Posted on December 26, 2017.
No other business of its kind did more than the Herman Miller Furniture Company to introduce modern design into American homes. Working with legendary designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson and Alexander Girard, the Zeeland, Michigan-based firm fostered some of the boldest expressions of what we now call Mid-Century Modern style. In doing so, Herman Miller produced some of the most beautiful, iconic and, one can even say, noblest furniture of the past seven decades.
Founded in 1923, Herman Miller was originally known for grand historicist bedroom suites: heavily ornamented wood furniture that appealed to a high-minded, wealthier clientele. The company—named for its chief financial backer—began to suffer in the early 1930s as the Great Depression hit, and D. J. De Pree, the company’s CEO, feared bankruptcy. In 1932, aid came in the form of Gilbert Rohde, a self-taught furniture designer who had traveled widely in Europe, absorbing details of the Art Deco movement and other modernist influences. After persuading De Pree that the growing middle-class required smaller, lighter household furnishings, Rohde set a new course for Herman Miller, creating sleek chairs, tables and cabinetry that were the essence of the Streamline Moderne style.
Rohde died suddenly in 1944. The following year, De Pree turned to George Nelson, an architect who had written widely about modern furniture design. Under Nelson’s leadership, Herman Miller would embrace new technologies and materials and audacious biomorphic forms. Some of the pieces the company produced are now emblems of 20th century American design, including the Eames lounge chair and ottoman and Nelson’s Marshmallow sofa and Coconut chair. As you can see on these pages, such instantly recognizable furnishings have become timeless—staples of a modernist décor; striking, offbeat notes in traditional environments.
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