En­dur­ing Style

Re­spon­si­ble for some of the most iconic de­signs of the 20th cen­tury, Her­man Miller has a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory.

Atomic Ranch - - Contents - By Vic­to­ria Van Vlear and Sarah Jane Stone Pho­tog­ra­phy cour­tesy of Her­man Miller

Re­spon­si­ble for some of the most iconic de­signs of the 20th cen­tury, Her­man Miller has a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and an in­spir­ing fu­ture.

If you thought Her­man Miller was a man who de­signed mid­cen­tury fur­ni­ture, think again.

The name we speak with so much rev­er­ence refers to the com­pany Her­man Miller, Inc., which ac­tu­ally started as the Star Fur­ni­ture Com­pany in 1905. At its in­cep­tion, the com­pany spe­cial­ized in tra­di­tional wood fur­ni­ture, a far cry from the iconic mid­cen­tury pieces we know and love.

HUM­BLE BE­GIN­NINGS

The Star Fur­ni­ture Com­pany be­gan its jour­ney to great­ness in 1909, when a re­cent high school grad­u­ate named Dirk Jan (D.J.) De Pree was hired as a clerk for the com­pany. A hard worker, he climbed the ranks to be­come the com­pany’s pres­i­dent by 1919. In 1923, with the help of his busi­ness-savvy fa­ther-in-law, Her­man Miller, he pur­chased 51% of the com­pany’s stock. To ex­press his grat­i­tude, De Pree re­named the com­pany the Her­man Miller Fur­ni­ture Com­pany.

“Peo­ple are the heart and spirit of all that counts.” — Max De Pree, for­mer Her­man Miller CEO

Her­man Miller con­tin­ued pro­duc­ing fur­nish­ings in tra­di­tional styles un­til the Great De­pres­sion. How­ever, with the struggling econ­omy of the 1930s, De Pree had to get cre­ative to bring in prof­its. In a risky bid, the com­pany hired Gil­bert Ro­hde, who spe­cial­ized in mod­ernist fur­ni­ture, to take a new di­rec­tion. At the Chicago Cen­tury of Progress ex­hi­bi­tion in 1933, Her­man Miller in­tro­duced a new line of mod­ern fur­ni­ture, which launched the com­pany into its 20th-cen­tury glory.

THE GOLDEN AGE

In 1944, Gil­bert Ro­hde died, and De Pree be­gan the search for a new de­sign di­rec­tor. Ar­chi­tect Ge­orge Nel­son’s book To­mor­row’s Home came out in 1945, and De Pree was im­pressed with its in­no­va­tive ideas. He of­fered Nel­son the job, even though Nel­son had never de­signed fur­ni­ture.

It was a wise de­ci­sion. Nel­son had a grow­ing net­work of mod­ernist de­sign­ers in his ad­dress book, and over the next few decades, he helped bring in some of the great­est names in mid­cen­tury de­sign to work on pieces for Her­man Miller. De­sign­ers such as Isamu Noguchi, Charles and Ray Eames and Alexan­der Girard put their names un­der the Her­man Miller la­bel, to great suc­cess.

Her­man Miller’s prow­ess did not wane when mod­ernist style dwin­dled in the 1980s. In­stead, the com­pany has con­tin­ued to be a fur­ni­ture gi­ant into the 21st cen­tury, not only in its com­mit­ment to qual­ity and in­no­va­tion in de­sign, but as a cor­po­ra­tion as well. Her­man Miller re­peat­edly wins awards for eco-friendly prac­tices, sus­tain­abil­ity and its work en­vi­ron­ment (For­tune’s “Best Places to Work” award).

LEFT: MOLDED PALSTIC WIRE-BASE ARM­CHAIR, CHARLES AND RAY EAMES, 1945 . RIGHT: MOLDED FIBERGLASS UP­HOL­STERED DOWEL-LEG SIDE CHAIR, CHARLES AND RAY EAMES, 1950S.

TRIPLE BUB­BLE LAMP FIX­TURE, GE­ORGE NEL­SON, 1952.

TOP LEFT: HER­MAN MILLER’S BRAND OF­FICE’S, KNOWS AS THE “DE­SIGN YARD.” TOP RIGHT: CHARLES AND RAY EAMES WORK­ING ON THE EAMES ALU­MINUM GROUP LOUNGE CHAIR. ABOVE RIGHT: RAY, PLAY­ING WITH “THE TOY” AT THE EAMES’ HOME. LEFT: MARSH­MAL­LOW SOFA, GE­ORGE NEL­SON,...

TUXEDO TA­BLE, BASSAMFELLOWS, 2014. WAL­NUT STOOL, CHARLES AND RAY EAMES, 1959.

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