Design

Herman Miller and Knoll: Two Design Powerhouses Become One

Following the announcement that Herman Miller and Knoll will merge, we look back on their most iconic pieces of modern design

Since their beginnings, Herman Miller and Knoll have always been synonymous with modern design, delivering their passion and philosophy to customers and clients around the world. The two legendary furniture design companies are joining forces to "create the preeminent leader in modern design," as stated in the official announcement. The companies have announced that Herman Miller will acquire Knoll in a $1.8bn deal.

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Eames lounger and footrest. Herman Miller.

The merger arrives at a pivotal moment: following a year during which working from home became the norm, their primary goal is to deliver more design solutions both for the home and the office. At the same time, the deal aims to further strengthen Herman Miller and Knoll's shared focus on building a more sustainable, diverse, and inclusive company.

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"Barcelona" chair and ottoman. Knoll.

Andi Owen, who up until now was the president and CEO of Herman Miller, is set to become the president and CEO of the newly-merged company.

In light of the merger, we look at the new company’s objectives and present some of the most important pieces to be produced by the two brands–if you're into modern design, you're sure to recognize them.

Herman Miller and Knoll's first challenges

As Andi Owen explains, “This transaction brings together two pioneering icons of design with strong businesses, attractive portfolios, and long histories of innovation.” Each company will bring its own design legacy to the table, resulting in an exceptional brand portfolio.

"Herman Miller produces the world's best-selling office chair. Knoll makes the world's most recognized table." - Andi Owen

At a corporate level, the company has said that the merger will offer enhanced opportunities for employees and continue to uphold the values they have always promoted, such as a commitment to innovation, design, operational excellence, and sustainability.

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Hans Knoll's first catalog. Knoll.

The company will set out to enhance engagement with architects and interior designers, who support the decision-making for both Contract and Residential customers.

Finally, the official statement also talks about accelerating the company’s digital and technological transformation. With this operation, they want to lead e-commerce sales by meeting the highest level of excellence in all phases, including manufacturing, sales, customer service, and user experience.

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Herman Miller's first catalog. Herman Miller.

Herman Miller: "Problem-solving designs that inspire the best in people."

In 1905, the Star Furniture Company opened its doors in Michigan. Years later, the young Dirk Jan De Pree acquired the company (1923) and named it after his father-in-law: Herman Miller. In the beginning, the company only produced wood furniture replicas: however, after hiring designer Gilbert Rohde (1924), it launched its first line of original modern furniture.

In 1945, George Nelson became the company's first design director and introduced pieces by legendary designers such as Charles and Ray Eames.

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Advert for a chair designed by Charles Eames. Herman Miller.

Throughout the company's history, it has reinvented workspaces with the Action Office System, the first open-plan modular system made up of panels and attachable components. It has also led the way in creating and manufacturing ergonomic chairs.

Herman Miller has embraced innovation when it comes to contemporary interior furniture. The caption on their website reads: "Problem-solving designs that inspire the best in people."

Iconic pieces

Eames Shell Chair

Simple yet elegant: these three words define this iconic chair, which adapts to all bodies and can be placed in different spots. First, Charles Eames carried out extensive research on plywood. Then, Ray Eames developed the piece at the Eames Studio in Venice, California. The Eames' repetitive process coupled with their desire to make "the best product, for the majority of people, for the lowest possible price'' were the main ingredients in bringing it to life. The chair won the "Gold" award at NeoCon 2013 in the Guest Seating category.

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Charles and Ray Eames developed this chair focusing on the principle of universality. Herman Miller.

Aeron Chair

Designed by Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick in 1994, this chair was designed in response to a challenge to create a piece that would be good for one’s health. This ergonomic office chair features a wide range of adjustments. Two-thirds of the Aeron model is made from recycled materials, and about 94% is recyclable.

"We wanted to come up with a whole new chair concept," announced Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick. Remastered by Don Chadwick in 2016, it is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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Aeron Chair. Herman Miller.

Cosm Chair

This iconic chair for instant comfort was designed by Studio 7.5, which is based in Berlin. The automatic tilt has been revolutionary, and aesthetically it is totally different from any other office chair.

The Cosm chair features on TIME's list of the 100 Best Inventions of 2019. It has also received an iF Gold award in the Office & Industry category at the iF World Design Awards (2020).

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Cosm Chair. Herman Miller.

Knoll: "Furnishings that inspire, evolve, and endure."

The company starts with one woman: Florence Schust. From an early age, Florence showed an interest and aptitude for architecture and design. After studying for two years at the Architectural Association (London), she returned to the United States and trained with three Bauhaus masters: Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

In 1940, Schust was hired by Mies van der Rohe, becoming the company’s first female employee. She stood out for her innovative vision in design from the get-go.

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Florence Knoll. Knoll.

In 1941, Florence moved to New York and met Hans Knoll, a German businessman who had just founded the Hans G. Knoll Furniture Company. She became part of the project: Hans was in charge of manufacturing, and Florence was in charge of design. Five years later, they married and the company was renamed Knoll Associates. Artists such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Harry Bertoia, Maya Lin, and Eero Saarinen began collaborating with the company.

In 1955, Hans died in an accident, and his wife took over the business until she retired in 1965. Florence is considered one of the most influential figures in interior design of the second half of the 20th century. She was responsible for the emergence of the mid-century modern style. She is credited with the phrase "There is nothing worse than dull, excessively dull furniture."

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Knoll’s first factory. Knoll.

Iconic pieces

Tulip

Designed in 1956 by Eero Saarinen, this is a classic piece of industrial design. It is an example of a timeless, circular, pedestal piece, of which many replicas have appeared on the market. Saarinen believed that the traditional pieces with four legs were hideous, and so he created the Tulip collection (which includes chairs and tables) to "get rid of the forest of legs."

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Tulip collection of tables and chairs. Knoll.

Florence Knoll Executive Collection

Florence revolutionized workspaces in the United States. She set out to adapt offices to the lives of executives.

To do so, she created iconic pieces such as the Florence Knoll desk (1961), reminiscent of Mies van der Rohe's designs. Despite being intended as a desk for work, it has found its way into many homes.

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Florence Knoll Executive Collection. Knoll.

Cyclone

Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi created the Rocking Stool for the firm. However, Hans Knoll, thinking it might be a good idea to increase the size of the piece, asked him to create another piece. In 1954, he delivered the Cyclone Table, which is now a classic piece of modern design.

Its central base, which is reminiscent of a sculpture, is made out of chrome-plated steel wires. This also makes it more comfortable because the chairs do not interfere with any legs. The table ceased production in 1974 but was reintroduced in 2003.

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Cyclone table. Knoll.
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Sculptor Isamu Noguchi with his design. Knoll.

With 19 leading brands, a presence in more than 100 countries worldwide, 64 showrooms across the globe, and more than 50 physical retail locations, Herman Miller and Knoll will undoubtedly continue to carve out a future as legends in the world of modern design.

If you're interested in furniture design, be sure to check out these Domestika courses: Professional Woodworking for Beginners, Introduction to CNC Router Furniture Design, Design and Creation of Handmade Workspaces, and Designing and Prototyping Your First Chair.

English version by @eloiseedgington.

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