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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Office elegance

Herman Miller has been making the ultimate office chair for decades. I recently acquired an Aeron chair, which was designed in 1994 and is destined to be yet another in a long line of Herman Miller classics.

When designing the Swag Leg chair, George Nelson began with the legs, insisting that they be made of machine-formed metal, be prefinished. And be beautiful. The shell echoes another familiar form. Nelson borrowed (with permission) the patented process for molding plastic that Charles and Ray Eames had developed. But he added a twist. He created separate seat and back shells and then glued them together. The chair was introduced in 1958 and is back in production today.

George Nelson Swag Leg chair, 1958

Industrialist J. Irwin Miller made a deal with his home town of Columbus, Indiana. He would set up a foundation that would pay architect fees for new public buildings if the foundation could choose the architects. As a result, the town of 40,000 has buildings by Eero and Eliel Saarinen, I. M. Pei, Cesar Pelli, Kevin Roche, Richard Meier and others and has been listed by the American Institute of Architects to be the sixth most architecturally significant city in the United States.

When Eero Saarinen designed Miller's home, he asked Ray and Charles Eames to design high-quality seating for outdoor use. They constructed their chairs of cast aluminum with a seat frame that supported a stretched synthetic mesh, and the Aluminum Group was born. Herman Miller began making the Aluminum Group for the office in 1959.

Eames Aluminum Group Management chair, 1959

When George Nelson asked Charles Eames to assist in the design of the U. S. pavilion at the Moscow world exhibition in 1959, Eames asked his friend Henry Luce, the chairman of Time-Life, for a favor. Luce gave Eames access to the company's vast archive of images on the condition that he could call in a favor of his own at some time in the future, which he did a year later when he asked for a chair for his ultra-modern new building. The Eameses responded with the Time-Life chair. At the time, it was a revolutionary design, and it hasn't been changed yet.

Eames Time-Life chair, 1960

In 1969 Ray and Charles Eames added plush cushions to the Aluminum Group chair, and the Soft Pad line was created.

Eames Soft Pad Management chair, 1969

In 1994 Herman Miller hired Don Chadwick and Bill Stumph to create a breakthrough design in office seating. The high back and waterfall seat of the Aeron became a symbol of the dot-com era. It is part of the New York MoMA permanent collection and has been named of of "Designs Greatest Hits"  by Your Company magazine and a gold medal winner of the "Designs of the Decade" of the Industrial Designers Society of America.

Aeron chair, 1994

In 2003 German design team Studio 7.5 (made up of Claudia Plikat, Burkhard Schmitz, Nicolai Neubert, Carola Zwick, and Roland Zwick, who prefer to work as a team without titles or hierarchy) created the Mirra chair. Their concept was to make the chair "a shadow of the sitter."

Mirra chair, 2003

The Celle (say Sell-uh) chair was designed by Jerome Caruso, who has been Sub-Zero's only designer for more than two decades. He called the Celle "The Mt. Everest of fun." He conceived it as hundreds of tiny "cells," each one consisting of a pad with spring-like loops.

Celle chair, 2005

Herman Miller asked Yves Béhar to design an affordable chair that would encorporate good design, ergonomics, engineering and respect for the environment. Béhar took his inspiration for the Sayl chair from the Golden Gate Bridge in his home town of San Francisco, California.

Sayl chair, 2009

Check back tomorrow to see my Aeron...and the new desk I bought to go with it.) It's amazing how one thing always leads to another...

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  1. I have to say, I really prefer the older Herman Miller designs. Something about the plastic and mesh in the newer ones just doesn't do it for me. I guess I'm just an old-fashioned metal and leather type of guy.

    Update on our spindle clocks: They SHOULD be shipping out tomorrow and will probably get here in another 5-7 days. Cross your fingers.

  2. @Nick: I agree that the older ones look better, but at my age, leg circulation is an issue, and the Aeron is the only chair I've found that I can sit in for hours on end (which I have to do with some of my projects) and not have a problem. I think it's the thin mesh instead of a thick cushion and the waterfall front of the seat. Getting old thoroughly sucks.

    I called The Foundary today and they still didn't know anything, but I just got an email saying my clock shipped at 5 p.m. on the 18th and should arrive by the 21st. We'll see...

  3. Congrats on the Aeron chair! I used to have one at an old job, and they are incredible. I'm in agreement with the other Nick. The old chairs might not have had the ergonomics, but they looked good.

  4. I have been lusting after an aeron for at least 10 years. I am hoping to find one on craigslist for cheap. I sat in one when I worked at a biz that sold high end office equipment, main line was Herman Miller. That is where my love of all things HM and mid century actually started :)

  5. @Nick Klaus: If I were choosing simply on the basis of looks, I'd have an Aluminum Group Management chair, hands down. I've always thought they were the most gorgeous piece of office furniture ever made. However, at age 63, ergonomic office chairs are part of my landscape, along with sensible shoes. ;)

  6. @Rachael: I've seen some decent buys on eBay too. Luckily for me, my SIL's dad owned an office furniture business and sold Herman Miller before he retired, and now he buys and restores Aerons. Not only did I get mine at a great price, but he replaced the mechanisms and made it look like new.