Florence Knoll Credenza
When Florence Knoll revolutionised private office design by replacing the executive desk with a table, she need a place for all the filing that had traditionally lived in desk drawers. Her solution, executed in typical Florence Knoll elegance, was the low credenza. The iconic design works as well in the dining room as it does in the office.
Prior to the pioneering approach of Florence Knoll and the Knoll Planning Unit, executive offices in America were nearly all planned the same way.
Florence Knoll described this standard layout in her 1964 “Commercial Interiors” entry for the Encyclopedia Britannica: “In such an office there was always a diagonally-placed desk, with a table set parallel behind it, a few chairs scattered around the edge of the room, and a glassed in bookcase. The table behind the desk generally became an unsightly storage receptacle.”
Seeking to create a space better suited to the executive’s primary function — communication — Florence reconsidered the illogical layout from an architectural perspective. She eliminated the imposing desk, replacing it with the more inviting table desk, placed parallel to the back wall. Storage was moved to behind the table in a low, matching credenza.
To execute this new layout, Florence introduced the 2544 Credenza in 1961. The elegant design exuded executive quality, and clearly exhibited Mies van der Rohe’s impact on Florence’s approach to design. Design historian Bobbye Tigerman notes that, “the furniture is architecture miniaturised…The structure of a large case balanced on thin peripheral columns recalls Mies’ Seagram Building.” Like Mies, Florence Knoll would endlessly refine each detail of a design in order to achieve simple, seemingly effortless beauty.
While a student at the Kingswood School on the campus of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Florence Knoll Bassett (née Schust) became a protegée of Eero Saarinen. She studied architecture at Cranbrook, the Architectural Association in London and the Armour Institute (Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago). She worked briefly for Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Wallace K. Harrison. In 1946, she became a full business and design partner and married Hans Knoll, after which they formed Knoll Associates. She was at once a champion of world-class architects and designers and an exceptional architect in her own right. As a pioneer of the Knoll Planning Unit, she revolutionised interior space planning. Her belief in "total design" – embracing architecture, manufacturing, interior design, textiles, graphics, advertising and presentation – and her application of design principles in solving space problems were radical departures from the standard practice in the 1950s, but were quickly adopted and remain widely used today. For her extraordinary contributions to architecture and design, Florence Knoll was accorded the National Endowment for the Arts' prestigious 2002 National Medal of Arts.