Knoll Designs

In Judging a Book By Its Cover, I reviewed “Contemporary Furniture and Textiles” by Knoll Associates. I found this to be an interesting choice because as a design student interested in interiors, I am familiar with Knoll in the contemporary sense. Upon checking it out from special collections, my first inclination was that it was printed somewhere between the 1950s and early 1970s because of the font as well as the condition of the book seemed to fall somewhere between modern and post-modern. I would even say that the font and graphic design of the cover could pass as contemporary if it were to be reprinted. I also assumed this time frame because on the first page, the photo is in black and white. Color may not have been available at the time, or if it was it could be very expensive. It looks like the book has been preserved well, as the pages are in great condition and not very yellowed at all. Because of the spiral binding, I knew it was either published in an educational setting, or published during a time where print was more expensive (i.e. the 1950s). Something I found to be most interesting was that most readers you wouldn’t know what the book is about just by looking at the front or back of it, and certainly not by the title, which is only “Knoll.”

As far as the physical nature of the book, it has weight to it but the pages are sturdy, not very flimsy like modern spiral books. It has semi glossy pages so they’re easy to turn and don’t rip very easily, with the same dimensions as a magazine, making it easy to hold, carry and flip through. It would be ideal for a setting where a lot of individuals would have been flipping through and touching the pages, such as a showroom. Once I thoroughly examined the book, I researched it to find (to my surprise) that it was published in 1950. The book doesn’t have a smell, whereas older books do. I could tell it has been preserved over the years as a result.

The physical design of the book is interesting, even for contemporary standards. The typography is of the most interest to me. The way that “Knoll” is printed all over the book reminds me of the typography and fonts used in Alfred Hitchcock’s films. His films were partly famous for this; Saul Bass’ work is the first thing I thought of when I saw the book. The big “K” in red evoked this as well. Once learning of the year it was printed, this all began to make sense. I can draw conclusions that the book was chic and progressive in its design for the time. I was also interested in the clean-cut design and layout of the book. The font is concise without being boring as to not distract from the images. It is impressive that even though the images are black and white, the reader still gets the full visual effect of what the object in the image was like. The juxtaposing of color blocking on some of the pages is an interesting choice, one that I feel adds depth to the pages. The images themselves, and the context of the images, could translate to today. The furniture pieces are timeless designs; they were progressive then and could even be seen as progressive now.

As a book in special collections, we know that it holds significance and historical value. In my opinion, this book is worth collecting because it seems to have been created as an attempt to provide designers with insight about the balance of form and function at this time. As design students, we know that this was a popular subject during the time of Bauhaus specifically in the 1960s, so it is semi-historical to see how designers, some who designed furniture pieces that are now likely collected, published their ideas in one place. Indicated on page 2, the book “represents the collaboration of architect, designer, research engineer, and manufacturer at a high level of creative productivity” (Knoll, 2). This is an important compilation of creators because in design school we often leave out the tidbits about the manufacturer and research engineer, even though their input is equally important in the launch and success of a new idea or product. “The honest use of materials for human comfort and aesthetic pleasure is coupled with a spirit of uncompromised in solving design problems and in applying new scientific techniques to furniture making” (Knoll, 2).

With the input and displays of work by many designers like Franco Albini, Pierre Jeanneret, Florence Knoll, Mies van der Rohe, Isamu Noguchi and Eero Saarinen (Knoll, 6), this book is valuable because it is the early workings of creatives on a global scale that influenced future designs and movements. In addition to including their work, it explains why the work was important at the time: “The technical skill and craftsmanship maintained at this mass production level follows a consistent line in keeping with the aesthetic standards set by the architect, designer, and technician for the finest Knoll pieces” (Knoll, 3). Down to the small details, such as the dimensions of furniture on every page or the index chart, the manual answers questions before the viewer can even think to ask them. “An index chart with elevation drawings of all furniture in the Knoll international group appears [on page 4]. This index, color keyed and cross-referenced by number and page, serves as a quick guide to the individual sections on chairs-sofas, tables, beds-chests-cabinets and desk-offices, each flagged with color separators. The last section is devoted to contemporary textiles by leading designers in America and Europe today” (Knoll, 3).

By devoting a section to leading designers in both America and Europe, we know that the collaboration of designers on a global scale began to really emerge at this time. This is another reason that this book is historically significant; it was published in 1950, a time in America when art was evolving in a post-WWII society. “America emerged from World War II relatively unscathed, with an economy on the rise and an artist population inspired by the European avant-garde, many of whom had relocated to the U.S.” according to “Abstract Expressionism would emerge in the 1950s, followed by the rise of Neo-DadaPopMinimalism, and Conceptual Art, among many other movements over the next decade. Rather than a style or set of ideas, Post-war American Art merely defines a time period, and is most often by auction houses to refer to art created between 1945 and 1970 (differentiating from Modern and Impressionist before and Contemporary after).” This book is an important development in that it marks the beginning of new ideas not only emerging, but becoming encouraged. People wanted to see new things because perhaps pre-war ideas seemed tainted. Many Americans had been exposed to artistic ideas in other countries through the previous years of war, so the convergence of ideas is evident in this book. A great example is the Barcelona chair shown on page 11. At first glance, it reminds me of the Eames lounge chair. However, Mies van der Rohe designed it in 1929, so it is evident that these pre-war ideas, which were progressive at the time, actually influenced the pieces we now consider “modern,” like the Eames chair. Knoll supports this by explaining that “the modern chair belongs to a modern way of life. New principles of construction, new methods of joining, new techniques and materials have contributed to the advancement in chair design” (Knoll, 7).


Works Cited

Knoll Associates. Knoll. Hockaday Associates, Inc., 1950.

“Post-War American Art.” Artsy,