Why furniture from this 100-year-old design firm is still a good investment | Kanebridge News
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Why furniture from this 100-year-old design firm is still a good investment

There’s hardly an office or a home that has not been touched by the Herman Miller design legacy

By Robyn Willis
Mon, May 22, 2023 10:57amGrey Clock 5 min

If there’s a lesson to be learnt from working from home, it’s that the benefits of the ergonomic chair are real. And we have a man called Bill Stumpf to thank. A key designer with iconic American furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, he joined in the early 1970s tasked with designing furniture for the modern office. 

The chairs Stumpf designed, including the Aeron – the office chair by which all others are now judged – join a long line of exemplar designs from Herman Miller, which celebrates its centenary this year.

Founded in 1923 when DJ De Pree bought the Star Furniture company and renamed it in honour of his father in law, Herman Miller started to hit its stride as a business in the 1940s when De Pree found himself in need of a new design lead. 

The Herman Miller design team, including George Nelson (centre) and Ray and Charles Eames (far right)

In 1945, he hired the up-and-coming designer George Nelson who released the platform bench in 1946. A year later Nelson helped De Pree recruit Charles and Ray Eames following the exhibition of their groundbreaking moulded plywood furniture. 

The Platform Bench, designed by George Nelson for Herman Miller

By the early 1950s, the Eames’ research into new materials like fibreglass culminated in the release of the world’s first moulded fibreglass chairs, the popular shell chair still in demand today.

After the success of his platform bench, Nelson went on to design the Marshmallow lounge, as well as his perennially popular range of lights, including the Bubble, Cigar and Saucer pendants.

George Nelson’s Marshmallow Sofa, released in 1956

Subsequent designs to hit the market included the Eames Hang it All, with its distinctive ball-shaped hooks, and, perhaps the best known of Herman Miller’s chairs, the Eames lounge chair and ottoman, which took its inspiration from a baseball catcher’s mitt. An instant classic, the chair is now in the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. 

Frank Di Giorgio, director at Living Edge, which is the main distributor of Herman Miller furniture in Australia, is the proud owner of an Eames lounge and ottoman, which is on display in the Sydney showroom.

“I bought it in the 70s and it’s one of the most comfortable chairs, although no one’s really allowed to sit in it now because it’s on show,” Di Giorgio says. “It’s a design that gets better with time.”

The Eames lounge and ottoman has an enduring appeal. It is teamed here with George Nelson lights from the Herman Miller range, available from Living Edge

 

As with all their designs, the lounge chair and ottoman was the result of years of research and design by Ray and Charles Eames. This approach to design is part of the company’s DNA. It is perhaps most evident in the ongoing development of their office furniture systems, initially developed by Nelson and Robert Propst, who joined in 1956. The pair worked together to create the Action Office system of freestanding units. Stumpf joined later, initially working under Propst.

Before the advent of Stumpf’s Ergon chair, released in 1976, there was little to no understanding of the idea of comfort in the quickly evolving world of the modern office.

Based on detailed research into the human body, the Ergon (short for ergonomic) became the blueprint by which all other office chairs were measured in terms of comfort as well as efficiency.

Stumpf later went on to design the hugely popular Aeron chair for Herman Miller in 1994, which has been copied or modified so often that its skeletal frame and stretched mesh body have become synonymous with office furniture and fitouts. 

Di Giorgio says the Aeron caused quite a stir when it was released.

“I remember when the Aeron came out and everyone wanted to know where the fabric was because the seat was made only of mesh,” he said. “Now every office chair has a mesh seat. It changed the perception of office chairs.” 

Given the sustained popularity of the Herman Miller range now, it’s hard to fathom that several designs, including the Hang It All, the Marshmallow sofa and Nelson platform bench were discontinued in the 1960s. However, they were among a slew of designs reissued in the 1990s as new audiences fell in love with their minimalist, mid century lines. Sadly, with the surge in popularity have come a tsunami of imposters. Di Giorgio says the replica pieces have little in common with the genuine article.

“It’s easy to create a silhouette without understanding what has gone into the product,” he says. “If people want authentic design, they need to understand the product and the trials and tribulations that go into that piece. 

“The pieces are not right if the materials are not right.” 

He says government legislation in Australia that allows copied designs to be sold as long as they are referred to as ‘replica’ still has a way to go to catch up with other areas of design.

“They don’t let people sell fake Gucci bags but they let (something similar) happen in furniture,” he says. “Even being able to call products by their name with ‘replica’ in front of it is problematic.”

However, he says as the appeal of the Herman Miller range endures, customers are becoming more educated about the design legacy. Indeed, thanks to the growing ‘work from home’ model, demand for a reliable, comfortable office chair is stronger than ever.

“Those new hybrid systems (of working) are not going away and people need to be supported at work and at home,” he says. “Ergonomics is just as important at home, and as we are allowing people to work from home, we need to make sure we support and set them up correctly at home and at work with desk chairs.”

While the upfront cost often puts pieces into the ‘investment’ category, it’s a ‘buy once, buy well’ model that Herman Miller and Living Edge extoll.

“Those chairs have a 12-year warranty because (Herman Miller) stand by their product,” Di Giorgio says. “The sustainability is taken into account as well – they recycle components at Herman Miller. 

“You’re still finding a lot of those chairs around.”

That kind of result speaks for itself. 



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UAE Initiates State-Owned EV Charging Initiative to Boost Electric Vehicle Acceptance

The United Arab Emirates is improving its electric vehicle infrastructure with a new government-owned EV charging network.

Wed, May 22, 2024 2 min

The UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure (MoEI) alongside Etihad Water and Electricity (Etihad WE) have collaborated to form UAEV, a new joint venture aimed at strengthening the electric vehicle (EV) charging framework throughout the UAE. This venture is the first EV charging network entirely owned by the government, aimed at broadening access to EV charging facilities across the country.

The project seeks to revolutionize the UAE’s transport sector by enabling broader adoption of EVs via a robust and widespread charging infrastructure. This initiative is expected to strengthen communities, generate employment, and promote eco-friendly transportation options.

Suhail bin Mohammed Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, said: “UAEV embodies the power of partnership between government and industry, and aims to provide vital electric vehicle infrastructure to boost adoption of EVs, energize communities, and unleash the economic potential of the UAE.

“We hope that this partnership will further accelerate the transition to cleaner transportation and significantly reduce emissions from the transportation sector, thereby helping to bring our Net Zero 2050 Strategy within reach.”

Sharif Al Olama, who has been appointed Chairman of UAEV, said: “In 2023, we saw a rise in EV adoption in the UAE. By expanding our EV infrastructure, we ensure the country is equipped to support those who have already purchased an EV and make the prospect of switching to EV attractive.

“Together, MoEI and Etihad WE form a powerful force that can help future-proof the UAE and achieve the twin objectives of economic growth and climate action, which underpin UAEV.”

The UAEV is also a perfect platform for Etihad WE, the largest employer in the Northern Emirates and a company with a customer base of over 2 million households, to use its core competency and enhance its product offering.

Yousif Ahmed Al Ali, CEO of Etihad Water and Electricity and Board Member of UAEV, explained: “It is part of a deliberate strategy to diversify our operations, using the knowledge and experience acquired from our role as long-standing pioneers in the energy sector, to explore new products, services, projects, and investments which will benefit our customers.

“UAEV charging infrastructure will contribute to the modernization of the UAE’s transport network, help energize communities by creating new jobs, and empower our customers to make more sustainable choices.”

 

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