Dissentangling Textiles, ed. Mary Schoeser and Christine Boydell (London: Middlesex University Press, 2002), 177–84.

10.Tilson, “Plan Furniture 1932–1938,” 145.

11.The mill was owned by the Zehntbauer family. Robert Knoll, Hans’s brother, recalled being in the U.S. in the 1930s: “I was connected with the textile industry in Portland, Oregon, where we had friends…. [In] 1936, my father called me back, and I had to obey, of course…. Hans, he was working in England at the time, came back to Germany too. And he decided, ‘Now I have a chance to go to the States,’” interview, ca. 1977, Knoll Archives. For family history, see

Walter Knoll: Design Reloaded, 63.

12.New York Passenger Lists, 1820–1957 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.


14.“Barbara Southwick Wed,” New York Times, January 19, 1939, 26. They had two children, but the marriage did not last, and by 1943, they were separated; see Knoll, Supplement (October 16, 1943) to Alien Personal History and Statement.

15.Eric Larrabee, Knoll Design (New York: Abrams, 1981), 19. See also Brian Lutz, Knoll: A Modernist Universe (New York: Rizzoli, 2010), 11, 17. The New York City telephone directory, Manhattan White Pages (Summer 1933–Summer 1934, microfilm reel 34) lists “H. G. Knoll & Company” at 511 East 72nd Street during the 1930s and early 1940s. However, this listing was for Henry G. Knoll, a chemist. Henry Knoll is listed in the New York City telephone directory, Manhattan White Pages (1943–44, microfilm reel 57) at 503 East 72nd Street, and the Manhattan Yellow Pages (Fall 1943–Summer 1944, microfilm reel 12) lists the Knoll Chemical Co. at that address. It is not known whether Henry Knoll was any relation to Hans Knoll.

16.This date is borne out by articles published in the early 1950s, when the company began to gain widespread recognition: e.g., Olga Gueft, “Outpost in Dallas: Knoll Opens a Lone Star Branch,” Interiors (June 1950): 90; Gueft, “Knoll Associates Move Into The Big Time,” Interiors (May 1951): 75; and John D. Morse, “The Story of Knoll Associates,” American Artist (September 1951): 46.

17.See Knoll Alien Personal History and Statement. The summer 1938 New York City telephone directory lists George Ditmar and Co. at 35 East 50th Street. Ditmar moved his company to 444 Madison Avenue (the Newsweek building) in June 1939; see “Stores Featured in Lease Reports,” New York Times, June 14, 1939, 47. The summer 1940 edition of the New York City telephone directory, Manhattan White Pages (microfilm reel 53), lists both Hans Knoll and George Ditmar and Co. at 444 Madison Avenue, with a shared phone number. The December 1940 edition of the Manhattan White Pages (microfilm reel 54) lists George P. Ditmar at 366 Madison while Hans Knoll remains at 444 Madison Avenue, but with a new telephone number. The fall–winter 1940 edition of the Manhattan Yellow Pages (1940–41) (microfilm reel 10) again lists the Hans G. Knoll Company at 444 Madison Avenue and then in the December 1942 edition of the Manhattan Yellow Pages (1941–42, microfilm reel 11) the company is listed at 601 Madison Avenue.

18.At the time of his bankruptcy, Ditmar had assets of just $685 and liabilities of $19,650; see “Business Records,” New York Times, March 26, 1940, 34. For Knoll’s lease at 444 Madison Avenue see “Bickford’s Rents 505 5th Ave. Unit,” New York Times, March 21, 1940, 50. For Knoll’s lease at 601 Madison Avenue see “Old Shoe Concern Makes Short Move,” New York Times, December 4, 1941, 46.

19.“News and Notes of the Advertising World,” New York Times, June 1, 1938, 40.

20.James Ford and Katherine Morrow Ford, Design of Modern Interiors (New York: Architectural Publishing Co., 1942), 66.

21.Ibid., 66. Knoll’s Prodomo chair (along with the company’s Model 652W armchair [1943] designed by Jens Risom) was included in Art in Progress, the Museum of Modern Art’s fifteenth-anniversary exhibition; see Art in Progress, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1944), 237.

