Essential Reading: Knoll, A Modernist Universe

After over 70 years of business, Knoll arguably remains the most enterprising and progressive furniture manufacturer in the United States. Knoll is responsible for bringing to market an unbelievable number of 20th century design icons including the Womb chair, Jen Risom’s webbed furniture, Warren Platner’s eponymous collection, and Bauhaus era creations from Marcel Breuer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Without Knoll, stores such as Design Within Reach would be bare.

Knoll A Modernist Universe by Brian Lutz successfully balances two identities; handsome coffee table book and important scholarly reference. It is nice to flip through the book and admire Knoll’s shifting aesthetic through the decades, yet it also functions as an essential text for design history buffs.

The book partially resolves questions that have troubled aspiring collectors and dealers for years since the 20th century design market has blossomed: Who designed this piece, When was it manufactured and is it still being made by Knoll? Despite an increasing number of auction records being available online, queries regarding dates, designer and manufacturing duration are not always easily answered.

At just under 300 pages it is hardly a catalogue raisonné and there are some absences. Who forgot to include an index? It is unfortunate that there is no content addressing how to authenticate or specifically date Knoll pieces. For example, when did Knoll start to stamp (Barcelona) chairs with their logo? Perhaps some of Knoll’s superstars, like the Barcelona chair or the Platner collection, warrant their own books.

The most exciting and enticing images/profiles are of collections or pieces that had very short production runs. These pieces, such as Cini Boeri’s super,-minimalist sofas, are worth seeking out, either to admire or collect because of their rarity. A wire Bertoia chair can be bought, anywhere, anytime, either brand new, vintage or the made-in-China impostor. The Morrison Hannah sling chairs and daybeds were only manufactured from 1971 through the early 1980’s. While not as iconic as a Bertoia chair, Morrison Hannah collection exemplifies the best characteristics of what Knoll did; great design with commercial aspirations.

Kudos to Rizzoli, under the direction of its stylish and sagely editor Dung Ngo for finally creating handsome informative texts on the 20th century design canon.

Knoll: A Modernist Universe by Brian Lutz, published by Rizzoli

Images: 1 - Knoll: A Modernist Universe, 2, 3 - Knoll

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