Knoll’s Benjamin Pardo on midcentury-modern pieces in the home office and beyond

As senior vice president and design director of Knoll, Benjamin Pardo is responsible for product and showroom design worldwide. The brand, which was established in New York in 1938 and redefined the American office, has a modern design portfolio that includes furniture, textiles, leathers and accessories.

Pardo joined Knoll in 2005 after 17 years with Unifor, an Italian manufacturer of high-end office furniture systems, where he served as president. Pardo lives in a midcentury Manhattan apartment house and collects the work of 20th-century Italian architect Ettore Sottsass.

Pardo joined The Washington Post for an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: How do you decide what midcentury designs work for the home office?

A: Designing a modern, comfortable and affordable personalized space for remote work is important. Some people who have been working from home turn to classic designs, such as a Saarinen chair and Florence Knoll table desk. Others gravitate toward workplace-specific furniture, such as a high-performance ReGeneration desk chair and table desk by David Rockwell. Whatever your perspective, think about balance and a place for everything.

Benjamin Pardo, senior vice president and design director of Knoll, in his home office. (Courtesy of Benjamin Pardo)

Q: What makes your home office special?

A: My home office draws on distinctly modern approaches in one space. It synthesizes the evolution of the Knoll point of view, bringing together the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen and, of course, Florence Knoll herself. Softer touchpoints drive home comfort, too. I have a space to ideate, all while being surrounded by beautiful and functional objects.

Q: What contemporary Knoll designs reference your favorite classics?

A: The Fiber chair family from our Muuto brand, which offers a new perspective on Scandinavian design, is a great example of a contemporary interpretation of a classic form. Saarinen thought long and hard about the figure of an object in architectural space. His landmark chairs reflect this idea with proper back support, which allows you to sit fully back in the chair.

Eero Saarinen’s Womb Chair is a family-friendly midcentury choice. (Courtesy of Knoll)

Eero Saarinen’s Womb Chair is a family-friendly midcentury choice. (Courtesy of Knoll)

Q: What’s your favorite lounge chair for a modern and comfortable living room where children also live?

A: You need a Womb chair by Saarinen. Designed as a chair for Florence Knoll to sit with her dog, Cartree, it’s a classic.

Q: We have a Finn Juhl teak dining table but have been given conflicting information about how to care for the wood. Do you have advice on using teak oil or similar products to maintain the wood?

A: Teak needs oil. It should be conditioned every three months; it’s most important when teak is outdoors. Your dining table will look wonderful after a quick treatment with the proper wood restorative. I prefer my teak tops outdoors to stay in the natural state bleached by the sun. But both are great options, so do what you prefer.

Q: Do you have a favorite piece in your home?

A: My favorite is always the most recent. I just got four classic Nakashima spindle-back chairs in a small dining nook for breakfast in the country.

Q: Is there any material that you’re partial to?

A: I love the way Warren Platner used polished steel rods as a decorative and structural element in an entirely different way from Bertoia. His table and chair designs require precise alignment. The result makes a statement in any room. Paired with Saarinen’s chairs, you can create a setting with an enduring midcentury vibe.

The 1966 Schultz Dining Chair and Dining Table are midcentury classics for the patio. (Courtesy of Knoll)

The 1966 Schultz Dining Chair and Dining Table are midcentury classics for the patio. (Courtesy of Knoll)

Q: What modern furniture do you recommend for outside?

A: I suggest the 1966 Schultz collection. These pieces were developed by Richard Schultz with Florence Knoll. She needed outdoor furniture for her new home in Coral Gables, Florida. It set the standard for contemporary classic outdoor furniture.

Q: Do you have any tips on how to spot an authentic piece when purchasing vintage furniture to avoid buying a knockoff?

A: Start by going to our website, knoll.com, to see the pieces, forms, materials and dimensions of works. We have an entire section devoted to classics, and the Knoll archive has a complete history of our products. Next, choose a reputable dealer. Check the labels for Knoll’s address. Some pieces even carry a distinctive label designed by the Swiss graphic designer Herbert Matter. Be sure to check back fabrics on upholstery.

Q: My home is a Scandinavian bow house. Is midcentury furniture a good fit with this architecture?

A: It is an ideal combination. Start by looking at vintage Scandinavian furniture, but also consider a new perspective on Scandinavian design with Muuto. A good eclectic mix of classic Knoll, classic Scandinavian and Muuto pieces that reflect light and protect a youthful (in spirit, not age) image are a perfect combination. Muuto Fiber chairs pair wonderfully with Saarinen tables. The Muuto Oslo chair also has a wonderful organic form and is perfect for dining and working with Saarinen.

Q: What are your favorite books that relate to the philosophy of design?

A: “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson. Don’t laugh at me. Read it and imagine.

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