Thoroughly modern Miller
Herman Miller furniture has
defined innovation for decades
By Gary M. Stern
IN THE LATE 1920S, when D.J. De Pree, the
owner of the Herman Miller furniture company, paid a sympathy call to the wife of a millwright and master tradesman who had worked
for the company, she read him some poetry. De
Pree was moved by the poetry and asked who
wrote it. “My husband did,” she replied.
At that moment, De Pree had an epiphany—every one of his employees was special,
gifted and unique—and he became dedicated
to running an employee-centered company.
Shortly thereafter, when the Depression
hit and sales declined, De Pree—who had
named the company after his father-in-law—
made another major decision. He decided to
scrap Herman Miller’s traditional ornate furniture
designs and replace them
with more streamlined,
modern furniture styles.
De Pree’s gamble paid
off. The company became a
leader in modern furniture,
developing lasting ties with
legendary industrial designers, transforming the office furniture industry
with the first panel system, and inventing and
refining ergonomic work seating.
Founded in Zeeland, Michigan, in 1923,
today Herman Miller is the second-largest
office furniture company in the world, with
customers and locations around the globe.
The company is known for its modern, prob-lem-solving furniture designs and interior
systems for the workplace, healing, education
and home environments.
Since its beginnings, while the company
has maintained its commitment to craftsmanship and innovative design, it has held on
to the values of yesterday as well. Creating a
great place to work is still the cornerstone of
the company. Indeed, De Pree once said, “The
company is rightly judged by its profits but
also by its humanity.” He dedicated the company to helping society in addition to producing chairs and sofas.
Creativity is the key
Because the move to modern furniture
was so successful, De Pree made innovation
a hallmark of Herman
Miller. Innovation, he said,
was the key to its continued success.
Having attracted such
leading designers as Gilbert
Rohde, Charles and Ray
Eames (designers of the
famed Eames lounge chair)
and George Nelson—
considered the founders of American modernism—Herman Miller continued to create
A key example is the work of industrial
designer Bill Stumpf. Intrigued by human
anatomy, Stumpf researched physiology and
how it affected the way people sit—and the
ways they should sit—in chairs. He took time-lapse photographs of how people interacted
with their chairs, consulted with orthopedic
“We focus on how
people live and
work, identify their
problems and solve
them in innovative
Name: Herman Miller Inc.
CEO and president: Brian Walker
Employees: More than 6,300 worldwide
Herman Miller Inc.
855 E. Main Ave.
P.O. Box 302
Zeeland, MI 49464-0302
Web site: www.hermanmiller.com
Comments about C ostco:
“Herman Miller delive rs
high-quality goods at a a
good price that peop le
can trust. So does Co stco.
We”re a good match. ”
—Bart Pierce, Senior Manager
Herman Miller for the Home
Phone: 1-800-525-81 64
Fax: (616) 654-5817
Products at Costco
Caper XR chair and
Equa XR chair
PHOTOS COUR TES Y OF HERMAN MILLER
and vascular surgeons, and studied how sitting affects the circulatory system.
Stumpf’s research led to the creation of
the Ergon chair—Herman Miller’s first ergonomic chair—in 1976, long before this style
of furniture design came into vogue. Ergonomics, explains Mark Schurman, a company spokesperson, ensures that people have
the healthiest and most comfortable chairs
in the workplace. Since Stumpf created the
Ergon and the Equa XR and his firm
designed the pioneering Aeron and Caper
chairs, Herman Miller has sold more than
$5 billion worth of ergonomic chairs.
“We focus on how people live and work,
identify their problems and solve them in
innovative ways,” explains Marg Mojzak, director of Herman Miller for the Home. An example is the 1968 Herman Miller–designed Action
Office System, reconfigurable workstations
that have gradually morphed into the cubicle
culture that dominates most businesses today.
1933: Rohde-designed furniture debuts at the
Centuryof Progress Expositionin Chicago 1956: Eamesloungechaira a ndottoman
1 923: 1 942:
De Preefounds E xamplefrom 1968:
Herman Miller t he Executive Action
O ffice Group Office
( left) System
Herman Millerhistory 1976: Ergon chair
”’20s ” 30s ”40s ”50s ” 60s ” 70s