The most modern and stark designs are tempered by a floppy eared and hairy presence-sprawled on the floor next to Eero Saarinen’s clean-lined grasshopper chair. That may have been the rationale Hans and Florence Knoll used when deciding to include their Old English Sheepdog, Cartree, in their advertising campaigns. The Knolls believed in sharing their life, including their living and working space, with their pet. Cartree would commonly find himself in front of the camera as he roamed around the studio, always the center of attention. The Knoll ads featuring Cartree were so well received that other designers are said to have hired animals for their advertisements. But what other animal would be so at home with design as the dog of Hans and Florence Knoll, whose names became almost synonymous with contemporary furniture.
It all began with one well-conceived chair Hans brought over from his native Germany. The son of Walter Knoll, a well-respected furniture designer who had produced some of the earliest Bauhaus furniture in Weimar, Germany, Hans had an eye for beautiful pieces. He built his new company in America on the belief that modern architects would need modern furniture. He set out to convince designers to create furniture for modern interiors, and paid them royalties for their work.
Florence was an architect and interior designer who had studied at Cranbrook, the Architectural Association in London, and what was then the Armour Institute in Chicago. In Chicago, she studied under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and in Boston she worked for Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus movement and for Marcel Breuer, a Bauhaus master.
In 1946, she partnered (in business and in matrimony) with Hans Knoll, bringing to the company significant experience and important contacts. The Knolls’ first large interior job was to design the Rockefeller family offices, an impressive beginning. Early on at the company, Florence was credited with acquiring the exclusive manufacturing right to Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona series (1929), as well as to Breuer’s Wassily chair (1925). These chairs, some of the mainstays of the “Knoll look,” still look modern today.
Anyone who knew the Knolls in business or pleasure knew Cartree. His hair was always over his eyes, and he drew attention everywhere he went, as a few of Florence’s anecdotes prove. The dog, a favorite of Herbert Matter, the graphic designer at Knoll, attended a party at Matter’s home. Florence Knoll recollects sitting next to a man at the party with “huge dark-rimmed glasses,” who stared at the sheepdog relaxing on the floor. By her account, the man (who turned out to be illustrator Saul Steinberg), after confirming it was her dog, said, “You should buy him a zipper so he can take off his coat when he comes in the house.”
Cartree also helped to entertain in the office. Knoll speaks of a large account the company had with Frazar Wilde from Connecticut General. Florence was the interior designer for a renovation of their offices. Wilde came by the studio to discuss the project and tripped into the room over the big lug of a dog. Recovering quickly, Florence recalls his comment: “any woman with an Old English Sheepdog can’t be all bad.”
It is ironic that a shaggy haired dog became the symbol for a company known for spare modern design and Bauhaus philosophy. Cartree gave the Knoll enterprise an element of warmth, reminding potential customers that their spaces are to be lived in and enjoyed by all members of the family.
– JC Grey