Florence Schust Knoll Basset turned 100 last May...
Born in 1917 in Saginaw, Michigan, to parents that died early in her life, Knoll Bassett was orphaned by age 12. It was by fate and chance that a foster guardian enrolled her to Kingswood School, a boarding school for girls that was part of the Cranbrook Educational Community -- the legendary art, education, and museum campus whose chief architect, the world-renowned Finnish designer Eliel Saarinen, was also a teacher and president.
Noting her talents and interest in the campus buildings, Saarinen and his wife, Loja, a textile designer, took Florence under their wing. She also grew close to their son, Eero, who was seven years her senior, and she frequently spent summers in Finland with the family.
By age 14, Knoll Bassett designed her first concept for a house, demonstrating an early aptitude for architecture.
As an alumnus of some of the most progressive design schools -- she studied architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago (IIT), and spent a few years at London’s Architectural Association—Knoll Bassett’s social and intellectual orbits read like a who’s who of modern design. Her classmates at Cranbrook included Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, and Eero Saarinen -- all went on to create prominent furniture designs, often in collaboration with one another.
At IIT, she studied under German-American architect Mies van der Rohe, the last director of the Bauhaus school and whose name has become synonymous with the spare ethos of the International Style. She later worked a stint in Boston with Walter Gropius, founder of Bauhaus school, and Marcel Breuer, one of its master teachers.
With her multidisciplinary approach in design and architecture, Knoll Bassett practiced a philosophy of “total design” -- one that considered form and whole environments at every scale -- from the building structure, to its interiors, furnishings, colors, graphics, material, and textiles. She often presented designs in her signature and pioneering “paste-up” method of space planning.