History Lesson: The Sling Sofa

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Few designers have had more of an impact on America’s taste in modern furniture design than George Nelson. The leading American modernist designer spearheaded George Nelson Associates, Inc., a studio that created hundreds of designs for furniture giant Herman Miller. 
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Works created under Nelson’s stewardship, such as the “Coconut” Chair, the “Ball” Wall Clock, the “Bubble” Sofa, and the “Action Office II” (better known today as the office cubicle), went on to win his firm numerous accolades. Some designs are still manufactured and produced by Herman Miller today, more than 30 years after Nelson’s death.

Though Action Office II was the most profitable of Nelson’s designs, the Sling Sofa is considered most indicative of his design style. The late designer was a consummate industrialist, pushed to create works that were strong, cheap to produce, and comfortable.

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The Sling Sofa, with its chrome-plated tubular steel frame, thick black leather, and plush seating supported by rubber “slings” across the back, was meant to be beautiful, durable, and, of course, comfortable. It was first released in 1963 by Herman Miller as “Sofa, Model 6832;” the original design stayed in production until 2000.

“You don’t think your way to creative work. You work your way to creative thinking.” – George Nelson

This work might seem quieter than, say, the Bubble Sofa, but it is important nonetheless. The exposed structural elements of the sofa are a hallmark of industrial design. By pairing it with premium leather and a sleek profile, Nelson made what had been considered poor and drab something quite luxurious. The continuing popularity of the design among designers, collectors, and copycats, speaks volumes about Nelson’s eye for design.

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