The first true Knoll designer, Jens Risom joined the young Hans Knoll Furniture Company in the early 1940s as the sole designer of interiors and furniture. Born in Denmark to the well-known architect Sven Risom, Jens worked in Stockholm for one year before graduating from the prestigious Kundstandvaerkerskolen in Copenhagen.
Risom left Denmark for the United States in 1938 and, for two years, served as Director of Interior Design at the studio of Dan Cooper, Inc. in New York before starting a freelance career specializing in furniture and textiles. It was during this time that he met Hans Knoll. The pair collaborated on an exhibition for the New York World’s Fair. Knoll asked Risom, who had been searching for a promoter and manufacturer, to help him design interiors for clients around New York.
Jens Risom designs from the first Knoll Catalog, 1942. Image from the Knoll Archive.
With Hans handling client relations and Jens planning interiors and designing furniture when needed, the pair began to take on more design projects. In 1942 they printed the first Knoll Catalog, which included 15 pieces designed by Risom — the very first furniture to be commissioned specifically by Knoll. Working ingeniously within the constraints of wartime material shortages, Risom developed several chairs and tables using essentially scraps of wood and rejected nylon straps from parachute production. Despite these constraints, Risom was able to design innovative and truly modern pieces of furniture, a selection of which were reintroduced by Knoll in 1994.
Jens Risom's 600 Series. Image from the Knoll Archive.
In 1943, Risom left Knoll to join the U.S. Army. He returned to the United States in 1946 to launch his own design firm Jens Risom Design, which he ran until the early 1970s. After selling his company, Risom relocated to Connecticut and started a design consultancy firm. He is a trustee of the Rhode Island School of Design and was knighted by Queen Margrethe of Denmark in 1996.