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Built to Last

As Knoll approaches its 80th birthday, the brand famous for iconic furniture collaborations with Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen and more continues to stay vibrant and ahead of the pack. Streamlined, classic and revolutionary since its launch in 1938, the design mainstay gives forms a dressy update with sleek new fabrics and finishes, such as rose gold, Rosso Rubino marble, Cavallini hair hide leather and curly shearling. Plus, pieces including Avio sofas, Piero Lissoni’s Grasshopper tables and Tobia Scarpa’s Bastiano lounge collection are now available stateside for the first time. We wanted to know: How does a company so steeped in history continue to hit the mark today? Knoll Senior Vice President and Design Director Benjamin A. Pardo explains. 

Designed by David Adjaye as part of the Washington Collection for Knoll, the Prism lounge chair and ottoman use geometry and pattern to define form.


Why was Knoll considered revolutionary when it launched in the late ’30s?
Hans and Florence Knoll and their many collaborators inaugurated a new era of integrated design based on modern principles that remain vital today. This was a new concept. Florence Knoll grew up at Cranbrook, the epicenter of the new modernist movement, which rejected frivolous ornamentation [and] favored functionality. Florence Knoll’s concept of Total Design celebrated the intersection of architecture, interior design, furniture and textiles.

How has the brand evolved over the years?
Steeped in the history of modernism, our vision is carried forward by the most talented contemporary designers, who bring beauty to this world, responding to the way we live and work. Today, David Adjaye and Marc Newson have expanded the modernist promise by leveraging new technologies and creating material innovation in textile construction, as well as metals casting and extrusions. Knoll is driven by the relationship among architecture, furniture and people.

Through the evolution, what has remained consistent? In other words, what would you say are the tenants of Knoll?
We like to say that Knoll is modern always because modern always works. Good design brings efficiency, joy and satisfaction to the home and workplace.

The graceful, industrial Bertoia side chair is an icon of midcentury design. 

Knoll has a history of collaborating with some of the world’s top designers. How has the brand decided who to work with over the years?
Early on, Florence Knoll leveraged the talents of forerunners of the Bauhaus, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, as well as those associated with the American modern movement spawned at Cranbrook, including Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Ralph Rapson and Don Albinson. She also enlisted textile designer Marianne Strengell. In the process, Florence developed a complete suite of her own designs in the modern vocabulary to complement the work of her collaborators. Today, the brand continues to work with a global roster of architects and industrial designers who think about how people interact with their environments and how these settings impact what they do.

What are some of the most notable collaborations that have emerged in the past eight decades?
Florence Knoll’s pieces are the quintessential background pieces that create subarchitecture in an architectural space. Eero Saarinen’s groundbreaking organic designs continue to complement any space; Warren Platner’s wire furniture transforms abstract ideas into furniture forms; David Adjaye explores materials and silhouettes in the tradition of the modernist masters; and, more recently, designs by Frank Gehry, Ross Lovegrove, David Adjaye, Rem Koolhaas and Marc Newson have been added to the Knoll portfolio of products that work functionally and aesthetically to create cohesive spaces.

With so much competition, how does Knoll stay relevant?
Knoll stays relevant because modern always works. The goal of our innovation is timelessness and adaptability, rejecting short-term trends.

What can we expect next?
Knoll will continue to identify design partners that reflect the goal of our innovation—timelessness and adaptability. In the year ahead, we look forward to expanding our scope of work with Marc Newson.