Taking note from the designer's own emphasis on versatility and functionality, Knoll has reimagined the Risom Collection for the outdoors.
Jens Risom designed furniture throughout the course of his life with the same credo that dictated his 1942 collection with Knoll: flexibility, economy and comfort are all paramount to good design. Three-quarters of a century later, the Risom Collection has been reimagined for the outdoors in the same spirit with which it was originally created.
Risom maintained an unwavering commitment to craftmanship and thoughtful design throughout the course of his career. He held a functionalist and all-encompassing view of what good design entailed."Design is problem solving," Risom said, "Good design is therefore a good solution that satisfies many requirements. While furniture must be attractive in appearance, the detailing, materials, execution and craftsmanship that go into the overall design must also be of a very high standard, whether the product is mass produced or not." Risom's holistic design philosophy, meticulous attention to detail and ability to adapt forms and materials to specific environments made him a leading figure in American modernism.
Jens Risom's work and perspective on modern design has remained influential in the Knoll tradition. The Risom Collection was reintroduced in 1994, and in 2018 has been revived with the same notions of adaptability and accessibility for outdoor use. In addition to a new piece to the collection, the Risom Ottoman, pieces from the original 650 Line have been re-engineered with oiled teak frames and Sunbrella® webbing.
Together, the two set out on a four-month, cross-country tour across America. Risom and Knoll sought to gauge the practical needs and design sensibilities of architects across the nation, with Knoll mapping out a journey through Tennessee, Dallas and California. They found that, “There was then more contemporary work to be had in the West and Southwest than in the East,” wrote Eric Larrabee, author of Knoll Design, “but they nonetheless decided that New York City was the center of design and place for them.” The duo ventured back to New York, with Risom working on contracted interior design projects while Knoll managed the marketing and sales portion of his business.
In August 1942, Knoll released its debut catalog featuring fifteen original pieces by Risom – the company’s first commissioned designer. A fervent devotee of wood and natural materials, Risom’s initial collection for Knoll included seating, tables, desks, and storage cabinets made from cherry wood. By the time the catalog depicting these pieces was produced, however, the United States had entered the Second World War and many of the materials used had become difficult to obtain due to wartime restrictions.
The 650 Line was well-received among architects and designers as a breath of fresh air following its debut. “All of the architects were thirsty for good design that wasn’t Chippendale,” said Helen Risom, “The minute he was out there, it was a success.” Among the scant selection for modern furniture in American marketplace, Risom’s pieces stood out as an accessible transition from the more prevalent traditional designs to a pre-modernist style that was more palatable to consumers of the period. “These designs conformed more openly to the modernist aesthetic of structure and function being revealed simultaneously, and the established Knoll as the first U.S. manufacturer of modernist designs,” wrote Knoll historian Brian Lutz.
Risom’s work for Knoll illustrates an important era of American modernism, a time where material constraints and emerging technologies helped justify new approaches and aesthetics which would forever alter popular taste in design. Knoll is proud to have worked with a designer that was as dedicated to functionality and comfort as he was to the craftsmanship and quality of his work. The Risom Collection for outdoor furthers this dedication and was conceived in the same innovative spirit of the man himself.