Courtesy Knoll

A pioneering office and furniture designer known for her modern and sleek style, Florence Knoll Bassett died on Friday in Coral Gables, Fla., at the age of 101. Office and interiors manufacturer Knoll confirmed her death in an obituary on it's website.

Known to repeat the line, "I am not a decorator," Bassett oversaw the rise of one of the premier office design and manufacturing firms of the 20th century, working with famed architects and artists to create open office spaces and sharp furniture with minimal clutter.

"[She] probably did more than any other single figure to create the modern, sleek, postwar American office, introducing contemporary furniture and a sense of open planning into the work environment," former New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA, wrote in 1984.

courtesy Knoll
courtesy Knoll

Born in Saginaw, Mich., Bassett began her design education at the Cranbrook Academy of Art outside Detroit where she studied under Eliel Saarinen and ultimately became lifelong friends with his son, architect Eero Saarinen. (She even joined the Saarinen family on summer trips to their home outside Helsinki.) Bassett later studied at Columbia University's architecture school and the Architectural Association in London before earning her degree in 1941 from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where she was mentored by famed modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Prior to earning her degree, Bassett moved to Cambridge, Mass., to work with Bauhaus alumni Walter Gropius and architect Marcel Breuer.

Bassett is best known as the design powerhouse behind furniture and interior design firm Knoll Associates—now Knoll—which Bassett operated with her first husband, Hans Knoll, for almost 20 years. Hans Knoll had come to the U.S. from Germany to expand his family's third-generation furniture manufacturing company, and Bassett was named a business partner in the mid-1940s where she focused on the practice's interiors and furniture design.

Bassett established the Knoll Planning Unit that helped set the standard for midcentury modern interiors that remain widely popular today, earning contracts with companies such as CBS and IBM. She prioritized her "total design" approach, which Robert D. McFadden at the The New York Times describes in her obituary there as "favoring open work spaces over private offices, and furniture grouped for informal discussions. It integrated lighting, vibrant colors, acoustical fabrics, chairs molded like tulip petals, sofas and desks with chrome legs, collegially oval meeting tables, and futuristic multilevel interiors, more architectural than decorative, with open-riser staircases that seemed to float in the air."

Courtesy Knoll

As part of this work, she commissioned pieces by Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Isamu Noguchi, and George Nakashima. Bassett also oversaw the acquisition of production rights to furniture designed by her friends and peers such as Breurer's Wassliy Chair and Mies' Barcelona chair, "paying them commissions and royalties, and giving them credit for their designs," McFadden continues in The New York Times.

After Knoll's untimely death in 1955—and despite questions of the company's future without him—Bassett remained president, leading the firm during a period of expansion. In 1959, she sold the company to Art Metal Construction Co., but stayed on as the design director until 1965, when she retired to private practice in Florida.

Florence Knoll Bassett
Courtesy Todd Eberle Florence Knoll Bassett

In 1961, Bassett was the first woman to be awarded AIA's Gold Medal for Industrial Design, and in 2003, President George W. Bush awarded her the National Medal of Arts, considered to be the highest honor for artistic excellence.

Bassett married banker Harry Hood Bassett in 1958. He died in 1991. She is survived by three stepchildren and nine grandchildren.