22.See “Forum of Events,” Architectural Forum (May 1941): 76; and “Forum of Events,” Architectural Forum (July 1941): 56.

23.See Ford and Ford, Design of Modern Interiors. See also Nina Stritzler-Levine, “‘Out of the Archive’: Thoughts on Artek in America,” in Essays on Finnish Modernism, ed. Marianne Aav and Jukka Savolinen (Helsinki: Designmuseo, 2010), 58-73. Other manufacturers and designers that sold modern furniture during the early 1940s included Dan Cooper, Rena Rosenthal, T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, and Charak on the East Coast; Herman Miller and Dunbar in the Midwest; and Hendrik Van Keppel and Barker Brothers Furniture on the West Coast; see “Modern Furniture,” California Arts and Architecture (January 1942): 21–23. Artek dominated the London market for modern furniture in the late 1930s and would not have escaped Hans Knoll’s attention; see Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, Alvar Aalto: Architecture, Modernity, and Geopolitics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 114.

24.Artek furniture was specified in a General Motors project, 1941 (according to a letter in Jens Risom’s personal archive), and in the Johnson & Johnson Ligature reception room by Powell and Morgan, 1941; see “Building for Defense: A Trio of Modern Plants,” Architectural Forum (November 1941): 331–34; “Interiors for Interiors, or, A Stitch in Time,” Interiors (September 1942): 20–23.

25.Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, November 9, 2009. Risom graduated in 1934 from the Niels Brock Copenhagen Business College in Denmark.

26.Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, December 12, 2010; Mel Byars, “Jens Risom,” in The Design Encyclopedia (London: Laurence King, 2004), 629.

27.Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, August 3, 2010.

28.Ibid. Risom recalled that the job with Cooper came through a connection with a curator at the Museum of Modern Art.

29.Ibid. Among the offerings at Dan Cooper was: “A line pattern designed by Jens Risom is printed on cotton crash”; see Walter Rendell Storey, “Home Decoration: Modernity In a More Gracious Pattern,” New York Times, December 29, 1940, D9.

30.Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, November 9, 2009. For more on the installation, see “Terrace House for Collier’s,” Architectural Forum (August 1940): 107–10.

31.Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, November 9, 2009.

32.“Building for Defense,” 331–34 and “Interiors for Interiors,” 20–23. Architectural Forum initially incorrectly credited Alvar Aalto with the furniture design, but later noting that “This furniture, with the exception of two [Aalto] chairs, was designed by Powell & Morgan, and executed by Hans Knoll”; “Forum of Events,” Architectural Forum (December 1941): 78.

33.Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, August 3, 2010.

34.The commission came through an interior decorator. According to Risom “These people wanted a very modern house and the decorator said we could get into magazines and newspapers because their son was going to get married in front of the double window as soon as the house was finished”; ibid.


36.Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, November 9, 2009. Risom noted that in most cases, architects’ wives owned the furniture shops and bought the fabrics or imported furniture—mostly Scandinavian, especially the work of Alvar Aalto.

37.Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, August 3, 2010. Risom also recalled, “Of course, the way Hans was, he wanted to run the whole thing, and I was going to be his draftsman and designer.”

38.The catalogue was hand-assembled by Risom and Knoll, by gluing photographs of the products to printed cardstock; Jens Risom, personal archive. The collection was noted in the period press; see “Interiors Selection of 1942 Furniture,” Interiors (February 1942): 38, 67; “Newsreel,” Interiors (February 1942): 56; “Modern Cherry Furniture Danish Designed,” Art News 41 (April 1 1942): 35; Charlotte Hughes, “Things for the Household,” New York Times, May 10, 1942, D5.

39.Rosenthal ran a retail shop in New York, wholesaled modern home designs she featured there, and hired many designers from Austria and Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, like Schwadron (1896–1979). For examples of his other work at the time see “Park Avenue Modern,” Interiors (May 1942): 20–23.

40.“It was not a very important part of the business, nor was it a very attractive one—most of that went out quickly.” Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, November 9, 2009.

