George Nelson

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This American industrial designer was an architect and a noted writer. George Nelson was headhunted by the chairman of Herman Miller even though he had no experience in furniture design because he wanted to tap Nelson’s wellspring of innovative, modern ideas. Nelson eventually became the Herman Miller design director and worked with many design luminaries in his time there, including Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia and Isamu Noguchi.

Nelson’s minimalist and inviting Coconut Lounge Chair (1955; Trident Lounge Chair) resembles a chunk of coconut and occupies a spot in the permanent collections of various museums. 

His Nelson Platform Bench (1946; Rhyza Bench), a comfortable slatted bench, was actually first designed to deter visitors from lingering too long at his New York office. It failed in that regard but ended up winning points for its versatility and simplicity, combining both function and form with ease. 

The Marshmallow Sofa (1954; Mallow Sofa) is generally thought to be the most iconic modernist sofa with its distinctively pop art look. Its whimsical design comprises of 18 round cushions ‘floating’ on its brushed steel frame. The idea of it came about when a plastics company salesman presented the studio with a new, inexpensive product: an injection plastic disc. The plastic disc didn’t hold up to claims but the sofa design that was centred around the design took off, despite the fact that the sofa became a luxury product due to the labour involved in and high costs of production.

A large series of popular wall clocks was also designed under his firm, George Nelson Associates, for the Howard Miller Clock Company, including the Ball Clock (1948; Tic-Tac Clock), the Starburst Clock (1950; Compass Clock), the Petal Clock (1960; QB Clock) and the oversized Eye Clock (1957; Eye Clock), which is able to be used vertically or horizontally.

Something that only came to light after Nelson’s death was that many of the designs that were credited to Nelson were actually the designs of his employees. Industrial designer Irving Harper actually designed the Marshmallow Sofa and presumably many of the clocks under the Howard Miller Clock Company account, which he was in charge of.

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