At the end of July 2021, it was announced that the Herman Miller group had finalized the acquisition of another American manufacturer, the Knoll group. As part of this transaction, both companies were merged into one – MillerKnoll – while maintaining separate brands and retaining all brands belonging to both groups. As both parties stated in a jointly issued press release, the merger has created a global leader in the field of modern design – it is now present in 100 countries around the world and boasts a portfolio that includes 19 brands.
As an associate dealer of MillerKnoll (since June 2022), we are very happy to see the birth of a collective that is sure to provide our customers with even more excellent design: furniture and interior design for both public spaces and residential interiors.
As MillerKnoll CEO Andi Owen said when announcing the merger, “This transaction brings together two pioneering icons of design with strong businesses, attractive portfolios and long histories of innovation,”. The fate and achievements of the two American giants have been in many ways similar, i.a. both are famous for their iconic designs. Herman Miller produces the Eames Lounge Chair and the Aeron Office Chair by Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick. Knoll offers i.a. the Wassily chair by Marcel Breuer and the Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. Both companies are associated primarily with furnishing offices and public interiors, and their solutions and technological innovations have become industry benchmarks over the years.
Let’s now have a look at the Knoll company, its history and range. The brand was founded in 1938 in New York and named after its founder, Hans Knoll. Hans was an immigrant from Germany who, like many at the time, was on the run from the fascist regime. Born into a furniture-making family, he wanted to continue his professional career, first in England and then in the United States, where he eventually settled. His first collaborator was a young Danish designer Jens Risom, employed in 1941. Initially responsible for designing custom-made furniture, he later designed the first standardized Knoll products – furniture from the 600 series. However, the person who contributed most to the development of the company and its success was Florence Schust, Hans’ later wife (they married in 1946).
Florence aka “Shu”
Born into a working-class family and orphaned at the age of 12, Florence studied well and even as a child showed an interest in architecture. She enrolled at Kingswood School for Girls, adjacent to the Cranbrook Academy of Art. In Kingswood, Florence became friends with Eilel Saarinen, who encouraged her to study at Cranbrook. The Saarinen family was very supportive: Florence spent holidays with them, knew their friends and relatives. She also became very friendly with Eilel’s son Eero. These contacts and the talent and skills she acquired at school became the basis of her later career. With references from Eilel Sarineen and Alvar Aalto, she studied with the greatest architects of the 20th century: Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer in Cambridge and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 1941, she moved to New York, where she met Hans, who was developing his furniture company. Her design talent and his business efficiency combined simply had to translate into success – throughout the 9 years of their marriage (until the tragic death of Hans in a car accident in 1955) Knoll gained an extremely strong position on the American and global market. The company also began to collaborate on a large scale with Florence’s friends: Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia and Mies van der Rohe, and gather real design icons in its catalogue.
Florence Knoll was also undoubtedly a pioneer in the field of contemporary workspace design. In 1946, she created the revolutionary Planning Unit – a company division responsible for office design – and defined its standards for the then corporate America. Using her architectural knowledge, she laid foundation for the effective use of space, its division into functions, and design. Florence always said that, contrary to what some people accused her of, she did not decorate space, but created it. The planning department thoroughly researched and surveyed each client – assessing their needs, defining office usage patterns and understanding the company’s structure – before presenting a comprehensive design plan. Florence and the Planning Unit were responsible for the interiors of America’s largest corporations, including IBM, General Motors and CBS.
She also designed furniture – her attention to detail and proportions, as well as her mastery of modern aesthetics, have made many of her designs as respected and famous as those of her well-known collaborators. After the tragic death of Hans Knoll, she led the company as president in uncertain times. She resigned from the presidency in 1960 to focus on leading the design and development department, and retired in 1965. She died in 2019, at the impressive age of 101.
Modernism and the 21st century
The list of famous designers have who collaborated with the Knoll company over the course of its activity is truly impressive. In addition to the above-mentioned, it also includes: Don Chadwick, Frank Ghery, Piero Lissoni, Ross Lovegrov, Vico Magistretti, Carl Magnusson, Marc Newson, Isamu Noguchi, Warren Platner, Ettore Sottsass. But apart from the undoubted design icons, Knoll also offers a wide range of modern office furniture (armchairs, chairs, furniture systems, desks, tables, acoustic solutions, screens, monitor arms, accessories) and furniture for public, hospitality and home interiors (sofas, armchairs, chairs, home office, garden furniture, tables). Along the way, Knoll acquired a popular Danish brand Muuto (available in our offer), which further expanded its catalog. The company is also known for its wide range of upholstery fabrics – often created exclusively for textile and fashion designers (e.g. Rodarte, Stephen Sprouse). Knoll is also an active sponsor of exhibitions, research programs and other initiatives related to modernist architecture and design. At this year’s ISaloni fair in Milan, Knoll aroused admiration with an impressive stand, where, next to the brand’s classics, visitors could also admire new products designed by Piero Lissoni and Mario Bellini.