It’s always fun to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how a favorite design is made. In the case of the Select Nelson tray table, we returned to our roots to show you the process of molding plywood—a manufacturing process we helped to pioneer.
Although the process of molding plywood is essentially same as it was in the 1940’s, when it was developed, modern technology has allowed for greater speed, precision, and strength. While the production process does utilize machinery, as you can see in the slideshow, it is certainly not automated and requires hands-on work.
The tray table, designed by George Nelson in 1955, like many of Nelson’s designs, was a reaction to modern living. New, smaller residences lacked space for a dedicated room for hosting guests. Hence the tray table, a collapsible, portable table that could be brought out for entertaining and easily stored away when not in use.
The 2011 limited-edition Select Nelson tray table features an inlay pattern inspired by George Nelson’s mid-century masterpiece, the Flock of Butterflies clock. The design juxtaposes diamonds of walnut and santos palisander veneers with white ash, finished with a process that arrests the wood in its natural, freshly cut state.
The meaning of Magis—”more than”—captures the Italian company’s approach to design and manufacturing. “We add to Herman Miller because we are complementare, complementary,” explains Alberto Perazza, Co-Managing Director of Magis. “Even a world apart, we do the business of design in similar ways. Both companies have many and continuing collaborations with the greatest world designers.”
Much like Herman Miller, Magis employs innovative processes that maximize performance, while minimizing volume of material, energy use, and environmental impact.
Learn more about Magis designers.
Check out the HermanMiller Store for more details.
I recently had the good fortune to visit the Eames House in Pacific Palisades, California. As a young designer influenced by the Eameses, the visit left me with a new perspective. While Charles and Ray were legendary designers, they were also husband and wife, grandparents, and friends, who spent years turning the house into a comforting, familiar place. It is the Eames home more than it is the Eames House.
While the home has been preserved, nothing has been restored. It is just as Charles and Ray intended. It feels warm, inviting and has the patina of use: the paint is chipped, the dinner bell is rusty, and the leather on the lounge chair and ottoman is cracked from sitting. Their collections are on display everywhere. It couldn’t feel more different than the sleek, museum-like interiors that we see their furniture featured in today.
Throughout, there are examples of Eames design–but not the ones you and I know. A patio table built from the base of their famous ottoman sits outside, probably a little rustier than when they used it; a walnut stool became a Lazy Susan holding a TV; and a plant is perched on top of an extra, extra tall modified table base. They simply used what they had to make what they needed.
Outside, old trucks and other toys litter the yard and in the corner are remains of a wooden fort built for the grandchildren.
Visiting the home of Charles and Ray Eames and glimpsing into their life together transformed two design icons into people, who, in many ways, were just like you and me.
Dear Ms. DiOrio,
Thank you for your letter of praise for what the office cubicle means to you. I presume you thought your “open letter to people or entities who are unlikely to respond” would be lost in cyberspace. (Another highfalutin word I’m sure you feel is unnecessary.) However, I have been asked to respond on Mr. Miller’s behalf.
While we do appreciate your sentiments, I must, on behalf of everyone at our company, correct some of your more egregious errors (the factual ones, not the errors in thinking). Mr. Miller did begin the company that allowed you and Dilbert to flourish (we receive no proceeds from Mr. Adams), however the inventor of the cubicle was Mr. Robert Propst. And, as with most inventors (think Dr. Frankenstein, for example), he became dismayed at what his creation became (“egg-carton geometry” was one phrase he used to describe the way people applied it). Read more
Recently, PBS Arts, in an episode of its Off Book, took a look at product design and what it means to three practitioners. For Yves Béhar of fuseproject, the San Francisco-based design and branding company and designer of our SAYL chair, “what design does, at its best, is to accelerate the adoption of new ideas.” Harvey Moscot, a fourth generation owner of a classic eyewear brand, and Peter Schmitt, an MIT researcher looking to revolutionize the product experience through 3D printing, offer two other perspectives.
It’s certainly the case that the role of design is much in the spotlight lately. It can make the difference, some say. It can change the world, claim others. For us, design is something we get—according to FastCompany. It’s how we solve problems. It’s not just an approach to products, though, it has also become, as George Nelson said in 1948, “a central part of our business.”
The lords are leaping and the maids are milking, but who’s been making all these stockings?
For the fifth year, holiday stockings hung along the corridors of the Herman Miller Design Yard and multiplied into the hundreds. And they’re not cookie-cutter stockings either—each are one-of-a-kind and handmade out of our textile leftovers. In fact, every once in a while, passersby try buying one for themselves to hang over their fireplace.
However, these stockings were not for sale, but rather made for a greater cause. In the season of giving, Herman Miller employees volunteered their lunch hours for sewing and decorating a total of 477 stockings. All those carefully crafted stockings were distributed to these handpicked charities: Holland Rescue Mission, Urban Family Ministries, Love INC, and St. Jude’s Ranch for Children. These organizations work directly with the families who took the stockings filled with goodies home for the holidays.
There’s an attitude at Herman Miller that’s been around for a long time: treating materials as something integral to the design process. Think of Charles and Ray Eames and their work with molding plywood for the origin. In this second in a series on materials at Herman Miller, Susan Lyons gives a recent example: the Embody chair.
Whatever the example, the point is the same: to achieve what Lyons calls “beautiful practicality.” “When we talk about material utility,” she says, “what we really mean is that we use materials to solve problems.” It’s a symbiotic relationship, with sometimes the material driving the form and other times the form driving the material.
What to get that design-minded person on your holiday gift list? Give them 15 pounds of pure Girard delight. Just in time for the season, designer Todd Oldham brings us the definitive monograph on the life and work of Alexander Girard. This book is massive; it really does weigh in at about 15 pounds, making it the ultimate coffee-table book. (The irony of the name of the book’s co-author, Keira Coffee, is appreciated.)
The authors cover the life and work of Girard in words and pictures, about 2,300 of the latter, most in color and many never published before. We especially enjoyed the explication of Girard’s bold and colorful textile designs for Herman Miller during his tenure as our textile division director from 1952 to 1975. (Thanks to our folks in Archives for making these treasures available for photographing.) For a sneak peak, watch the video of Simon Doonan of Barneys New York speak with Todd about the book.
As the new film about them makes clear, Charles and Ray had so much confidence in the way they went about solving a problem—whether designing a chair, an exhibit, or a film—they didn’t entertain thoughts of failing. Other factors, besides their design brilliance, helped. Two of the most important were maintaining artistic control and having the ear of the CEOs at their client companies.
There is much proof of their successes, including the string of designs they did for Herman Miller, beginning with the groundbreaking plywood chair. But one clinker stands out: their 1976 show for the bicentennial of the American Revolution, “The World of Franklin and Jefferson.” Hilton Kramer writing in the New York Times panned it as overly ideological. Others saw it as overwhelming: too much information, too many artifacts.
But as Donald Albrecht, architecture and design curator, points out in “Eames: The Architect and the Painter,” the exhibit can be seen less as a failure and more as a reflection of the restless minds of the Eameses. Layering the material, as we do today in digital experiences, would have made it compelling and digestible. Perhaps this exhibit was simply another example of Charles and Ray being ahead of their time.