41.For The Sandbox see Alistair Gordon, Weekend Utopia: Modern Living in the Hamptons (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001), 35–36. For more on Miller (1893–1985) see her three-part autobiography: Tanty: Encounters with the Past (Sag Harbor, N.Y.: Sandbox Press, 1979); More About Tanty (Sag Harbor, N.Y.: Sandbox Press, 1980); and Tanty: The Daring Decades (Sag Harbor, N.Y.: Sandbox Press, 1981).

42.Her rugs and textiles were included in numerous exhibitions: the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago (1933); the International Exposition in Paris (1937), where she was awarded a gold medal for Decorative Textiles; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1937); the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco (1939); the Heinz Building at the New York World’s Fair (1939), among others.

43.“Frances Miller Features Simplicity in Fabrics: Pioneer in the Field Unusual Designs,” Christian Science Monitor, March 12, 1941, 9.

44.Eliot Noyes, Organic Design in Home Furnishings (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1941), ii. The exhibition showcased several other designers who would later work with Knoll in both the textile and furniture divisions: Henning Watterston (1916–2009), Noémi Raymond (1889–1980), Eero Saarinen (1910–1961), Oscar Stonorov (1905–1970), and Marianne Strengell (1909–1998).

45.For wartime innovations by designers and design students see László Moholy-Nagy, “New Trends in Furniture,” Upholstering (March 1943): 8–10, 28; Gilbert Rohde, “Modern as Applied to the Design of Upholstered Furniture,” Upholstering (April 1943): 10–11; Norman Bel Geddes “Springless Furniture Suggests Design for Furniture of the Future,” Upholstering (May 1943): 6–9.

46.“Price Easing Held, Upholstery Need,” New York Times, October 2, 1945, 35.

47.“What is the Home Furnishing Situation?,” Upholstering (August 1945): 18.


49.“This First-Rate Medium Priced Modern Furniture Is a Wartime Product,” Architectural Forum (June 1943): 2. See also Martin Eidelberg, ed., Design 1935–1965: What Modern Was (Montréal: Musée des arts decoratifs de Montréal; New York: Abrams, 1991), 51 and “Newsreel,” Interiors (June 1943): 62–63.

50.H. G. Knoll Associates brochure, ca. 1943, Knoll Archives.


52.Mary Madison, “The Home in Wartime,” New York Times, July 18, 1943, SM24.

53 For Shaker chairs and American examples by the Ficks-Reed Company see J.R. Carleton, “Furniture Webbing for Webbed Furniture,” Upholstering (September 1945): 28–29; for Swedish designs from the 1930s see Lis Hogdal, ed., Bruno Mathsson: Architect and Designer (Malmö: Bökforlaget; New York: Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture; London: Yale University Press, 2006), 14–26. For Aalto see Göran Schildt, Aalto: The Mature Years (New York: Rizzoli, 1991); and Ásdís Ólafsdóttir, Le mobilier d’Alvar Aalto dans l’espace et dans le temps: la diffusion internationale du design 1920–1940 (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1998). Risom recalled that Aalto “was way ahead of us, because he was the one who brought all that webbed furniture.” Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, November 9, 2009.

54.Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, August 3, 2010.


56.H. G. Knoll Associates brochure, ca. 1943, Knoll Archives.

57.Walter Baermann, “Post-War Upholstered Furniture,” Upholstering (September 1944): 13–15, 42–43.

58.Ibid., 15.

59.Carleton, “Furniture Webbing,” 28–29, 60–62. By 1946 Bridgeport Fabrics was advertising woven webbing made of cotton or plastic yarns especially for both indoor and outdoor furniture; see Advertisement for Bridgeport Fabrics, Upholstering (July 1946): 3; Advertisement for Bridgeport Fabrics, with Knoll Model 654W, Upholstering (October 1946): 9.

60.Carlton, “Furniture Webbing,” 61.

61.Ibid., 28.

