When Florence Knoll (1918-2019), the design legend who died today, went to study at Cranbrook in 1932, she didn’t know that this school would come shape her life story. It is here that she had met her lifelong friends and collaborators Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, and Harry Bertoia, and it was at the Detroit design school that developed the eye, love, and understanding of modern design. When she met Hans Knoll, a German furniture manufacturer and married him in 1941, she began building what has become one of the most successful stories in American modern design, Knoll Inc. With Saarinen, she developed the Womb Chair and the Tulip Chair, with Bertoia the Diamond Chair, and with Knoll, obtained the license to produce Mies' Barcelona Chair, turning the nearly forgotten piece of furniture into an enormous commercial success and a modernist icon. Her furniture embodied the mid-century modernist ideal: light, airy, flexible, and minimal, upholstered in plain fabrics, substituted the popular chintz. Knoll established Knoll Planning Unit, Knoll Textiles, revolutionizing office spaces across America, creating the ultimate prototypes: IBM, General Motors, and CBS. Florence Knoll was one of the giants who has come to shape American modernism and her impact and influence are still present.
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