Born Florence Schust in 1917, and orphaned at age 12, Knoll began her architectural studies at the Kingswood School in Michigan and was virtually adopted by the family of Eliel Saarinen. She continued her studies at Cranbook Academy of Art, the Architectural Association in London, and the Illinois Institute of Technology under Mies van der Rohe, where she received her architectural degree. In 1946, she married Hans Knoll, owner of the Hans G. Knoll Furniture Company and the firm became known as Knoll Associates, Inc.
As an architect, interior space planner, and furniture designer, Florence Knoll defined the look and market for modern design in corporate America in the 1950s and made modern American design an international style. Her pioneering interiors profoundly influenced post-World War II design. Her reductive aesthetic of light, open spaces furnished with elegant woven fabrics, furniture grouped for informal conversation and brightly colored wall panels made Knoll one of the most influential design firms of the time.
Her notable planning projects for the firm included the interior design of the CBS, Seagrams, and Look magazine offices in New York City. After her husband’s death, Florence served as president and continued as design director of the company until 1965 when she resigned to pursue a career as a freelance designer.