62.The Concordia Gallia Corporation, for example, made plastic webbing woven from Saran, an extruded monofilament developed by Dow Chemical, in a wide range of colors, weaves, widths, and weights. Its high tensile strength meant that it was stain- and water-resistant and resistant to abrasion; see “New Patterns Feature in Plastic Webbing,” Upholstering (January 1947): 50, 60, 74; Advertisement for Cogon, with Knoll Model 652L, Upholstering (January 1947): 17; Advertisement for Cogon, with Knoll chair, Upholstering (August 1947): 23.

63.Jens Risom was drafted into the army during the summer of 1943; he returned to Knoll in December 1945, but the company had changed and he did not stay long: “As director of design, Shu [Florence Schust] was about metal, plastics, and the Bauhaus, and I was about Scandinavia and wood, so I knew that I wasn’t going to have much of a role there.” Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, August 3, 2010. Knoll kept Risom designs, especially for seating, in the line, but his departure symbolized the direction the company would take in the postwar years.

64.Her parents were Mina M. Schust (née Haist) and Frederick E. Schust, a well-to-do businessman who was president of the Schust Baking Company. Her father died in 1923, her mother in 1931. Her legal guardian, Emil Tessin, vice-president of the Second National Bank and Trust Company of Saginaw, agreed to send her to Kingswood; see FKB papers, Portfolio, Box 1, Folder 1, p. 9, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

65.The complex also included the Cranbrook School for Boys. For Cranbrook history see Cranbrook Schools Historic Timeline, http://www.schools.cranbrook.edu/timeline.htm. See also Robert Judson Clark et al., Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision, 1925–1950 (New York: Abrams, in association with the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983), 35–46.

66.FKB, interview, n.d., p. 1, Knoll Archives, courtesy FKB.

67.FKB, interview by Bill Ferehawk for the Eero Saarinen Project, March 28, 2004, p. 1, Knoll Archive.

68.FKB papers, Portfolio, Box 1, Folder 1, p. 6, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

69.FKB, interview, n.d., p. 2, Knoll Archives, p. 2, courtesy FKB.

70.FKB, telephone conversation with author, October 31, 2004.

71.Schust attended the School of Architecture at Columbia University during fall 1935 and returned to Cranbrook between fall 1936 and August 1937 and again in August, September, and December 1939. See “Florence Margaret Schust Knoll Bassett,” in Design in America, 270.

72.The room included a chair designed by Eero Saarinen. Schust would later draw parallels between designing this room and her work at Knoll: “The metal arm chair in the sketch was previously designed for Kingswood by Eero—it is interesting to reflect the same relation happened at Knoll when Eero designed chairs and I designed what I referred to as the ‘fill-in’ pieces—mostly cabinetry.” FKB papers, Portfolio, Box 1, Folder 1, p. 9, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

73.Ibid. The textiles and rugs were put in storage and are now missing; see H. Deno, Second National Bank & Trust Company to Mrs. Anders Nissen, January 2, 1936, FKB papers, Box 4, Folder 2, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

74.FKB, interview, n.d., p. 2, Knoll Archives, courtesy FKB.

75.“Florence Margaret Schust Knoll Bassett,” in Design in America, 270.

76.FKB Papers, Portfolio, Box 1, Folder 1, p. 13, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

77.Harrison, Abramovitz, and Fouilhoux were a leading architectural firm responsible for several large commissions in New York, including Rockefeller Center, the United Nations buildings, and Lincoln Center. The firm gave the Knoll Planning Unit several important commissions, including the interiors of the Alcoa Building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, see chapter 4 in this volume.

78.Knoll Bassett later recalled that Hatfield “had an interest in modern design and she was a friend of Hans Knoll. And so through Ann Hatfield, I met Hans, then I saw him at other functions around New York with other young designers and architects”; FKB, interview, n.d., p. 14, Knoll Archives, courtesy FKB. For Hatfield, see Noyes, Organic Design, 46; “Ann H. Rothschild, 86, Interior Designer, Dies,” New York Times, November 14, 1989.

79.FKB, telephone conversation with author, November 5, 2001.

