Herman Miller Furniture Company

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(established 1923)

Along with Knoll International this company established its reputation as a leading furniture‐manufacturing company in the United States in the decades following the end of the Second World War. Its standing was enhanced by its employment of a distinguished list of designers that included George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, and Verner Panton. The origins of the business lay in the Star Furniture Company (established 1905), later renamed the Michigan Star Furniture Company (1919). However, Dirk Jan De Pree and his father‐in‐law Herman Miller established it on a more secure financial footing in 1923 when they bought a controlling share of the stock, renaming the firm the Herman Miller Furniture Company. Early designs produced by the company followed traditional lines and it was not until 1931 when Gilbert Rohde was employed as the company designer that a more progressive design outlook was established. However, following Rohde's death in 1944 and the appointment of the influential and pro‐Modernist George Nelson as design director in 1946 the company's international reputation began to be established. Other designers closely associated with Nelson, such as Charles and Ray Eames and Noguchi, added to the company's growing reputation for modern furniture. A number of the Eameses' early innovative organic designs such as the LCW wooden lounge chair (1945–6) and the DAR armchair (1948–50) were, respectively, put into production by Herman Miller from 1949 to 1957 and from 1950 to the early 1970s. The company also produced the highly practical Eameses' Storage Unit (1949), designed for both homes and offices, from 1950 to the mid‐1950s as well as the stylish low ETR coffee table (1950), from 1951 to 1964. Other celebrated Eames furniture designs for Herman Miller included the iconic 1956 moulded rosewood and leather lounge chair and ottoman. In 1952 the company also moved into the production of wallpapers and textiles under the leadership of Alexander Girard, who had a background in architecture and interior design and had been colour consultant to the General Motors Research Center. His textile designs were characterized by bright colours and geometric shapes and he also went on to design Herman Miller Inc. Textiles and Objects Shops in New York (1961). The Herman Miller Company took a new direction from 1960 when the Herman Miller Research Corporation was formed. Concerned with office systems and business furniture design Robert Probst was responsible for this sphere of the company's work, designing the Action Office System first launched in 1964, towards which Nelson (with his experience of system furniture that commenced with his Storage Wall of 1945) also made a design contribution. The Action Office idea moved away from conventional arrangements of free‐standing ‘island’ desks and included screens, storage systems, and a variety of work surfaces. It was also influential in the rethinking of office environments to include electronic equipment and incorporate new working practices. Other work in the field has included the Ethospace office system (1984) by Bill Stumpf, who had joined the company in the early 1970s. Important contributions by Stumpf to the Herman Miller range included the innovative gas cylinder mounted Ergon chair, introduced in 1976, the Equa chair (designed with Don Chadwick), released in 1984, and the Aeron chair of 1995, the latter given the accolade of Design of the Decade by the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA).


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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