Always Be Knolling

While researching a documentary on designer and photographer Herbert Matter, The Visual Language of Herbert Matter*, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole. Matter was the designer and photographer for Knoll furniture for many years, among his many notable career achievements. But what lead me to typing up this post was that I was reminded about “knolling”. Knolling is the original term coined for the craft of aligning objects at 90º angles. The term was coined in 1987 by Andrew Kromelow, a janitor at Frank Gehry’s furniture fabrication shop. Each day, Kromelow went the shop and found any tools that had been left out. He would arrange the tools on a flat surface so they were at right angles to one another. He called this knolling, since it reminded him of Florence Knoll‘s angular furniture pieces.

from Herbert Matter.org

This aesthetic also appeared in Knoll catalogs in the mid-century. The designer responsible? Herbert Matter.

from HerbertMatter.org

Matter used this technique in some of the photography work that he did for Conde Nast as well.

Tom Sachs, a former employee of Frank Gehry, also uses knolling in his studio for tidy, organized workspaces.

Penlux and Sailor swatches

Pentel EnerGel Clena Gel Pens

Today, we see knolling everywhere but many people call it “flat lays“. Instagram is awash in knolling. Catalogs, product photography, even we use knolling here on this blog.

Opus 88 Fantasia Green Orange Fountain Pen Comparison

All this kept me looking through other vintage designers (more rabbit holes) who have inspired me like Alvin Lustig, Giovanni Pintori, Irving Harper, and Ray and Charles Eames.

Pintori for Olivetti

Pintori used knolling for Olivetti typewriters paired with his graphic illustration style. His sense of color!

Ray & Charles Eames chair wires

Ray & Charles were human knolling.

Once again, I’ve gone a little off-topic this week but I used to do a design blog called Pica + Pixel (my friend Kirsten and I did it together but the site seems to be gone now) where a lot of things like this would have existed, and my post last week about Flickr. While I don’t imagine I will do this type of thing regularly, I hope you’ll forgive my occasional off-topic posts.


*My rabbit hole had a rabbit hole. I discovered Kanopy, a digital media streaming service that links into

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2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I do this! I had no idea it was called Knolling, or anything else for that matter! I do it instinctively because it looks nice. Before reading this post I wasn’t aware that it was actually a thing. Thank you Ana for the off topic post, bringing light to something I wasn’t aware of 🙂

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