Zeph by Studio 7.5

With Zeph, Studio 7.5 aimed to bridge the gap between Herman Miller’s iconic mid-century designs and the ergonomics of today’s work chairs. The result is an entry-level design that doesn’t compromise comfort or style.

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Studio 7.5 called the instant, personalised comfort of their last chair for Herman Miller, Cosm, their holy grail. How, then, to follow such a crowning achievement? Instead of looking to the present, the Berlin-based studio imagined the future, finding initial inspiration for the Zeph Chair with the help of their students at the Berlin University of the Arts and the Weissensee School of Art and Design Berlin.

“Our design mission was a decent, honest, simple product that would get the most important things right.”
– Carola Zwick

“Students invest in their laptop, they invest in their bicycle, but most of the time, they’re not initially investing too much in a seating tool,” says Carola Zwick, who helms Studio 7.5 with Burkhard Schmitz and her brother Roland Zwick. “It might be the first investment on receiving their first pay cheque, so for these consumers, and for institutions like universities where students spend much of their time, our mission was a decent, honest, simple product that would get the most important things right.” Schmitz adds that the aim wasn’t to create a “budget” chair, but to pare down to the essence of an ergonomic chair.

Burkhard Schmitz from Studio 7.5 holding a scale model of the Zeph chair.

Studio 7.5 co-founder Burkhard Schmitz holds a scale model of what would become Zeph.

Multiple scale models of the Zeph chair stacking in with the larrgest on the bottom and smallest on top.

Scale models of Zeph.

The trio and their small studio were equally interested in Herman Miller’s 100-plus-year legacy, particularly two exemplary archetypes from the company’s back catalogue: iconic mid-century chairs, such as the Eames Shell, and 30+ years of advances in ergonomic seating. “The two branches haven’t always spoken to one another,” Carola says. “There’ve been times at Herman Miller where there was a pendulum swinging from one end to the other, but there was no middle ground. We wanted the chance to provide something that would bridge the two.”

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It was, Burkhard admits, a “tough nut to crack.” They did it by animating a shell chair to offer not only the inherently positive aesthetic of its visual language but ergonomic benefits too. They created ample 3D-printed prototypes via trial-and-error iterations, some of which “looked like something out of a Tim Burton film”, Carola laughs, until they landed on a one-piece seat and back that actually moves with the person sitting in it. While most shell chairs are static, the Kinematic Monoshell on Zeph offers a natural recline that uses the sitter’s natural pivot points to create the right counterbalance.

Carola Zwick from Studio 7.5 standing and looking at the shell and material colours available for the Zeph chair.

Co-founder Carola Zwick considers Zeph’s playful colour palette.

Zeph yarn colour development

Zeph’s shell offers a variety of knit options.

Zeph yarn colour development

A rainbow of yarns make up the 3D Knit palette.

“One of the things we wanted to echo from the mid-century era was an optimistic view of the future – we were aiming for a playful, happy vibe.” – Carola Zwick

The expansive colour palette also took inspiration from the past. “One of the things we wanted to pick up from the mid-century era was the optimistic and delightful idea of the future – we wanted to be a bit more playful and happy,” Carola says. They call the palette the “crayon box”, and it’s intended not to be prescriptive, but inviting for a variety of tastes, and to let people have some fun.

Seat-pad prototype in Studio 7.5’s Berlin workshop.

Seat-pad prototype in Studio 7.5’s Berlin workshop.

Early version of Zeph’s stacker base.

Early version of Zeph’s stacker base.

Throughout the process, they kept their students and initial goals for the project in mind, knowing that this mixture of joy and ergonomics couldn’t come at too steep a price tag. “I remember touring for Mirra or Setu and finding that a lot of people were enthusiastic about the chair but they’re like, ‘Okay, now I have to save three monthly loans to be able to afford it,’” Roland says. “So we came up with the idea of aiming for a more democratic chair.” Carola chimes in, “and a solid entry-level experience.” Burkhard rounds off by summing up the Zeph outcome: “An entry-level experience worthy of the Herman Miller name.”

The Studio 7.5 design team standing together in a group in a stairwell holding Zeph chairs.
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