Trained by Bauhaus pedigree, she practiced a philosophy of “total design.”
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
, 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
school and whose name has become synonymous with the spare ethos of the
. She later worked a stint in Boston with
, founder of Bauhaus school, and
, 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.
She revolutionized the world of post-war office interiors.
With a wide-ranging skillset role and her Bauhaus pedigree, Knoll Bassett’s role at Knoll Associates was, accordingly, various. She founded the in-house interior design studio, Knoll Planning Unit, in 1945; and the KnollTextiles division in 1947, leading both. A designer of several Knoll classic furniture pieces and showrooms, she also directed the Furniture Design Development department. Upon Hans Knoll’s death in 1955, she assumed the role of president, a position she held until her retirement in 1965.
It was through the Planning Unit that Knoll not only designed the interiors for the company’s growing number of showrooms, but also the corporate offices of some of the largest American companies, including IBM, GM, CBS, and Seagram’s. “The Planning Unit existed because of my background in architecture,” Knoll Bassett later recalled. “It was the very first furniture company [that] ever had a planning department. This came from my special interests. Expansion came from Hans...who was an empire builder.”