Herman Miller lays out its design history in NYC

A new exhibition shows the evolution of America’s leading modernist design firm - in time for NYCxDesign
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Living Office presentation at Herman Miller Showroom, Chicago, during NeoCon trade fair, 2015.  All images from Herman Miller: A Way of Living, courtesy and copyright © Herman Miller Archives.
Living Office presentation at Herman Miller Showroom, Chicago, during NeoCon trade fair, 2015. All images from Herman Miller: A Way of Living, courtesy and copyright © Herman Miller Archives.

The future, as a the sci-fi writer William Gibson once wrote, “is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.” Gibson might have been commenting on our more recent technological advances, but the bold new ideas of modernism also reached different people at different times.

 

NS 106 Light Office Seating designed by George Nelson, 1971
NS 106 Light Office Seating designed by George Nelson, 1971

Take D. J. De Pree, the erstwhile CEO of the Michigan-based Herman Miller furniture company, who took control back in 1923. To begin with, the company made fairly traditional, chintzy home furnishings. Then, one afternoon in 1930, during the Great Depression, “a man by the name of Gilbert Rohde came into the showroom trying to drum up interest in his modern designs,” explains our new book, Herman Miller: A Way of Living. “’I didn’t grasp what he was driving at,’ D. J. recalled, ‘but I was like a drowning man grasping at straws and wondering if the Lord was in his visit.’

 

No. 3319 Group bedroom chests displayed in the Design for Living House, 1933, Century of Progress exposition, Chicago World’s Fair
No. 3319 Group bedroom chests displayed in the Design for Living House, 1933, Century of Progress exposition, Chicago World’s Fair

“The company couldn’t afford to pay the designer’s fee," the book goes on to explain, "but instead Rohde proposed a three percent royalty arrangement based on future sales. After months at the drawing board, Rohde offered Herman Miller two bedroom groups that to De Pree looked like utterly plain boxes. Rohde insisted they be produced exactly as they were drawn, and eventually, it dawned on D. J. ‘that this man knew things that I didn’t know…. I began to see that function and simplicity were truth in design.’”

 

Action Office 2 “Altar”, one of ten, demonstrating Clino Castelli’s CMF program, 1983
Action Office 2 “Altar”, one of ten, demonstrating Clino Castelli’s CMF program, 1983

The rest is design history, and a venerable design history, at that. From 19 May visitors to Herman Miller’s New York City flagship store, at 251 Park Avenue South New York, NY 10010, will be able to see just how, with its newfound knowledge, Herman Miller was able to shape the homes and offices of 20th century America.

The Show, also called A Way of Living, will feature furniture, posters and textiles, created by such well-known, mid-century figures as Ray and Charles Eames, Alexander Girard, George Nelson, and many others.

 

Herman Miller Chicago showroom designed by George Nelson & Co., 1949.
Herman Miller Chicago showroom designed by George Nelson & Co., 1949.

Arranged across the store’s second floor in 10 distinct ‘chapters’, the show is the perfect way to get a handle on the venerable legacy of this important design firm, all in time for the city’s NYCxDesign and ICFF events.

 

Herman Miller: A Way of Living

Can’t make it? Then order a copy of our book Herman Miller: A Way of Living, here.


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