Otto Zapf arrived at Knoll in 1973. He was a successful product designer in Europe and chose to work for Knoll because, in his view, Knoll was, “still an island of humanitarianism.” Seeking to design office products that improved the feel of workplaces, Zapf designed furniture that was user-friendly, comfortable, and welcoming.
Before coming to Knoll, Zapf designed the Softline System, a unique retail display system that used vinyl-covered metal frames as the principle component. Intrigued by the potential applications of the idea, Knoll president Bobby Cadwallader asked Zapf to create an office system based on these fabric-covered frames.
The resulting Zapf System, one of the industry’s first fabric-based panel systems, was essentially a system of components and connectors — vertical panels and horizontal surfaces with accessories for storage and filing — designed and engineered to give architects and interior designers free reign in planning open or conventional office spaces. The simple vocabulary of components combined to produce flexible open plan environments with screens, work stations, returns, freestanding desks, and storage units.
The Zapf System represented Knoll’s first, major foray into the systems business and set the stage for the company’s future.