Inside the Herman Miller Headquarters

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photos by:
August 18, 2010

As part of our ongoing feature The Full Spectrum, a video series that focuses on color theory, we were invited to get a personal tour of the famed Herman Miller headquarters in Holland, Michigan. Encompassing several buildings and set amidst bucolic hills and fields of corn, Herman Miller is a quintessentially American company dedicated to modern design, sustainability, and social responsibility. Over the course of two days, we got an insider's look at their manufacturing facilities, testing areas, showrooms and—most exciting of all—their amazing library of archives. Here we share some snapshots from our trip, but stay tuned for our third and final video in which we'll delve into greater detail about color, materials, and Herman Miller's legacy of modern furniture design.

 
  • 
  We began our day at the GreenHouse, Herman Miller's manufacturing headquarters. It, like all of the company's buildings, makes the most of natural light and an open working environment.
    We began our day at the GreenHouse, Herman Miller's manufacturing headquarters. It, like all of the company's buildings, makes the most of natural light and an open working environment.
  • 
  Inside the manufacturing facilities, huge skylights make for a most picturesque factory floor. With so many machines and equipment, it was necessary to don these not-very-fashionable safety glasses. As one can see, Senior Editor Aaron Britt made the best of it.
    Inside the manufacturing facilities, huge skylights make for a most picturesque factory floor. With so many machines and equipment, it was necessary to don these not-very-fashionable safety glasses. As one can see, Senior Editor Aaron Britt made the best of it.
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  The Greenhouse, designed by architect William McDonough, is the site of both the North American seating manufacturing facilities and the administrative offices. This area, the main hall, is called the Street. The windows are covered by screens that are electronically powered to raise or lower depending on the building's natural light needs. The entire building is laid out in an arc formation, ensuring that the view a constantly shifting view.
    The Greenhouse, designed by architect William McDonough, is the site of both the North American seating manufacturing facilities and the administrative offices. This area, the main hall, is called the Street. The windows are covered by screens that are electronically powered to raise or lower depending on the building's natural light needs. The entire building is laid out in an arc formation, ensuring that the view a constantly shifting view.
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  We visited the part of the building devoted to heathcare, an important part of Herman Miller's offerings since 1972 when they introduced a modular system of case goods and medical storage called Co/Struc. It was conceived by Bob Probst, who also came up with the first open-plan office furniture system, called Action Office. Co/Struc now offers products like lab and clinical counters and treatment chairs to patient room systems and nurse stations.
    We visited the part of the building devoted to heathcare, an important part of Herman Miller's offerings since 1972 when they introduced a modular system of case goods and medical storage called Co/Struc. It was conceived by Bob Probst, who also came up with the first open-plan office furniture system, called Action Office. Co/Struc now offers products like lab and clinical counters and treatment chairs to patient room systems and nurse stations.
  • 
  We happened upon this original screen of a design by Alexander Girard, called "Hand & Dove", which was created for Herman Miller in 1971. It was used as a part of the company's "environmental enrichment panels"—i.e. graphical fabric embellishments that fit into their Action Office system.
    We happened upon this original screen of a design by Alexander Girard, called "Hand & Dove", which was created for Herman Miller in 1971. It was used as a part of the company's "environmental enrichment panels"—i.e. graphical fabric embellishments that fit into their Action Office system.
  • 
  This year's Herman Miller Select
—a limited-edition reintroduction of an old favorite—was on a table and caught our eye. This one, an Eames Hang It All, is made of black walnut and is a subdued version of the candy-colored original (introduced in 1953 and discontinued in 1961). It's available through February 2011, and retails for $250.
    This year's Herman Miller Select —a limited-edition reintroduction of an old favorite—was on a table and caught our eye. This one, an Eames Hang It All, is made of black walnut and is a subdued version of the candy-colored original (introduced in 1953 and discontinued in 1961). It's available through February 2011, and retails for $250.
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  Next stop on the tour was the Midwest Distribution Center, which houses Herman Miller's extensive archives. It was built in 1988 by Van Dyke Verburg Architects.
    Next stop on the tour was the Midwest Distribution Center, which houses Herman Miller's extensive archives. It was built in 1988 by Van Dyke Verburg Architects.
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  Inside the building, a timeline illustrating the history of the company runs the length of the hallway, at left.
    Inside the building, a timeline illustrating the history of the company runs the length of the hallway, at left.
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  An original packing crate.
    An original packing crate.
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  The film portion of the archive contains everything from internal corporate pieces and ads to film clips that feature Herman Miller designs, and taped talks by notable designers.
    The film portion of the archive contains everything from internal corporate pieces and ads to film clips that feature Herman Miller designs, and taped talks by notable designers.
  • 
  Susan Lyons, who heads up Herman Miller's color and materials division (and who will be featured in our upcoming video on color theory), dons the white gloves and pulls out a drawer full of original plans from the company's archives. Right on top are the original hand-drawn plans for the plywood LCW chair by Ray and Charles Eames.
