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Architect-designed interiors for a culturally progressive upper-middle class: the implicit political presence of Knoll International in Belgium

Fredie Floré (UGent)
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Abstract
In the first decade following the Second World War, Knoll International, a renowned American-based producer of International Style furniture, entered the western European market. It did so by selling production licenses to local furniture companies. One of them was De Coene, a Flemish family business specializing in the design and production of wooden furniture, interiors fittings, and structural building elements. In 1954 De Coene obtained the Knoll production licenses for Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in order to supply the business community with suitable modern office furnishings. Soon Knoll furniture also became an important component of the interior arrangements of the homes of the cultural elite. This essay discusses the introduction of Knoll in these interiors and especially questions the political side of this process. For De Coene, buying the Knoll production licenses formed an integral part of its postwar political reorientation which directly related to the firm’s pro-German activities during the war. After several years of sequestration, the company was allowed to rebuild its business, but there were still restrictions on the amount of profit it was allowed to make. In response to this, in the early fifties, De Coene made large investments which radically modernized the design, the technical know-how and the internal organization of the firm. By associating itself with Knoll International, which was known for collaborating with European “refugees,” the company explicitly tried to distance itself from its recent, wartime past. At the same time, considering the close relationships between Knoll and the US State Department, De Coene also implicitly took a position in a new world conflict—that of the Cold War. Taking the company history of De Coene as a starting point, this chapter discusses the political significance of Knoll furniture in the homes of the Belgian cultural elite, within the context of the Cold War years.
Keywords
modern interiors, De Coene, Cold War, Knoll, Belgium

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Chicago
Floré, Fredie. 2012. “Architect-designed Interiors for a Culturally Progressive Upper-middle Class: The Implicit Political Presence of Knoll International in Belgium.” In Atomic Dwelling. Anxiety, Domesticity, and Postwar Architecture, ed. Robin Schuldenfrei, 169–185. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
APA
Floré, F. (2012). Architect-designed interiors for a culturally progressive upper-middle class: the implicit political presence of Knoll International in Belgium. In R. Schuldenfrei (Ed.), Atomic dwelling. anxiety, domesticity, and postwar architecture (pp. 169–185). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Vancouver
1.
Floré F. Architect-designed interiors for a culturally progressive upper-middle class: the implicit political presence of Knoll International in Belgium. In: Schuldenfrei R, editor. Atomic dwelling. anxiety, domesticity, and postwar architecture. Abingdon, UK: Routledge; 2012. p. 169–85.
MLA
Floré, Fredie. “Architect-designed Interiors for a Culturally Progressive Upper-middle Class: The Implicit Political Presence of Knoll International in Belgium.” Atomic Dwelling. Anxiety, Domesticity, and Postwar Architecture. Ed. Robin Schuldenfrei. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2012. 169–185. Print.
@incollection{2005375,
  abstract     = {In the first decade following the Second World War, Knoll International, a renowned American-based producer of International Style furniture, entered the western European market. It did so by selling production licenses to local furniture companies. One of them was De Coene, a Flemish family business specializing in the design and production of wooden furniture, interiors fittings, and structural building elements. In 1954 De Coene obtained the Knoll production licenses for Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in order to supply the business community with suitable modern office furnishings. Soon Knoll furniture also became an important component of the interior arrangements of the homes of the cultural elite. This essay discusses the introduction of Knoll in these interiors and especially questions the political side of this process.
For De Coene, buying the Knoll production licenses formed an integral part of its postwar political reorientation which directly related to the firm{\textquoteright}s pro-German activities during the war. After several years of sequestration, the company was allowed to rebuild its business, but there were still restrictions on the amount of profit it was allowed to make. In response to this, in the early fifties, De Coene made large investments which radically modernized the design, the technical know-how and the internal organization of the firm. By associating itself with Knoll International, which was known for collaborating with European {\textquotedblleft}refugees,{\textquotedblright} the company explicitly tried to distance itself from its recent, wartime past. At the same time, considering the close relationships between Knoll and the US State Department, De Coene also implicitly took a position in a new world conflict---that of the Cold War.
Taking the company history of De Coene as a starting point, this chapter discusses the political significance of Knoll furniture in the homes of the Belgian cultural elite, within the context of the Cold War years.},
  author       = {Flor{\'e}, Fredie},
  booktitle    = {Atomic dwelling. anxiety, domesticity, and postwar architecture},
  editor       = {Schuldenfrei, Robin},
  isbn         = {9780415676090},
  keyword      = {modern interiors,De Coene,Cold War,Knoll,Belgium},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {169--185},
  publisher    = {Routledge},
  title        = {Architect-designed interiors for a culturally progressive upper-middle class: the implicit political presence of Knoll International in Belgium},
  year         = {2012},
}