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Florence Knoll Bassett is an American architect and furniture designer who studied under the likes of Mies van der Rohe and Eliel Saarinen. She was born in Saginaw, Michigan as “Florence Schust” and is known in familiar circles simply as ‘Shu’. She graduated from Kingswood School in 1934, and in 1943 she joined with her husband Hans Knoll in redirecting Hans’ furniture company more toward a modernist, Scandinavian style. After Hans’s death, Florence took over as head of Knoll before marrying Harry Hood Bassett in 1958.
Her American interpretation of minimalist, rationalist design theories is clearly evident in Knoll’s storage pieces. She mixed woods and metals to great effect and added laminates as they became popular. Dressers and desks are all square in design but never lack for quality. Hanging cabinets have glass shelves, sliding doors and drop down fronts that can be used as bars. As an architect, Knoll’s most famous creations are the Connecticut General Life Insurance building in Bloomfield, Connecticut and the interior of the CBS Building in New York City.
Knoll’s vision for the new office was clean and simple, and the corporate boom of the 1960’s provided the perfect opportunity for her to change the way people looked at work in their offices. Her open plan layouts created clean, open spaces — a perfect venue for her furniture. Companies like H. J. Heinz, CBS, and Connecticut General Life Insurance all embraced this new way of organizing business space.
Throughout the 1950’s Florence Knoll’s work was often displayed at the MoMA New York’s Good Design exhibits. Knoll retired as the President of the Knoll company in 1960, but remained as the Director of Design until 1965 when she retired completely.
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