Born to a baker, and orphaned at age twelve, Florence Schust grew up Saginaw, Michigan. Schust demonstrated an early interest in architecture and was enrolled at the Kingswood School for Girls, adjacent to the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
While at Kingswood, Florence befriended Eilel Saarinen, whom she would later study under at Cranbrook. Warmly embraced by the Saarinen family, Florence seeded in Michigan the foundations of her incredible design education and pioneering career. Florence went on to study under some of the greatest 20th century architects, including Gropius, Breuer, and Mies. In 1941 Florence moved to New York where she met Hans Knoll who was establishing his furniture company. With Florence’s design skills and Hans’ business acumen and salesmanship, the pair, who married in 1946, grew the nascent company into an international arbiter of style and design. In creating the revolutionary Knoll Planning Unit, Florence Knoll defined the standard for the modern corporate interiors of post-war America.
After the tragic death of Hans Knoll in 1955, Florence Knoll led the company as president through uncertain times. In 1960 she resigned the presidency to focus on directing design and development and, in 1965 after pioneering an industry and defining the landscape and aesthetic of the corporate office, Florence Knoll Basset (she remarried in 1957) retired from the company. Her contributions to Knoll, and to the rise of modernism in America, are immeasurable.