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George Nelson's Marshmallow Coconut Furnishings
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George Nelson’s designs exude optimism. Icons like the Coconut Chair, Marshmallow Sofa, and Bubble Lamp serve as colorful physical representations of America’s Post-War moment. Nelson’s work wasn’t just fun though, the designer is credited with a number of concepts now taken for granted, including the first-ever pedestrian shopping mall, the office cubicle, built-in storage, and the “family room.”
Nelson was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1908. He studied architecture at Yale University, and then won the ‘Rome Prize’, which provided him a stipend to study in Italy for two years. While in Europe, he interviewed 12 of the era’s most prominent architects. The interviews, including Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Gio Ponti, were published in the magazine Pencil Points. The body of work established the young Nelson at the intersection of journalism and design.
After returning to the United States, Nelson found work as an editor and writer for the magazines Architecture Forum and Fortune. He also opened his first architectural practice in New York with William Hamby, before World War II forced the business to shut down. During the War, Nelson taught architecture at Columbia University.
In 1945, in part thanks to Nelson’s writing, Herman Miller-boss D.J. De Pree offered Nelson a role at the furniture manufacturer. In two years, he would become the company's design director. The following years of work were especially prolific for Nelson and resulted in the Slat Bench (1946), the Basic Cabinet Series (1946), Bubble Lamp (1947), Ball Clock (1950), Coconut Chair (1955) and the Marshmallow Sofa (1956 w/ Irving Harper). While with Herman Miller, Nelson would also recruit the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard, and Isamu Noguchi to join the firm.
Nelson would go on to found his own studio, George Nelson & Associates. Employing over 70 people at its peak, the office would see massive commercial success creating designs for General Electric and the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow. When not designing, Nelson documented the world as he saw it through writing and photography.