When Gae Aulenti brought the Rimorchiatore lamp prototype to Knoll's President

Sat May 2nd 2020

Email with  Kevin Keim,
Charles Moore Fondation Director
(April 29th 2020).

My good friend Bobby Cadwallader, who lives in San Antonio, succeeded Florence Knoll as President of Knoll International.

He gave Gae her first American commission, which was for a Knoll Showroom in Boston. And then she did a Knoll Showroom in New York. Both no longer exist.

On one of her trips to New York to work on the showroom designs, she brought a prototype Rimorchiatore Lamp to Bobby, hoping Knoll would produce it.

He said “Gae, I love your work, but this is NOT a lamp for Knoll.”

She said “Well, just keep it and think about it… I don’t want to carry it all the way back to Milano.”

About 15 years ago on one of my visits, Bobby said “In that closet is a Gae Aulenti lamp I’ve never liked. Its been in there for 30 years. “Do you want it?”

I said “Absolutely!”

When I asked Bobby, “Since it was a desk lamp, was this container for pencils, and this one for paper clips?”
He said, “I don’t know. Let’s FAX Gae and ask her.” So we FAXed her, and she replied right away.

“No,” Gae wrote. "People in Italian offices in 1970 were not concerned with pencils and paper clips. The more important things to organize on a desk were flowers and cigarette ashes!”

"Bobby" Cadwallader's
Obituary by Kevin Keim

Robert Brooke Cadwallader, known as “Bobby” to his family, friends, and colleagues, died early in the morning at home on January 19, 2020. He was born in Forth Worth, Texas on January 1, 1930, the first of that city’s births that decade, the son of Raymond Davis Cadwallader and Mary Eva Cadwallader (née Schmidt).

When he went to Southern Methodist University in 1949 on an athletic scholarship, he tried to enroll in the interior design department, but its chairwoman turned him away, declaring “no football player is going to be in my program.” Bobby went straight to the Provost, who overruled her. He swiftly became one of the department’s best students. Bobby soon met Laura Hillhouse, a student of fine arts. Their college romance led to marriage in 1953.

While a student, Bobby discovered a small, newly-opened Dallas design boutique with a red “K” on its door. He learned the “K” stood for Knoll, a furniture company established and developed by Hans Knoll and his wife Florence Schust Knoll. A chance encounter with Mrs. Knoll at an S.M.U. event set the trajectory of his life. Sensing Bobby’s passion and determination, she told him to come work for Knoll upon graduation. With degrees in Interior Design and Business Law, Bobby first completed two years of Air Force service, and then returned to Dallas with his wife Laura to be a junior Knoll salesman. Impressed with his hard work, Mrs. Knoll asked Bobby to establish their new Los Angeles operation, which he did with great success, expanding it to encompass all of the western United States. Next he directed Knoll’s entire marketing operation from New York City. When Florence Knoll retired from the business in 1965, she “handed him the keys” and Bobby became President of Knoll International.

At the helm of the world’s premier design furniture company, Bobby expanded the company globally and drew in a legion of new designers, particularly after he acquired the Italian company Gavina. Bobby worked with a roster of designers central to 20th-century design and architecture: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, Harry Bertoia, Warren Platner, Charles Pollock, Don Albinson, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, George Nelson, Richard Shultz, Cini Boeri, Tobia Scarpa, Hans Wegner, Niels Diffrient, Gae Aulenti, Douglas Ball, and Don Petit, to name only a few. He had an unerring nose for fresh talent, and helped launch and shape numerous careers by bestowing important commissions for furniture lines and showrooms. When you got a telephone call from Bobby with his booming voice, it meant something. Colleagues remember Bobby as unfailingly generous with his designers (especially when it came to credit and royalties), insistent on quality, whose Texan matter-of-fact style was tempered by warmth and loyalty. His work at Knoll culminated with a triumphant exhibition of the company’s iconic designs at the Louvre in Paris.

After his work at Knoll concluded when the company changed corporate hands, Bobby went on to reinvent and expand two more companies: Hauserman and Sunar. At Sunar, Bobby’s patronage did much to bring the world’s attention to the young architect Michael Graves.

In 1998, Bobby and Laura left their restored 18th-century farmhouse and garden in Greenwich, Connecticut, and retired to San Antonio, Texas. Alongside Laura, a fine artist and expert horticulturist, Bobby also loved making things with his own hands, particularly Nantucket baskets. Most recently, Bobby helped organize a 2019 Harry Bertoia exhibition at the San Antonio Museum of Art. He celebrated his 90th birthday on New Year’s Day surrounded by family and friends.

Bobby served on the boards and as an advisor to many important cultural institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York); Designer’s Saturday (New York); the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Charles Moore Foundation (Austin).

Cambi Casa d'Aste (Milan) March 23rd 2020

Estimate: EUR 1,500-2,000
Result: EUR 6,000

Gae Aulenti
Lampada da tavolo mod. Rimorchiatore in metallo laccato e acetato plastico.
Prod. Candle, Italia, 1968.
cm 30x15x38

Bibliografia Domus n. 463, 1968.