The Iconic Brand Behind the Furniture on Stage at Chicago Ideas

If you’ve ever admired the furniture onstage at Chicago Ideas Week, you’re not alone. They’re designed by Knoll, a modern furniture company built around a similar tradition as Chicago Ideas itself. We sat down with the Knoll team to find out more about their history, aesthetic, and vision. First, check out this video about their founder, Florence Knoll.


What is the story behind Knoll—how did the brand come to be?

Founded in 1938 by Hans and Florence Knoll, the nascent manufacturer embraced the creative genius at the Bauhaus School and the Cranbrook Academy of Art to create new types of furniture and environments for the workplace. From the onset, Knoll was thinking about how people interact with their environments, and how their environments impact what they do. Overtime and in collaboration with pioneering modernists such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Jens Risom, and many more, Knoll has come to be a constellation of design-driven brands and people focused on creating inspired modern interiors. Hans and Florence Knoll and their many collaborators inaugurated a new era of integrated design based on modern principles that remain vital today Our commitment to modern design, our understanding of the nature of work, and our dedication to sustainable design have yielded a unique portfolio of thoughtful products that respond and adapt to changing needs.


How would you describe the Knoll aesthetic?

The Knoll aesthetic is inherently Modern. It rejects frivolous ornamentations, favors functionality, and is built for a world in which technology can transform society for the better. At Knoll, we believe modern furniture should complement architectural space, not compete with it. Our vision is carried forward by the most talented contemporary designers, such as David Rockwell, Antenna Design, Barber Osgerby and David Adjaye, who bring beauty to this world, responding to the way we live and work.


What differentiates Knoll in the furnishing and textile industry?

Knoll differentiates itself through the belief that Modern always works. The goal of our innovation is timelessness and adaptability, rejecting short-term trends. We team together across categories and brands to address the unique needs of each client with products that interact and expand seamlessly. Harmonious relationships are both functional and aesthetic; our broad range of offerings allows us to create tailored, cohesive spaces and scale to meet any challenge.


Considering that Chicago Ideas is the ideas platform for everyone, in what ways does Knoll feel at home on the Chicago Ideas Week stage?

Our belief in working with the best talent to provide modern furniture solutions nicely echoes Chicago Ideas core belief of the power generated from gathering thinkers and instigators. In many ways, the platform upon which Chicago Ideas is built is very similar to the tradition Florence Knoll set in motion 80 years ago.


What does the future hold for Knoll?

For us, the opportunity lies in presenting research that informs our ideation process as well as identifying market needs in the commercial, education, healthcare and government sectors with respect to new, more untethered workstyles. Knoll will continue to identify design partners that reflect the goal of our innovation – timelessness and adaptability.

Jennifer Boudinot is a freelance writer and entrepreneur focused on the changing workplace, disruptive business practices and cocktails—yes, cocktails. She's also a book editor and a best-selling ghostwriter.

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