80.FKB, interview, n.d., p. 14, Knoll Archives, courtesy FKB. Apparently Stimson moved into his offices November 14, 1942; see Steve Vogel, The Pentagon: A History (New York: Random House, 2009), 555.

81.“Pentagon Building,” Architectural Forum (January 1943): 51. See also “Stimson’s New Offices,” Life (December 21, 1942): 83–84. Knoll Bassett said she never saw the completed interiors, and at the time she thought that Stimson was from the Navy and so specified a navy blue carpet. FKB, interview, n.d., pp. 14–15, Knoll Archives, courtesy FKB.

82.Knoll Bassett later recalled that “from that, we got other government jobs. It was a time when there was nothing much else going on”; FKB, interview, n.d., p. 15, Knoll Archives, courtesy FKB.

83.Knoll Planning Unit brochure, ca. 1957, author’s collection.

84.The project was executed with Peter Hardnen, another Knoll associate. See “Rest Between Riveting,” Interiors (July 1943): 23–24, 65–66.

85.In addition to USO lounges, the company had contracts with the Navy between 1942 and 1946. See Hans Knoll Furniture Company—U.S. Navy Contracts, 1942–1946, Series C, Box 13, Folder 6, Fanny E. Holtzmann papers, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio.

86.“Washington Housing,” Architectural Forum (January 1944): 53–58.

87.Ibid., 58. The rooms also featured printed draperies by Dan Cooper, most likely because Knoll did not have curtain fabrics in the line at the time.

88.For the first recorded use see “Newsreel,” Interiors (June 1943): 62–63; Mary Madison, “The Home in Wartime,” New York Times, July 18, 1943. The new name may have been Hans Knoll’s way of making his enterprise appear to have a large staff of designers at work, but as FKB later recalled: “I was the ‘Associate.’ ” FKB, telephone conversation with author, November 5, 2001.

89.Knoll Supplement to Alien Personal History and Statement.

90.For an early reference to the relationship with Bloomingdale’s see “Furnishings for the Country Cabin,” New York Times, January 18, 1944, 24.

91.This translates to more than $600,000 in 2011 terms. “Chronology of Florence Knoll Bassett’s Life and Work,” manuscript, courtesy courtesy FKB. The capital provided by Florence Schust to Hans Knoll is mentioned in Maeve Slavin’s proposed prologue to an unpublished biography of Florence Knoll Bassett, see FKB Papers, Letters, 1960–1968, Box 4, Folder 4, p. 3, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C. Risom also recalled Knoll’s financial difficulties in the early years: “I don’t know if they over extended themselves but they never did well”; Jens Risom, telephone conversation with author, August 3, 2010.

92.FKB, “History of Knoll Textiles,” manuscript, 1996, KnollTextiles Archive.

93.Ibid.; and FKB, telephone conversation with the author, January 10, 2006.

94.FKB, telephone conversation with the author, January 10, 2006.

95.These samples, once belonging to FKB, are now in the author’s collection.

96.FKB, telephone conversation with the author, January 10, 2006.

97.Mary Roche, “Rocking Chair Forms Headliner in New Collection of Furniture,” New York Times, March 16, 1945, 18. See also “Equipment for Living,” Arts and Architecture (May 1945): 36–38. It seems likely that Knoll was referring to the rhetoric of leading European modernists such as Le Corbusier with the “Equipment for Living” slogan.

98.Ibid.; and H. G. Knoll Associates, “Equipment for Living” brochure, ca. 1945, Knoll Associates/International research file, Department of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art, New York. For the Air Transport Command installation, see also “ATC International Air Terminal,” Architectural Forum (March 1945): 97–105.

99.Schust introduced Rapson to Knoll in 1944 and Knoll asked him to submit studies for a coordinated line of furniture. See Jane King Hession, Rip Rapson, and Bruce N. Wright, Ralph Rapson: Sixty Years of Modern Design (Afton, Minn.: Afton Historical Society Press, 1999), 79–84. Rapson became the first of many Cranbrook-trained designers to work for Knoll. The list eventually included Harry Bertoia, Antoinette Lackner Webster (Toni Prestini), Shirley Fletcher Nickerson (Shirley Rapson), Eero Saarinen, and Marianne Strengell. When Rapson opened a store in Boston in 1950 with contemporary furniture and textiles, Knoll Associates was a major supplier, and Florence Knoll was a consultant; ibid., 88.