    Susan Lyons, who heads up Herman Miller's color and materials division (and who will be featured in our upcoming video on color theory), dons the white gloves and pulls out a drawer full of original plans from the company's archives. Right on top are the original hand-drawn plans for the plywood LCW chair by Ray and Charles Eames.
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  Lyons showed us her favorite of Girard's designs, a vibrant fabric called Palio. "He was inspired by the flag patterns found in Siena during the running of the Palio," she explains. "There's nothing like the primaries of red, yellow, and blue to get your pulse going!"
    Lyons showed us her favorite of Girard's designs, a vibrant fabric called Palio. "He was inspired by the flag patterns found in Siena during the running of the Palio," she explains. "There's nothing like the primaries of red, yellow, and blue to get your pulse going!"
  • 
  We headed over to a big warehouse space to look for hidden gems. Here we see a trio of vintage Eames Plastic Arm Chairs, which were first produced in 1950. The Eames first introduced the chair in 1948 as their concept for the Museum of Modern Art's "International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture". Originally conceived in stamped metal for the contest, the Eames and Herman Miller began exploring fiberglass as an ever lower-cost material option. The piece, which has gone through many iterations, was the first mass-produced plastic chair.
    We headed over to a big warehouse space to look for hidden gems. Here we see a trio of vintage Eames Plastic Arm Chairs, which were first produced in 1950. The Eames first introduced the chair in 1948 as their concept for the Museum of Modern Art's "International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture". Originally conceived in stamped metal for the contest, the Eames and Herman Miller began exploring fiberglass as an ever lower-cost material option. The piece, which has gone through many iterations, was the first mass-produced plastic chair.
  • 
  One half of the master mold used to make the Eames Plastic Armchair.
    One half of the master mold used to make the Eames Plastic Armchair.
  • 
  Aaron (with white gloves, no less!) holds a splint designed by the Eames. The pair was spurred to action by their friend, Dr. Wendell Scott, who saw the possibilities in the Eames' experiments with molded plywood. He was right—the splints they created were more durable, light weight, and compact. By fall of 1942, the Eames had an order for 5,000 from the Navy, and they went on to produce 150,000 more through the Evans Products Company. Douglas fir was used for the core layers, and the exterior veneer is mahogany and birch.
    Aaron (with white gloves, no less!) holds a splint designed by the Eames. The pair was spurred to action by their friend, Dr. Wendell Scott, who saw the possibilities in the Eames' experiments with molded plywood. He was right—the splints they created were more durable, light weight, and compact. By fall of 1942, the Eames had an order for 5,000 from the Navy, and they went on to produce 150,000 more through the Evans Products Company. Douglas fir was used for the core layers, and the exterior veneer is mahogany and birch.
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  Furniture designer Gilbert Rohde, Herman Miller's first design director, created this sales brochure, entitled "A History of Modern Furniture from Prehistoric Times to the Post War Era", in 1942 with the intention of making buyers more comfortable with choosing modern furniture. Rohde was responsible for convincing Herman Miller's son-in-law and company founder, D. J. DePree, to move toward original modernism and away from reproduction pieces.
    Furniture designer Gilbert Rohde, Herman Miller's first design director, created this sales brochure, entitled "A History of Modern Furniture from Prehistoric Times to the Post War Era", in 1942 with the intention of making buyers more comfortable with choosing modern furniture. Rohde was responsible for convincing Herman Miller's son-in-law and company founder, D. J. DePree, to move toward original modernism and away from reproduction pieces.
  • 
  A trio of original Rohde–designed pieces, created for the 1932 World's Fair in Chicago.
    A trio of original Rohde–designed pieces, created for the 1932 World's Fair in Chicago.
  • 
  Next we toured the Design Yard, a Gold LEED-certified facility. Devoted to research and development, the building was designed by architect Jeff Scherer in 1986. The building riffs on the farm vernacular—there are several silos situated throughout, and they are used as meeting rooms, storage and offices.
    Next we toured the Design Yard, a Gold LEED-certified facility. Devoted to research and development, the building was designed by architect Jeff Scherer in 1986. The building riffs on the farm vernacular—there are several silos situated throughout, and they are used as meeting rooms, storage and offices.
  • 
  The stylized X shape on the barn doors at right reinforces the farm motif.
    The stylized X shape on the barn doors at right reinforces the farm motif.
  • 
  Aaron Britt, in a moment of jovial repose. He's sitting on a metal sculpture of George Nelson's famous Marshmallow Sofa, designed for Herman Miller in 1956. Though this one may not be as comfortable as the real thing, it's just as striking.
    Aaron Britt, in a moment of jovial repose. He's sitting on a metal sculpture of George Nelson's famous Marshmallow Sofa, designed for Herman Miller in 1956. Though this one may not be as comfortable as the real thing, it's just as striking.
  • 
  The Parlor at the Design Yard, where we originally set up our equipment to begin shooting. Here you see a visual history of Herman Miller, from a portrait of D. J. DePree at lower left to a collection of early Nelson clocks.
