Keasha Palmer is a free-lance writer who would like to write a book about writing, but is currently too busy writing to do so. Or maybe that's just an excuse. She has worked with Herman Miller for over 10 years.
Design, What's Up, Work/Life
December 1, 2010
When Brian Kane, designer of Herman Miller’s new Swoop lounge furniture line, was looking for vacation property in Calistoga, California, back in 1989, he had no idea he’d end up with an 1884 one-room schoolhouse. Or that he and his wife would spend the next 21 years renovating the historic landmark.
The schoolhouse was originally built for the children of Italian immigrants who came to work in the vineyards of Napa Valley. “And when we pulled in and saw its potential, we just had to have it,” says Kane.
And now, after literally thousands of hours (not to mention nails, screws, and staples) they’re almost done.
The most satisfying part, he says, is just looking at the finished product. “It’s always a little startling to see the before and after, but it’s also very rewarding.”
Design, What's Up
September 29, 2010
The Henry Ford Museum has a wonderful new website called OnInnovation, where some of today’s (and yesterday’s) great minds “think out loud” and talk about their work—and breakthroughs—in on-camera interviews. These are people, says the site, “who have challenged the limits of what’s possible, developed bold solutions to big problems, and transformed the world.”
Included are designers Don Chadwick and Bill McDonough, architect Toshiko Mori and automotive designer Carroll Shelby, as well as numerous others in various fields, who all have fascinating things to say.
Chadwick, for example, talks about how he and Bill Stumpf, co-creators of Herman Miller’s Aeron chair, had a lot of common interests that influenced their work, like toy collecting and jazz. He explains how they came up with the idea for the chair’s suspended elastic fabric by studying woven cane, “the idea of something that’s porous and breathable and stretched…”
He also tells us that the Equa chair was actually a by product of a larger project they had been working on for Herman Miller: Designing the “Office of the Future.”
It’s all great stuff, so sometime when you’re looking for inspiration—or maybe just needing a break—have a listen to what some real innovators have to say.
Video via OnInnovation.com
September 17, 2010
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just sit your cell phone or your MP3 player on a spot on your desk and it would magically recharge without having to deal with all those pesky plugs and cords attached to the devices? Well, you may be able to do that in the near future, thanks to eCoupled wireless technology featured in June at NeoCon.
For the past five years, Herman Miller has been working in partnership with Fulton Innovation, the creators of this marvelous technology that transmits charges to devices using inductive coupling, eliminating the need for device-specific power adaptors.
eCoupled transmitters can be built into practically anything from desktops to kitchen countertops to car consoles, so you don’t even see it. You just lay your enabled device on the surface, and viola, it charges automatically.
Last month, a global interoperability standard, Qi 1.0 (pronounced “chee”), was launched for smaller “low power” devices. That means electronics manufacturers can now make their products compatible with eCoupled wireless charging transmitters. And that paves the way to putting those transmitters in things like work surfaces, shelving, and desk tops for charging small devices such as cell phones and iPods.
Standards for “medium power” devices, such as laptops, have not been issued yet, but hopefully that will happen within the next year.
September 3, 2010
Designers and architects, what do you think is the most important piece of architecture built in the last 30 years? Toyo Ito’s Mediatheque in Sendai, Japan? Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain? Vanity Fair magazine asked 90 of the world’s leading architects, teachers and critics to name the five most important buildings monuments, and bridges completed since 1980, as well as the most significant structure built so far in the 21st century.
Of the 52 experts who participated in the poll, including 11 Pritzker Prize winners and the deans of eight major architecture schools, 28 voted for the Guggenheim in Bilbao, a building, which, you may or may not recall, brought Philip Johnson to tears when it was unveiled in 1998. He later called Gehry “the greatest architect we have today” and his museum “the greatest building of our time.”
“Bilbao is truly a signal moment in the architectural culture,” said the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Paul Goldberger, author of Why Architecture Matters. “The building blazed new trails…it was one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all united about something.”
Gehry also received votes on three other projects: the Walt Disney Concert Hall, in Los Angeles; Millennium Park, in Chicago, and his own house in Santa Monica.
Read more about Gehry, the Guggenheim, and other top ranked buildings in the August 2010 issue of Vanity Fair or on the magazine’s website.
Photos courtesy of Mary Ann Sulllivan.
August 23, 2010
Designers have such fun jobs, don’t they? Take Debra Toppel, for example. She created the gorgeous floral arrangements for Herman Miller’s showroom at NeoCon. From there, she joined the crew as head greens foreman for the movie, “What You Don’t Know,” starring Vince Vaughn and directed by Ron Howard, where she oversaw “many, many hundreds of square feet” of landscaping on the set.
