Born to a baker, and orphaned at the age of twelve, Florence Schust grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, and demonstrated an interest in architecture at an early age.
She attended Kingswood School on the campus of Cranbrook Academy of Art where Florence befriended Eilel Saarinen, with whom she would later study. Warmly embraced by the Saarinen family, Florence vacationed with them in Finland, enjoyed the company of their accomplished friends, and formed a very close relationship with Eilel’s son, Eero. The connections she made and skills she developed while at Cranbrook were the foundations of Florence Schust’s incredible design education and pioneering career. With recommendations from Eilel Saarinen and Alvar Aalto, Florence went on to study under some of the greatest 20thcentury architects, including Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In 1941, Florence moved to New York where she met Hans Knoll who was establishing his furniture company. With Florence’s design skills and Hans’ business acumen and salesmanship, the pair, who married in 1946, grew the nascent company into an international arbiter of style and design oftencollaborating with Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia and Miles van der Rohe.
Sadly, Hans Knoll was killed in an automobile accident in 1955. Florence later married Harry Hood Bassett, a Miami banker and former Flint, Michigan native until his death in 1991.
In creating the revolutionary Knoll Planning Unit, Florence Knoll defined the standard for the modern corporate interiors for post-war America. Drawing on her background in architecture, she introduced modern notions of efficiency, space planning, and comprehensive design to office planning. Florence ardently maintained that she didn’t merely decorate space: she created it. The Planning Unit rigorously researched and surveyed each client – assessing their needs, defining patterns of use and understanding company hierarchies – before presenting a comprehensive design, informed by the principles of modernism and beautifully executed in the signature Knoll style. Florence and the Planning Unit were responsible for the interiors of some of America’s largest corporations, including IBM, GM and CBS.
Florence Knoll received many awards and honors in her lifetime, including the Museum of Modern Art's Good Design Award (1950, 1953), the first award from the American Institute of Decorators (1954), and became the first woman to receive the Gold Medal for Industrial Design from the American Institute of Architects (1961). She went on to earn the International Design Award from the American Institute of Interior Designers (1962), the Total Design Award from the American Society of Interior Designers (1977), and the RISD Athena Award for Creativity and Excellence (1983). In 1985 she was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame and in 2002 President George W. Bush presented her with the nation's highest award for artistic excellence, the National Medal of Arts. She also was awarded honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Vermont (2004), the University of Miami (1995), and the University of Minnesota (2008).
In January of 2019, Florence Marguerite Knoll Bassett died at age 101 in Coral Gables, Florida.
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