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Herman Miller Design

Designer History: Herman Miller

In Zeeland, Michigan, way back in the year 1905, a company called the Star Furniture Company set out to create a line of high quality furniture; specifically, office furniture that featured an old-fashioned historic style. When visionary Dirk Jan De Pree joined the company as a clerk just four years later, no one had a clue that he would quickly rise through the ranks to become the company’s president in a short ten year span.

Deciding that the company needed a new title to match his own new title as president, De Pree renamed it The Michigan Star Furniture Company. It only took four more years for De Pree to get his father-in-law, Herman Miller, on board to purchase fifty-one percent of the company’s stock. They renamed the company once again, to the Herman Miller Furniture Company, and continued to make exclusively wooden office furniture for another seven years, until the Great Depression hit.

Forced to explore new options, they hired modernist designer Gilbert Rohde to help create a new line of office furniture for their brand. Although they were reluctant to accept his designs at first, they eventually came to like the new direction of the company. When Rohde died in 1944, he was replaced by architect George Nelson, who guided Herman Miller into some of their most iconic pieces, like the marshmallow sofa, the ball clock, the sling sofa, and, of course, the modern day cubicle.

Although Nelson’s influence helped sculpt the future of the company at large, his power at the company waned in the 70s when a series of designers including Don Chadwick, Bill Stumpf, Tom Newhouse and Ray Wilkes came onto the scene to design their own inspirational office furniture pieces. The line was so admired that artist Stephen Frykholm produced a series of posters dedicated to the works of the company. Some are still featured, today, at the Museum of Modern Art.

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