A truly rare and beautiful late 1940’s desk constructed in polished steel and Tiger Stripe maple attributed to Florence Knoll and marked ’01 FK’.
The earliest of all FK’s desks that entered the main stream was the model 17 wooden desk constructed in FKs preferred wood, maple. This featured a solid maple frame with a side cabinet that featured louvered drawers. In the early 1950’s FK planning unit undertook a project for IBM to create a whole new series of desks that could be configured in a number of ways and settled on using a metal supporting structure that was either chrome plated or coated in black oxide. This design is instantly recognisable and had numerous iterations over the years under various model numbers. However, in most cases, the designs featured a hanging (or floating) drawer unit or cabinet that was attached to the frame at the side and also attached to the underside of the top.
In earlier models the drawer unit was free floating in that it wasn’t supported by a cross member that joined the legs from one side to the other. This cross member therefore had two functions; to support the desk and to stop the legs from spreading under the weight of the cabinet and top, a problem that was found to occur on larger desks.
In this desk we therefore have a hybrid of the original 1940s Model 17 with the louvered drawer fronts and the later 1950s metal frame models that started with the IBM contract and later went onto to become the classic Knoll desks that everyone recognises. In other words it’s the ‘missing link’ between the two. But it’s so much more than that…
Firstly, it is produced in maple, which we know was FKs favoured wood for early models, but not in standard maple; it’s Tiger Stripe maple. Otherwise known as curly or fiddleback maple, the latter name was derived from the fact that this form of maple, because it was so highly decorative, was used for the backs of expensive violins.
It really is an exceptional veneer that was only ever used in small quantities because it was so difficult to cut and produces a 3D effect that changes when looked at from different angles – as shown as best as I could in the photos. The Tiger Stripe, is a feature of maple in which the growth of the wood fibres are distorted in an undulating chatoyant (cat’s eye depth often associated with gem stones) pattern, producing wavy lines known as flames; and this veneer is used on both the top as well as the whole cabinet including the drawer fronts. You’ll also see it has an inset glass shelf in the back of the cabinet.
Secondly, it’s just the sheer quality of the construction and the fittings as can be evidenced by the large side bolts and metal frame. The latter is again important because all of Knoll’s desks from the 1950’s onwards were constructed in component parts that were either chrome plated or coated in black oxide and joined together at a later production stage - and it’s natural this would be the case as otherwise Knoll would have to chromium plate the whole desk in one go which would not have been practical. But in this desk the legs and supporting structure have been welded and filed to create seamless joins (all Knoll desks have visible joins in the side or face of the frame) and then the whole frame has been meticulously polished to a mirror finish.
Finally, it has the ’01 FK’ impressed mark under the top. Unfortunately the exact meaning of that has been lost in the annals of time as it has changed ownership. In my mind it suggest it was either one of the prototypes that was made prior the IBM production or it was a totally unique bespoke piece made for a specific client. The latter is perhaps more the case as no expense has been spared in making the desk as evidenced by the use of the Tiger Stripe veneer and the hand polished frame.
As can be seen in the photos it’s presented in excellent vintage condition with only light usage marks to the wood and with only a few small dents and marks to the rust free polished steel frame. The Knoll International, Vincent Cafiero desk chair shown in the last 2 photos is a perfect match for this desk and is also available for purchase via one of my other listings on this website HERE.
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Rare polished steel and Tiger Stripe maple desk attributed to Florence Knoll
Tiger Stripe Mapel and Polished Steel
Mid Century Modern, 20th Century Design
Era or date of production
H73 X W120 X D70cm
Number of pieces included in price
Very good vintage condition with signs of wear commensurate with age.
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