    The Parlor at the Design Yard, where we originally set up our equipment to begin shooting. Here you see a visual history of Herman Miller, from a portrait of D. J. DePree at lower left to a collection of early Nelson clocks.
  • 
  Inside the colors and materials studio, a wall reflects a work in progress: grouping the existing textile collection into color families that progress from warm to cool and light to dark. "Textiles are the poster children for color," says Lyon. "With textiles you can combine color, texture, surface and contrast into one deliciously tactile and visual experience."
    Inside the colors and materials studio, a wall reflects a work in progress: grouping the existing textile collection into color families that progress from warm to cool and light to dark. "Textiles are the poster children for color," says Lyon. "With textiles you can combine color, texture, surface and contrast into one deliciously tactile and visual experience."
  • 
  One of Lyons' current projects is to find new hues for the Eames plastic shell chair. Here, pieces from the original offering in fiberglass are considered. The chair shells, once made of fiberglass-infused plastic, are produced in environmentally friendly polypropylene, a decision made by the company almost a decade ago.
    One of Lyons' current projects is to find new hues for the Eames plastic shell chair. Here, pieces from the original offering in fiberglass are considered. The chair shells, once made of fiberglass-infused plastic, are produced in environmentally friendly polypropylene, a decision made by the company almost a decade ago.
  • 
  A 1953 statement by D. J. DePree, a remarkably progressive businessman for his era. He was very conscious of his company's responsibility to society and to its employees. He introduced a universal bonus system in 1949 and eventually stock ownership, once the company went public in 1970.  The beakers are an illustration of the Kira fabric's life cycle—the first textile to be created from corn.
    A 1953 statement by D. J. DePree, a remarkably progressive businessman for his era. He was very conscious of his company's responsibility to society and to its employees. He introduced a universal bonus system in 1949 and eventually stock ownership, once the company went public in 1970.  The beakers are an illustration of the Kira fabric's life cycle—the first textile to be created from corn.
  • 
  The first beaker shows corn kernels, then corn starch, then liquified, then purified, then synthesized into a corn-based polymer, then woven to a textile, and then the last beaker shows that when composted the fabric simply returns to the soil.
    The first beaker shows corn kernels, then corn starch, then liquified, then purified, then synthesized into a corn-based polymer, then woven to a textile, and then the last beaker shows that when composted the fabric simply returns to the soil.
  • 
  All furniture lines go through a rigorous testing process. Here we see a line of task chairs undergoing what's called the "loaded, pull-back" test. Each seat is topped by 250 lbs of weight, and the chair is pulled into recline position, over and over, with an additional 150 lbs of force. The certification standard for BIFMA (Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association) as a 'commercial grade chair' requires a product to successfully complete 150,000 cycles; the Herman Miller self-imposed standard is 1,000,000 cycles.
    All furniture lines go through a rigorous testing process. Here we see a line of task chairs undergoing what's called the "loaded, pull-back" test. Each seat is topped by 250 lbs of weight, and the chair is pulled into recline position, over and over, with an additional 150 lbs of force. The certification standard for BIFMA (Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association) as a 'commercial grade chair' requires a product to successfully complete 150,000 cycles; the Herman Miller self-imposed standard is 1,000,000 cycles.
  • 
  There are various chambers that the company uses to test "real life" conditions. Here we see Aaron Britt and Herman Miller's own Mark Schurman investigating the humidity chamber. There's also a chamber for extreme cold, and one for salty air. Just in case you leave your Setu chair on the beach...
    There are various chambers that the company uses to test "real life" conditions. Here we see Aaron Britt and Herman Miller's own Mark Schurman investigating the humidity chamber. There's also a chamber for extreme cold, and one for salty air. Just in case you leave your Setu chair on the beach...
  • 
  In one portion of the building, we happened upon this Leaf Light by Yves Behar. If you look closely, there's a sign that says Do Not Turn Off...that's because it's been illuminated since 2006. The company wanted a "real-world condition" to test the LED's longevity and brightness—supposedly 80,000 hours of life.
    In one portion of the building, we happened upon this Leaf Light by Yves Behar. If you look closely, there's a sign that says Do Not Turn Off...that's because it's been illuminated since 2006. The company wanted a "real-world condition" to test the LED's longevity and brightness—supposedly 80,000 hours of life.
  • 
  After a long day of filming and touring, we headed to Butch's, a wine bar, to sample some local grapes. This is a popular spot for Herman Miller folks—we were told that Butch's is often referred to as "conference room two". Stay tuned for more slideshows about our Michigan odyssey, and keep watching for our soon to be released video about Herman Miller and color theory!
    After a long day of filming and touring, we headed to Butch's, a wine bar, to sample some local grapes. This is a popular spot for Herman Miller folks—we were told that Butch's is often referred to as "conference room two". Stay tuned for more slideshows about our Michigan odyssey, and keep watching for our soon to be released video about Herman Miller and color theory!
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