“I love it all,” said Toppel about her wide-ranging projects, which sometimes call for “inventing” her own creations.
Toppel started out as a retail florist in Chicago, where her reputation for excellence led to set design jobs for movies being filmed in the Windy City. She says her favorite projects are those that require her to “invent something I’ve never done before, where I have to take my experience and say, All right, how can I Frankenstein this into something that will work…”
Like when the American Girl doll company asked her to create a winter fantasy forest with 12-foot oak trees looking like they were lining Michigan Avenue. Or when companies like Glade and Herbal Essence want her to create flowers for their packaging that don’t really exist in nature. “I go to the hardware store and find things that are made for one purpose and use them for something else,” says Toppel. “I love to let my eye expand, to look at (an object) and then morph it into what it needs to do for the particular situation.”
She says she has a “wild passion” for her work and enjoys the small jobs as much as the large ones. “I still like doing corporate work because it keeps my hands in the real world, seeing what the trends are, what’s happening in real life. When you’re working on films, it’s like ‘acting’ with flowers; it’s more about the whole show; nothing should pop out at you.” The arrangements she did for Herman Miller, however, did pop out at you – in a good way. “NeoCon is almost a visceral experience for me,” states Toppel. “It’s like the Superbowl of floral design, demanding the highest attention to detail and quality. And I have to say, working for Herman Miller is a true honor. There are certain design standards in the industry that are considered exceptionally important, and we all know where Herman Miller stands on that.”
Toppel says she’s humbled by her success, especially in the film industry. “I actually have a degree in film production so it’s interesting how I turned left and wound up in the center, you know?”
It is. And Ron Howard, among others, is probably pretty happy she did.
July 2, 2010
Herman Miller’s beautiful outdoor plant display, created for NeoCon, has a new home. Although it wasn’t designed as a healing garden, it will surely be a source of comfort to the women and children of Madonna House, a homeless shelter for victims of domestic violence, where the trees, flowers and bushes now reside.
It was all part of a plan that blossomed into a feel good story with a great outcome. It started when the Herman Miller folks responsible for the plant display decided to donate it after NeoCon. Herman Miller’s A&D Rep in Chicago, Alan Almasy suggested Designs for Dignity (D4D), a non-profit group whose mission is engaging the design community to bring good design to those who can least afford it.
D4D volunteers had completed the interior of the shelter last winter, so the timing was perfect. “And a garden is such a serene and wonderful healing environment,” says Michelle Weiner, who serves on the D4D board and is V.P. Strategic Development at Interior Investments, Herman Miller’s Chicago dealership.
So on Friday, June 18, a hot, muggy morning, volunteers from Herman Miller, Interior Investments, area design firms, students, and the Madonna House/Catholic Charities Administrative team arrived with shovels in hand to transform a barren backyard into a lush, green garden.
Christy Webber, owner of the landscaping company that originally created the display for Herman Miller, also donated her services, equipment and manpower to help out. “It’s the best volunteer crew I’ve ever seen!” she said of the hard-working task force.
And the people at Madonna House couldn’t be happier with the results. As Morgan Henington of Catholic Charities said, “This ‘forever gift’ is so pretty and vibrant. It’s already attracting butterflies and will bring so much pleasure to our moms and their children.”
And get this: to complete the circle, the garden will be maintained by a city-sponsored program called “Green Corps Chicago,” which provides green-industry training and permanent job placement for dozens of Chicagoans every year.
And to think it all started with one little idea someone planted that just grew…and grew…and grew…
June 25, 2010
If you didn’t make it to NeoCon this year, you missed something quite surprising and lovely – a stately “green oasis” sitting serenely alongside the truck convoy at the Merchandise Mart. It was a startling break from tradition (major manufacturers always line up their semis at the Mart), and it all started with an idea…that grew…and grew…and grew…
“It was disruptive, but in a very positive way,” states Sheila Warfield, Director of Presence Marketing for Herman Miller about the flower, plant and tree-lined display. Which is exactly the reaction she and her group hoped for when the idea sprouted to do something different at this year’s show.
“It was a way to express who we are as a company in a manner that was not only literally green, but that showed we think differently. We wanted to send a subtle signal to people that Herman Miller is always the first to step outside the box and do something fun and innovative.”
As she further explains, “At NeoCon, we only have three days to show and tell a lot. Our environmental message is typically woven throughout the story of our furnishings and our long-standing commitment to sustainability. This display allowed us to send that message in a quiet, way, with grace and humility.”
