150 years of Walter Knoll
Walter Knoll creates living spaces. With masterly craftsmanship, fine materials and lasting appearance. Furniture from Walter Knoll makes the desired quality of life a reality. And has done for 150 years now. For the international lifestyle of today.
Walter Knoll is seen as the furniture brand of modernity. The history of the Knoll family is inextricably linked to this time of awakening and the developments of the age. The company has repeatedly made its mark on furniture history, and created classic pieces and icons of the avant-garde.
Business in the Wilhelminian period
The oldest German brand of upholstered furniture has been modern in its time for six generations. The history of the internationally diversified furniture family Knoll began in 1865 in Stuttgart: on 6 June 1865, Wilhelm Knoll, founder of the Knoll dynasty, opened the doors of his "leather shop". First-class craftsmanship was the hallmark of the leather goods and soft furnishings of Wilhelm Knoll. “Knoll leather” becomes a trademark, and the House of Württemberg named Wilhelm Knoll “supplier to the royal court”.
In 1907, Wilhelm’s sons Willy and Walter took over their father’s business, and introduced the first club armchair to Germany. At the age of 50, Walter Knoll, an urbane gentleman, founded his own company, Walter Knoll & Co. GmbH, in 1925.
Inspired by modernity in architecture, art and culture, both companies revolutionised the traditional upholstering technique in the 1920s:
For his “Antimott” range, Wilhelm Knoll replaced elaborate upholstery with upholstering featuring patented fabric-covered coil springs. Lightweight aluminium chairs from the range were used to furnish zeppelins for the first time.
The “Prodomo” models developed by Walter Knoll, upholstered with elastic steel band suspension and also patented, are seen as the first modern upholstered furniture in history. The wide-bodied aircraft DoX was furnished entirely with the lightweight armchairs and sofas.
With the furnishing of nine show flats for the exhibition “Die Wohnung” (The Apartment) in 1927 on the Stuttgart Weissenhof Estate, the company made its mark on modernity: Walter Knoll was one of the courageous trailblazers of this ensemble, unparalleled to this day, that with its great architects – including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius – set standards in modern building and living all over the world.
In 1937, the flourishing company moved to Herrenberg. Walter Knoll's oldest son Hans went to America in the late 1930s where he made Knoll International a formative company of modernity.
New direction in the post-war era
While Germany was still being subjected to “Gelsenkirchener Barock” (rust belt baroque), a style of kitschy furniture, after 1945, Walter Knoll was publicising a modern way of life. The clean lines of "Vostra", a small belted seat, perfectly reflected people's attitudes in this time of awakening and helped Walter Knoll regain international recognition. Presented at the "Neues Wohnen" (New Living) exhibition in Cologne in 1949, the upholstered version of the armchair was one of the first great seating ranges of the post-war era and became the embodiment of modern living.
Organic shapes characterised the spirit of the era of the economic miracle. At the first furniture fair in Cologne in 1950, Walter Knoll presented bucket seats, upholstered chairs with elliptical seating areas and rounded cocktail chairs. The bucket seat 369, designed in 1956, is still one of today's modern lifestyle classics. Models of the time came into being in collaborations with significant designers such as Arno Votteler, Herbert Hirche and Herta Maria Witzemann. In accordance with interior designer Witzemann's plans, the first German TV tower in Stuttgart was furnished with Walter Knoll furniture in 1956 – a success which underlined the expertise of the company in terms of modern interior design.
Walter Knoll handed the flourishing company over to his younger son Robert in 1964, who in turn entrusted his son Michael with the leadership in the 1980s.
Office and Contract
The Contract division was established in the 1970s. Projects such as the furnishing of Berlin's Tegel Airport account for the success in furnishing business premises and are without doubt the highlights of the company's history. Together with architect Meinhard von Gerkan, the "Berlin Chair" was created for the airport's VIP lounge. The company's reputation among aficionados was consolidated with elegant workplaces, comfortable office chairs for executive offices and conference rooms, as well as elegant sofas for foyers and lobbies.
In 1993, the famous furnishing family Benz bought the Walter Knoll company. Markus Benz, the oldest son, has been running the business ever since with the experience of excellent upholstery craftsmanship and modern corporate culture. The company's expertise lies in its ability to preserve and interpret true values – masterly craftsmanship, fine materials and lasting design – to shape living spaces.
Since the end of the last century, the company has been growing continuously, increased its performance more than twelvefold, and is now one of the leading furnishing manufacturers in the international high-end segment.
Together with internationally renowned architects and designers, including Norman Foster and PearsonLloyd from Great Britain, EOOS from Austria, Ben van Berkel from the Netherlands, Kengo Kuma from Japan and Claudio Bellini from Italy, the company creates furniture and installations in buildings all over the world. For corporate offices, social and public buildings, as well as brand worlds. The company's furniture can be found in commercial premises ranging from the European Central Bank in Frankfurt to the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, from the Residence of the German Embassy in Brasilia and banks in Dubai to the Hearst Building in New York.
Over 120 international design awards over the last fifteen years bear witness to the design expertise of the company. Characteristic of this is the first Design Management Europe Award presented in 2007.