100.Roche, “Rocking Chair Forms Headliner,” 18.


102.Hans Knoll, “Reconversion Responsibility,” Upholstering (July 1945): 28–30, 57.

103.Ibid., 28.

104.Ibid., 57.

105.“Designer Offers Chair to Sleep In,” New York Times, August 9, 1946, 12.



108.“Hans G Knoll,” Current Biography Yearbook, 334–36. According to a 1962 court case, Knoll and Schust had founded Knoll Associates, Inc., in 1943 as a partnership, three years before it was incorporated (June 1946) and they married; see “ ‘Knoll Associates Inc…. in regard to the Alleged Violation of Sec. 2(a) of the Clayton Act,’ Complaint, December 27, 1962–Decision, August 2, 1966,” in Federal Trade Commission Decisions, vol. 70 (July–December 1966), 331.

109.In 1947 the company purchased a woodworking plant in Pennsburg, Penn., for $28,000, and installed machinery for the manufacture of furniture. That same year, it opened a factory at 1554 Third Avenue in Manhattan; see New York City telephone directory, Manhattan White Pages (Winter 1946–September 1947, microfilm reel 60). The January 1950 (microfilm reel 63) and November 1950 (microfilm reel 64) editions of the New York City telephone directory, Manhattan White Pages, then list the Manhattan factory at 503 East 72nd Street (the same address given for “Henry Knoll” in 1943), after which there is no phone listing for a Knoll factory in Manhattan.

110.FKB, interview, n.d., draft 2, p. 1–2, Knoll Archive.

111.The trip was so productive that Hans Knoll planned to visit Sweden annually. Earlier that year, Svedberg traveled to the United States and Canada to study the launching of NK products in the American market. See “Arkitekt Svedbergs Amerikaresa och några av dess resultat,” Rullan [NK newlsetter] (September–October 1946): 10–11, 13+.

112.Ibid. Svedberg was also assured of the new relationship by the fact that Hans’s father, Walter Knoll, had had steady business relations with NK for several years.

113.Helena Mattsson, “Designing the Reasonable Consumer,” in Mattsson and Sven-Olov Wallenstein, Swedish Modernism (London: Black Dog, 2010), 76.

114.Mary Roche, “New Ideas and Inventions,” New York Times, February 16, 1947, SM40. The collection was called “Authentic Swedish” to distinguish it from “Swedish Modern,” which was generally considered cheap and vaguely Scandinavian-looking furniture that had been on the market since before the war.

115.See “Available Now: The Best Furniture in Years,” Interiors (March 1947): 78; Mary Roche, “New Ideas and Inventions,” New York Times, February 16, 1947, SM40.

116.For Mathsson’s part in the Knoll venture see Hogdal, Bruno Mathsson, 206–8.

117.One of Svedberg’s chairs was covered in a “red and white machine woven material” designed by Astrid Sampe. “Swedish Design Creates ‘Knock-down’ Furniture,” Upholstering (April 1946): 20–23, 62, 72.

118.“Swedish Knockdown Furniture to Be Promoted Here,” Upholstering (February 1947): 66.

119.Nelson A. Rockefeller to Mr. and Mrs. Hans Knoll, December 14, 1946, FKB papers, Box 4, Folder 2, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C. The building, located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, is now known as the GE Building.

120.FKB quoted in Lutz, Knoll, 33. One of the chairs from the Rockefeller installation is now in the collection of the Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Mich. The textured yellow upholstery now on the chair may not be original; see Ruth T. Kuhlman (secretary to Laurance Rockefeller) to Susan Waller (curator, Cranbrook Art Museum), September 23, 1986, CAM 1986.35 object file, Cranbrook Art Museum.

121.Shirley Fletcher studied for a short time at Cranbrook in the early 1940s before marrying Ralph Rapson.