Project Knoll Office and Showroom, Houston
Architect Architecture Research Office
Design Team Stephen Cassell, Kim Yao, Jejon Yeung, Christine Nasir
Photographer Bob O’Conner
Knoll’s new Houston showroom on the ninth floor of a Hines tower in River Oaks is a nod to the company’s rich design heritage. It also looks to the future, presenting new horizons in conference rooms, work spaces, lounges, architectural products, furniture, and textiles.
New York-based practice Architecture Research Office (ARO) designed the headquarters and showroom. It is the firm’s third such project for Knoll. The first two are in Midtown Manhattan and San Francisco and feature an open work floor plan to demonstrate products in use while integrating spaces for conferences, ad hoc meetings, casual gatherings, and a library. The Houston office is designed on the same concept, but also features a wraparound terrace and panoramic views to downtown, the Medical Center, and the Williams Tower in the Galleria (Knoll’s former home).
Stephen Cassell, ARO principal, worked on the showroom with Kim Yao, ARO principal, Jejon Yeung, project director, and Christine Nasir, project designer.
“It’s incredibly fun to work with Knoll. They’re a client who is so sophisticated about design. It was a phenomenal and insightful collaboration,” Cassell says. “Each project is a different opportunity to explore the capabilities of their futniture and their materials.” Whereas the New York project is black and steel as a reflection of that market, Cassell realized after speaking with Gerry Fehn, vice president of sales for Knoll’s southern division, that Houston needed a lighter touch.
White terrazzo floors detailed with solid brass trim complement a brass railing that runs overhead where fabric screen tracks can be interchanged and updated. White FilzFelt vaulted ceiling panels morph into white FilzFelt acoustic baffles over the open work floor.
“We wanted it to be relevant, classic, timeless, and comfortable. We want to show that design matters. Everything in here is us,”
The company’s international circle K logo is branded into light brown leather panels wrapping a touchdown space near the reception lobby. It’s also stamped in the brass pull welcoming guests into the showroom and cast into the terazzo floor. Metal pulls by Rockwood are wrapped in Spinneybeck leather in a geometric leaf-like pattern developed by ARO. A dark blue curtain plays off the blues of the sky behind the floor-to-ceiling glass while the letters spelling “Knoll” seem to float in the air.
ARO tapped into a deep showroom legacy by studying vintage photos of Florence Knoll’s showrooms from the 1950s and ’60s and also listened to the client’s current needs.
A Knoll history wall greets guests in the lobby with subtle delineations to frame the spaces created by a mobile-like custom suede petal screen behind the Italian marble reception desk. Layers of glass and textiles lend themselves to the vignettes, where classic furniture is juxtaposed with workstations and chairs. Historic photos of Mies holding a cigar and of the Barcelona Pavilion are blown up to adorn the walls, hearkening back to the legacy of Hans and Florence Knoll and one of her most prestigious mentors.
“We wanted it to be relevant, classic, timeless, and comfortable. We want to show that design matters. Everything in here is us,” Fehn says. She also spoke about the importance of having a constellation of products under one roof.
The carefully selected combinations of white and gray ash workspaces, credenzas, pedestals, and Generation chairs mix and mingle with white base Saarinen tables, tulip chairs, gold Platner tables, Bertoia chairs, a Krefeld settee and ottoman, and pieces by David Adjaye. It is a curated feast.
Florence Tang, Assoc. AIA, is a design professional and journalist based in Houston.