Always Modern in All Ways

This year marks Knoll’s 75thanniversary, and as part of the celebration, the iconic furniture company launched a new collection that embodies its “Always Modern” ethos. “We are dedicated to the idea of using modern design to connect people with their lives, their work and their world,” says David Bright, senior vice president of communications for Knoll. To do this, Knoll employs a creative process that keeps the company on the leading edge of thought. Rather than designing from within, Knoll works collaboratively with the foremost architects and designers of the time to develop products that are not always the norm, but are always relevant. Knoll’s strengths lie in the engineering and commercialization that bring these ideas to the market. In fact, many of the professional designers engaged by Knoll have no furniture experience, instead lending expertise from other areas, such as user interface. Backed by Knoll’s design engineering prowess, these partnerships regularly result in products that go far beyond the traditional concept of furniture. “We have had a great run pioneering work place models for commercial, healthcare, government and educational institutions, and as a result, have created a very comprehensive product portfolio which not only spans object furniture, but also open plan systems, private office furniture, textiles and accessories,” says Bright. “And based on the precepts of our founders, there is huge crossover into residential.” Regardless of the category, each product combines artistic invention with functional efficiency.

Always Artistic Invention

A look at Knoll’s latest collection gives some insight into the company’s creative process. “Tools for Life” includes 11 easily adaptable pieces of furniture designed by eclectic Dutch architect and provocateur Rem Koolhaas of OMA (see Architect Spec page xx). The design brief was based on the concept that today people work everywhere, and to that end, many of the pieces in the collection move, taking different and sometimes unpredictable shapes based on what the user needs. “In the case of ‘Tools for life’, Koolhaas had a certain vision for each piece,” says Khalid Masoud, Knoll’s lead product design engineer for the collection. “They wanted a certain aesthetic. They wanted pieces to rotate, or move specific distances. So my team’s task was to figure out exactly how to make that vision happen.”

As the pieces were conceptualized, Masoud’s team went to work. “When we first saw the designs we were a little unsure. Engineers tend to be a bit conservative,” says Masuod. “But the Knoll leadership team basically told us that we didn’t have to think about the project conventionally. We had open space to play in and were encouraged to use any technology necessary.”

This sort of product development re-imagined through the lens of modern design continually brings new technologies into Knoll’s product lines. “Some of the componentry that we used for the collection was pulled from an industrial robot,” says Masoud. “From an engineering
perspective that is really exciting.” According to Bright, materials innovations have always been an important part of the Knoll story, and that holds true for this collection. Koolhaas deliberately specified a wide range of materials for the pieces, from the archetypical, such as leather, to engineered products. “Some of the materials specified were new to Knoll, so it was a good opportunity. And others, like the Formica laminate used for the 04 Counter, were the right solution for the technological look of the piece,” said Masoud.

The newest collection will be available through Knoll’s direct sales force and dealers throughout North America, as well as through showrooms in major cities. In its 75th year Knoll also introduced a new method for bringing certain products to market, an e-commerce portal launched in April of this year. Of course, nothing less would be expected of a company with a global viewpoint and a dedication to being always modern. As Bright says, “What has distinguishes Knoll over time is not only the materials we use, but this whole idea of advancing craftsmanship and technology through the use of design.”