This post was originally published on Knoll Inspiration in 2016.
In a prescient moment just several years before his untimely death, Hans Knoll told then-chairman Cornell Dechert, "If anything happens to me, keep your eye on Dick Schultz and Don Petitt. They are very talented. Don’t let the company ever lose them." These proved to be sage words for Richard "Dick" Schultz, whose career with Knoll lasted from 1950 to 1972.
Demonstrative of his immeasurable talent, the Petal Collection was the first series of products to be released by Knoll bearing Schultz’s name. Having proven his worth in the company’s product-development department, Schultz was tasked with helping expand the company’s outdoor portfolio. Although designed concurrently with the Leisure Collection, the Petal Collection was released six years prior, and actually intended to complement Harry Bertoia’s seating line—which Schultz helped realize during his time in product-development.
"The tables worked very well with Bertoia," Schultz reflected in an interview from 1978. As opposed to the exposed lattice basket of the Bertoia chairs, with the Petal Tables, Schultz hoped to hide the support rather than make it a standout visual design feature, as Bertoia had done. "My idea for the segmented top was to be able to look down through the petals and not see any support, as if they were floating." This quality is beautifully captured in Herbert Matter’s graphic depiction of the product, used to market the tables beginning in 1960.
Compared to Bertoia’s designs, the Petal Tables were extremely costly to produce, and much less suited to mass-production. "The top, for example, was like making many separate tops; all eight petals had to be finished individually." The design was subjected to a number of revisions, intended to get the cost down, but Schultz was adamant about not sacrificing the features he thought of as indispensable to the design. "I was hung up on not having a simple ring under the petals."
In the end, the final design was achieved from an elaborate cast base, with clusters of support radiating out from the table’s central stem. The splayed, perched legs mirror the configuration of the supporting arms, pitched at a forty five degree angle to lift the base off the ground. "By making a table in this manner, there is no need for a ring support, and each petal is independent, which allows the table to expand and contract with the weather."
As with the later-released Topiary Collection, which was designed to look like a pruned shrub, the Petal Collection took nature as its primary reference point. "I was inspired by Queen Anne’s lace, a weed that grows near our house in Pennsylvania. Each cluster of flowers is supported on its own stem." The lexicon followed; Schultz’s called the base, "the spider" and the top, "the petals." The result is an organic addition to any outdoor space that effortlessly complements Knoll’s other outdoor designs. Following the tables’ introduction in 1960, they were immediately added to MoMA’s design collection, where they remain to this day.
More on Knoll Inspiration: Discover Richard Schultz's iconic 1966 Leisure Collection for Knoll.
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