The German poet and playwright, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, once said: “Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are” – the company you keep says much about one’s own values, particularly when it comes to partnerships.
The company we keep
For our own part, the brands we align with, the designers we take inspiration from and the suppliers we work with always have a couple of things in common – quality and ingenuity.
Knoll has consistently been amongst our preferred furniture suppliers. One of the most significant achievements of the brand is that while establishing a style that’s instantly recognisable as its own, it celebrates individual designer talents.
Florence Schust, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, David Adjaye, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia – these are all amongst the names associated with Knoll into the present day. Few could not, even at a passing glance, recognise on some level the Bertoia Diamond Chair or the Saarinen Tulip Table.
Nor is excellence merely in the aesthetic details of Knoll furniture – it’s also in the detail of everything the brand creates. For example, on a recent tour of their factory in Perugia we witnessed their dedication to craftsmanship in the construction of every Platner Chair, as each metal bar is bent by hand.
Born of Bauhaus
Of particular inspiration to us is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, considered one of the pioneers of modernist architecture and famously the last director of the ground-breaking Bauhaus school of modernist art, design and architecture. With contemporaries ranging from Frank Lloyd Wright to Le Corbusier, the man commonly referred to as Mies, was himself in good company.
Mies’ ‘less-is-more’ approach to design has arguably become a staple of the contemporary world. Despite periods and trends for maximalism, it is the items and spaces that do not need to shout the loudest that ultimately sing the most enchanting song. Mies’ work exemplified that mindset.
It is perhaps his humble beginnings in his father’s stonemasonry business that gave Mies a deep-rooted appreciation for the quality of materials and structure – something that we too cleave to in our own work.
Like other great minds before him, Mies’ interests were expansive – ranging from furniture to skyscrapers. As such, he was selected to design the German Pavilion at the Barcelona Industrial Exposition of 1929. The result was a rhythmic, hypnotic experiment in glass, stone and metal that seemed almost kinetic as energy and light flowed from one space to another.
It was for this occasion that the Barcelona Chair and Ottoman were born. Designed to offer the King and Queen of Spain a place to rest, they became a milestone in contemporary design.
Having relocated to the USA in the late 1930s, we see Mies’ work and vision transcend space and influence the ages, creating the literal world in which American history would unfold. Notable examples are the IIT campus in Chicago and the Seagram Building in New York.
Whilst being recognised as historic landmarks, even today both these buildings remain relevant and fresh in their appearance. At once they exude gravitas and vivacity in a way that continues to highlight just how groundbreaking they were at the time.
In particular, the Seagram Building – a steel, concrete and glass skyscraper completed in 1958 and articulated with non-structural bronze-toned I-beams – would not be considered out of place in the portfolio pages of a visionary new architect from the 21st century – a timelessness that’s arguably the height of design achievement.
The making of an icon
It was at this time that Mies began to influence a young designer, Florence Knoll. That professional friendship ultimately led to Mies granting Knoll exclusive rights to produce his furniture in 1948, including the Barcelona collection, the Brno chair, and MR series.
Whilst hardly mainstream, given the exclusivity of the products, the collaboration has given universal appreciation to this iconic designer’s work, and aspirational accessibility that speaks to the Bauhaus movement’s own ideology of uniting art, design and industry to elevate the quality of mass production.
Raising the bar
Today, Knoll remains a living, breathing contemporary brand, as well as an icon of the 20th century. Some of their most recognised pieces have been on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, contemplating the role of design as it interacts with our daily lives.
Touring the factory was a chance to understand, on an even more integral level, how radical those products, designed in 1930s, ’40s,’50s and beyond, were at the time, as well as to appreciate what it’s taken for them to remain at once futuristic and classic into the present day.
Our Design Director, Niko Rasides, said: “These designs are treasures left by brilliant minds for the world. That level of difficulty is what makes these products so exceptional – not everyone can be at that level, and that’s why these items stand out. Even if you don’t know the heritage, you can feel that they’re special.”
As part of our service at Nicholas Anthony, we are able to arrange manufacturer visits for our clients, to give you an insight into the craftsmanship behind some of our leading supplier brands.