And charity. Because what’s even cooler is that Herman Miller partnered with Designs 4 Dignity, a non-profit group based in Chicago, to donate the entire display to Madonna House, a homeless and domestic violence shelter serving women and children.
More about the planting day next week.
Design, What's Up
May 28, 2010
If you find yourself within 100 miles of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, this summer, take time for a side trip to Cranbrook Academy of Art. Although their art museum is closed for a major renovation, the Saarinen House is open for viewing Thursday through Sunday, and it is magnificent.
Restored in the early 1990s, the art deco masterpiece features furnishings and works designed not only by Eliel Saarinen, but also by his wife Loja, a textile artist, his son, Eero, and Cranbrook students and instructors, too.
Saarinen, Cranbrook’s first president, intentionally planned that the home be a complete work of art, where one room flows to the next. Every aspect of it works in harmony, from the patterns in the rugs to the details of the silverware. Even the bathrooms are perfectly symmetrical, with streamlined sinks where no faucets clutter the view.
Their studio, where Eliel and Loja welcomed guests such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Ray Eames, will cause you to pause and sigh with envy—it’s fabulous.
Whether you are an architect, a designer, or someone who simply appreciates well-crafted, finely-made objects from an era long gone, you must put the Saarinen House on your top 10 list of places to see. (And while you’re there, take a look around; the Saarinen-designed campus is designated as a National Historic Landmark.)
Photo via: Cranbrook Academy of Art
Design, Herman Miller Journal, What's Up
May 17, 2010
What do you get when you get when you tell students at Pratt Institute to immerse themselves in another culture and create products that demonstrate they understood what the experience was all about? Well, you get boxes that turn into chairs, ceramic wallets, kinetic toys—and a whole lot more.
It’s all part of a partnership with Herman Miller whereby industrial design students were charged with coming up with a theme, then executing their ideas in a competition. The prize? A booth at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), held in New York City May 15-18. The students’ theme “Empathy for Culture” and the resulting creations won them a place at the show.
Herman Miller lent some of its people, namely Fabienne Munch, Gary Smith, and Tim McLoughlin, to provide guidance to the students throughout the creative process.
“Empathy for culture is beyond feeling for others,” said Fabienne, Director of Ideation for Herman Miller. “It appeals to a peculiar understanding of a culture’s own dialectics: what’s visible, what’s invisible or taken for granted; what’s felt, what’s cognitive; what’s conscious, what’s unconscious; what’s symbolic, what’s ephemeral?”
“They helped us to not only focus on our concepts, but also made us realize that our ideas were valid as designers,” Sara McBeen, a graduate student at Pratt, said about the guidance provided by Herman Miller. “Each of us found our own way to stay true and honest to the messages we were trying to communicate with our pieces. These kinds of opportunities are invaluable in shaping where we will go from here.”
McBeen’s project, the Aata table, “reflects the coming together, socializing, and sharing so strongly exhibited in Middle Eastern culture,” which she chose to investigate after traveling there and “appreciating their generosity, goodness, and hospitality.”
“This project gave me a chance to experience design expression in its purest form by translating my passion for Buddhism and meditation into a physical manifestation,” said Ivey Lian, another Pratt grad student, who was inspired by 10 days she spent at a silent Buddhist meditation retreat in Thailand.
Her piece, the Enso Wall Light, was based on a Zen Buddhist symbol showing the moment when the mind is free to let the body and spirit create.
“Every day distances within the world are shrinking,” said Mark Goetz, the students’ instructor at Pratt, who initiated the partnership with Herman Miller. “Pratt, an international gathering place for talent, is uniquely suited to express these issues. The exhibit represents a sincere effort from our students to express a deeper understanding a respect for cultures different from our own.”
And what better way to prepare them for the global village they’ll be part of as industrial designers?
Photographs of students’ work courtesy of Armando Rafael.
April 30, 2010
Photo via: The Henry Ford
If you weren’t able to make it to the “Good Design: Stories from Herman Miller” exhibit at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, the next best thing would be to visit The Henry Ford online. The museum is the lead institution for the Herman Miller Consortium, a group of 13 museums throughout the U.S. that share approximately 800 Herman Miller artifacts in their collections.
Herman Miller established the Consortium in 1988 to share our historical product collection that had been accumulating as part of our corporate archives in Zeeland, Michigan. In addition to the furniture pieces, it also includes a large quantity of product literature.
The Ford website houses the Consortium’s huge image database cataloging hundreds of Herman Miller products with photo, name, circa date, designer, and where you can see the actual piece. It’s a great way to learn more about Herman Miller, our history, our products, and our designers–especially if you don’t live near one of the 13 museums that belong to the Consortium.