In 1938, A young Hans Knoll brings his family furniture business to the United States, setting up a small outpost at East 72nd St in New York.
His intention was to import furniture from Europe, but as the war progressed it became increasingly difficult to secure shipments. In turn, Hans began to look for domestic pieces to add to his line as well as a designer from whom he could commission original furniture.
When the time came to move again, Knoll turned to architecture firm Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown to design its new space at 655 Madison Avenue. In keeping with the architects' ongoing experiments in postmodern design, the new showroom featured at its center a vibrant installation of draped textiles, conceived in direct response to the strict order of Florence Knoll's textile grid. The drama of the Madison Avenue showroom breathed new life into the Knoll brand, placing it at the center of contemporary debates in architecture and design.
"You are in a confined space with a theatrical effect. Neon splits the darkness and green hues emerge."
— Robert Venturi
The result celebrated the structure of the original building by leaving exposed a regular sea of concrete columns, around which AutoStrada, the latest office planning approach from Knoll, was arranged.
The ARO design for the Knoll Showroom won a 2014 Institute Award for Interior Architecture from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
"Visitors to the second-floor showroom are greeted with a multimedia timeline that tells Knoll’s history through graphics, textiles, and objects," noted AIA. "Black steel rails frame views and serve as a flexible display system for drapery and panel fabrics. The close collaboration between Knoll and the architect led to the design of an interior where furniture and architecture are integrally linked, each highlighting and complementing the other."
Amidst the chaos of Sixth Avenue, the Knoll showroom stands out with its distinctive red curtains, a netted design by KnollTextiles Creative Director Dorothy Cosonas. The curtains proved to be contentious during the renovation, but have nevertheless remained in place.
"When we close the curtains at night, the upper floors ooze a beautiful red color," Knoll CEO Andrew Cogan told the New York Times. "People tell us, 'Hey, I walked by your building.' They see the red and think we own it."