Charles Eames once observed, “One of something may be beautiful. But can you stand to see 100 in a row?” That was the challenge facing designer Dan Grabowski when Herman Miller approached him to create a table fit for meeting rooms and classrooms alike. Grabowski’s response was Everywhere Tables—an expansive range of tables based on a kit of parts, with a simple, beautiful sculpted table leg at its heart.
The table leg is an important part of Everywhere Tables; how did you approach its design?
I thought of the legs as a sculpture, shaping them until they had the right sense of mass and scale—which was difficult because the legs need to accommodate such a wide range of table shapes and sizes. It was always a balance between the outer form and the technical requirements of the inside of the leg.
I often see table legs that scream for attention, which can create visual chaos in a large room. I wanted to avoid that, so I designed the Everywhere legs to work with a simple rhythm of light and shadow in mind. When you see a room full of Everywhere Tables it feels nice and clean; the spacing between legs is very precisely defined.
Was there a process you followed when developing Everywhere?
I always begin a design by sketching out ideas, sometimes very roughly. In the case of Everywhere Tables, I quickly moved into 3D modeling. To get a sense of the mass and scale of the leg, I built physical models with foam legs attached to tops made of thick foam core. This allowed everyone to get a sense of scale. As the design progressed, I continued designing in 3D and worked closely with Herman Miller on the engineering.
Were there any technical challenges to overcome?
Sure, there are two points where the leg transitions from an extrusion into a cast part: once at the tabletop and again at the foot. These are both critical connection points that bear a lot of weight and torque. The engineers at Herman Miller developed a slick little connector that met the challenge and let the Everywhere leg maintain its slim, clean aesthetic.
How did you know when the design was finished?
[Laughing] Are designs ever really finished? I look at them as works in progress, particularly furniture. The more you live with a design, the more you learn. I just had the opportunity to revisit Everywhere Tables to design some new table shapes.
Everywhere Tables are now available at the HermanMiller Store alongside a full range of work tools for offices and homes alike. If you’re a small business visiting the store, contact us about setting up a business account, which will give you special access and perks.
His design for Spun—a chair shaped like a spinning top that tilts and turns with the sitter’s movement—is emblematic of the fanciful yet functional designs in London-based architect and designer Thomas Heatherwick’s portfolio: the Olympic Cauldron at the 2012 London games, a double decker bus, also for London, and Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan Hotel.
When asked to design a structure for the UK Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo, Heatherwick created the Seed Cathedral—sixty thousand fiber-optic “hairs” protruding from a circular steel and timber composite structure. While some consider the structure—which looks like a giant, glowing hedgehog—simply another example of Heatherwick’s whimsical approach to design, the artist is quick to point out that the piece is actually quite serious.
“Is my studio’s work playful or is everyone else’s work too serious?” says Heatherwick in an interview with Architectural Digest. “And actually, Seed Cathedral was serious. With 60,000 varieties of seeds, it was the most biodiverse thing in Shanghai, or the whole region.”
Considering Heatherwick’s belief that good design strikes a balance between gravity and levity, it’s little wonder that Spun challenges the traditional notion of a chair and turns sitting into an experience.
For more than 60 years, the Eames Lounge Chair has been an American icon made in West Michigan by local people. Using a process that has changed little since 1956—molded plywood shells formed under heat and pressure, finished by hand, upholstered with leather cushions, and then carefully assembled—workers merge machine manufacturing with the human touch of handcraftsmanship.
A recent trip to the Herman Miller archives uncovered some photos documenting the production of the Eames Lounge in the early 1960s. Visit the HermanMiller Store to see how the process is similar today.
It’s a 50-cent word, but “dematerialization” just might save us millions, to say nothing of our planet. The basic idea is getting down to only what is essential, or, as Charles Eames said in the 1940s, “the best for the most for the least.”
Doing more with less certainly predates Mr. Eames, but dematerialization has had a resurgence lately, largely as a response to conspicuous consumption (McMansion anyone?), a throwaway culture (it’s cheaper to buy a new one than fix the old one), and planned obsolescence (as Annie Leonard says in The Story of Stuff, only 1% of things are still in use 6 months after purchase).
It’s no wonder those concerned about sustainability see promise in dematerialization, an idea whose logic train goes from using less material to eliminating material altogether while still delivering the same level of functionality. An example of this promise they often point to is music delivery. From LPs to cassettes to CDs to digital downloads, the progression eliminated lots of plastic waste and the resources and energy needed to make it. (The sustainability costs of using the Internet to download the music will be left to another discussion.) Read more
Herman Miller Creative Director Ben Watson introduces our New York City pop up shop in this video for design blog PSFK. Open until July 1, 2012, Pop Up is an opportunity for everyone to meet the Herman Miller Collection: classic designs from our archives alongside new pieces from our contemporary design partners.
Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.
Herman Miller Pop Up Shop
68 Wooster Street, Soho
New York, NY 10012
Today marks the opening of the Herman Miller Pop Up Shop at 68 Wooster Street in the heart of Soho in New York City. Designed to highlight the new Herman Miller Collection, the shop features richly detailed furniture vignettes with accessories and objects to complement. Each is created to tell design stories past and present. We invite you to add the shop to your itinerary if you travel to Manhattan between now and July 1. The store is open Monday through Saturday, 11 am to 7 pm, and Sunday 12 noon to 5 pm. View directions and map
From stone-tipped axes to powerful 3D computer modeling programs, technology has always allowed design to push the boundaries of possibility.
The Atlantic recently included the Herman Miller SAYL chair, designed by Yves Béhar, on their list of designs using new technology to challenge the conventional understanding of how good design looks, feels, and functions. We are in good company. Visit the Atlantic to see the complete list.
What is ailing in fine furnishings? “Nature,” answers design duo Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows. “I really feel that a connection to nature is what makes Modernism human,” says Bassam, who sees their work as an antidote to novelty-driven and mass-produced design.
Principally made from hand-finished wood, brass, and leather, furniture designed by BassamFellows follows their belief in “core luxury values”: honesty of material, solidity of construction; utility and beauty without elaboration. With the Tuxedo lounge seating, part of the Herman Miller Collection, the goal remains the same: an attention to luxury detail that doesn’t compete with the rest of the room.
Designing a sofa for the Herman Miller Collection was a “daunting challenge,” says Goetz. “If I were sitting in a room with Eames, Nelson, and Noguchi, and we were discussing design, I would be listening rather than talking,” he said. “When designing the sofa, I took on that role, trying to understand the qualities of the Collection that make it so wonderful. I wanted to create something that echoes the Collection and respectfully adds to it.”
Understanding that design is deeper than styling, Goetz made sure that his sofa would be comfortable, no matter what position you are in. He conducted research and consulted experts to arrive at a seat depth that provides ergonomic sitting support as well as room to lie down.
The result is a design that shares good company with the works of Eames, Nelson, and Noguchi.
BassamFellows design is “about merging the rationality and clarity of Modernism with the warmth and texture of nature” and marks the return of true craftsmanship and beauty to contemporary living. “We want to mix the timelessness and attention to detail of the modern classics with contemporary design, and blend it with honest materials, solid construction, beauty, and utility,” expresses Bassam. Read more