Florence Knoll Bassett

New York, United States

American architect-designer Florence Knoll Bassett (née Schust) was born in 1917 in Saginaw, Michigan. Orphaned as a child, she was educated at the Kingswood School for girls, part of the Cranbrook community of schools cofounded by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and Detroit publisher George Booth. Saarinen personally encouraged Florence to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where she focused on architecture until 1939, leaving for periods to study at the Columbia University School of Architecture in New York and the Architectural Association in London. In 1940, she studied under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Armour Institute (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) and worked for architects Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius. The next year, she moved to New York and worked for the interior design firm Harrison & Abramovitz, through whom she met modern furniture manufacturer and retailer Hans Knoll (1914–55). Knoll recruited her as head of Knoll Planning Unit and, in 1946, she married him. That same year, the company changed its name to Knoll Associates.

At Knoll, she was an influential champion of established Bauhaus designers and architects as well as rising talents such as Harry Bertoia. As a designer and architect in her own right, she designed tables , chairs , sofas , and storage solutions  and was a major proponent of ergonomics in interior space planning and the total integration of furniture, architecture, art, graphics, and textiles. In 1951, the company was renamed Knoll International and it expanded its business overseas. On the death of her husband Hans in 1955, she took over as company president. Three years later, she married banker Henry Hood Bassett. Knoll Bassett served as Director of Design at Knoll until her retirement in 1965. She was honored with a National Medal of Arts in 2002 and, in 2004, donated her design archive to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C.