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Even if you didn’t have a chance to see the recent exhibition of Knoll textiles at the Bard Graduate Center in New York, you can still access the information, imagery, and ideas it offered through a new book on the history of Knoll. Writer William Weathersby shared this post, which sums up some interesting news from Knoll. It’ll give you a taste of Knoll’s rich legacy as well as what it’s up to now.
Color, pattern, technical refinement, and timeless style: that sums up the progressive history of textiles from the American manufacturer Knoll. Long renowned for its classic modernist furniture designed by icons including Bertoia, Mies, and Saarinen, the company remains a trailblazer in innovative fabrics for the home and office. But the thread of the fabric story, so to speak, and its rich history swathed in six decades of sensational swatches, has been somewhat obscured until now.
Following on the heels of a recent, groundbreaking exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center in New York, “Knoll Textiles, 1945-2010,” is a companion book just out from Bard in collaboration with Yale University Press. A survey and compendium with enlightening essays and more than 200 examples of textiles, furniture, interiors, and ephemera, the book tells the inspiring American success story of how one woman, Florence Knoll, largely shaped notions of modern interior style that have reverberated in our culture for more than a half century.
In 1940, Hans Knoll founded his company in New York, which quickly earned a reputation for its progressive line of furniture. Florence Schust, who studied at Cranbook with Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen, joined the firm and helped establish its interior design division, the Knoll Planning Unit. In 1947, the year after their marriage, Hans and Florence Knoll added a third division, Knoll Textiles, which brought textile production in line with a modern sensibility that used color and texture as primary design elements. In the early years, the company hired leading proponents of modern design as well as young, untried designers, many of them women, to create textile patterns. As the book illustrates, Florence Knoll designed classic modernist furniture and interiors and sought collaboration from the leading designers of the day, while on the fabric side set trends such as adapting men’s suit fabrics such as flannels and tweeds as upholstery, using traditional weaving processes to fashion contemporary prints, and experimenting with fiber contents and surface finishes. After her husband’s death, Florence retired in 1965, but her legacy lives on. (She lives in retirement in Florida.)
The pioneering use of new materials and a commitment to innovative design have remained the company’s hallmarks today. Knoll Textiles creative director Dorothy Cosonas, who designs most of the company’s fabrics and introduces about six collections a year, recently has looked to the world of fashion to spark new ideas: high-end clothing designers Rodarte and Proenza Schouler have designed gossamer, shimmering, and tactile textiles perfect for draperies or upholstery for a line called Knoll Luxe. Meanwhile, designers such as Abbott Miller (a graphic designer) and Suzanne Tick (a weaving/fiber expert) have orchestrated new fabrics and wallcoverings that showcase elements from intricate patterning to textural complexity, yet always displaying Knoll’s commitment to the joy to be found in good design.
Though Knoll Textiles’ high-end price points and durability standards are often tailored for the office design market, more than 20 percent of the company’s sales are for residential use. And as the recent retrospective exhibition, tie-in book, and company archives illustrate, Knoll offers a wealth of creative ideas and inspirations for fabric treatments in your home. If you missed the Bard exhibition, here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the show and a peek inside the Knoll Textiles studio.—William Weathersby
Click here to link to Knoll Textiles, 1945-2010 (Yale University Press, $75) Edited by Earl Martin; With essays by Paul Makovsky, Bobbye Tigerman, Angela Volker, and Susan Ward