Everything You Need to Know About 6 of Our Favorite George Nelson Pieces

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By Paige Alexus
Not only did George Nelson design the first pedestrian shopping mall and pioneer modular systems, but he also created an extensive number of products that have become representative of American modernism.

As a designer, teacher, and writer, Nelson saw his work as a series of creative "zaps," which he described as being flashes or sudden realizations that he would translate into design ideas. The first true "zap" occurred in the 1930s when he was studying architecture in Rome. He began traveling Europe in order to interview top architects with the hope of getting his written pieces published. This ended up being one of the best decisions he ever made, as it helped kick off his career. 

Everything You Need to Know About 6 of Our Favorite George Nelson Pieces - Photo 1 of 2 - George Nelson is shown here in 1965 sitting in a Sergio Rodrigues armchair in Rio. 

George Nelson is shown here in 1965 sitting in a Sergio Rodrigues armchair in Rio. 

After he became Herman Miller's director of design in 1945, he decided to form his own design firm, George Nelson & Associates. From then on, he created a number of lights, furniture pieces, and everyday objects that have become recognizable icons. Below, we’ve gathered some of our favorites and included everything you need to know—plus, you can even shop them.

Lighting the Way


Everything You Need to Know About 6 of Our Favorite George Nelson Pieces - Photo 2 of 2 - This archival advertisement features George Nelson’s Ball Pendant Light. The beginning of the caption reads: "Airy, lighthearted ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Net Lights,’ designed by George Nelson, make lamps and lighting fixtures that delight the eyes and warm the heart. Their pleasing shapes are fashioned in sturdy, lightweight steel and a special translucent white plastic."

This archival advertisement features George Nelson’s Ball Pendant Light. The beginning of the caption reads: "Airy, lighthearted ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Net Lights,’ designed by George Nelson, make lamps and lighting fixtures that delight the eyes and warm the heart. Their pleasing shapes are fashioned in sturdy, lightweight steel and a special translucent white plastic."

Putting a Playful Spin on Seating

Nelson Coconut Chair
Nelson Coconut Chair
George Nelson was known for encouraging his protégés to get playful and to experiment when creating their designs. After finishing his studies at the Pratt Institute, George Mulhauser joined his team and presented a sketch that eventually evolved into the Coconut Chair. Designed in 1955 for Herman Miller, the shape evokes a coconut that’s cut into eight parts, with the outer shell of the chair depicting the white interior of the fruit. The cushion of the molded plastic chair is upholstered with leather or fabric in a variety of colors and the unique shape of the shell calls for a range of lounging positions.   Photo: Courtesy of Hive
Nelson Marshmallow Sofa
Nelson Marshmallow Sofa
There’s nothing else like George Nelson’s Marshmallow Sofa. In 1956, the iconic designer turned a traditional sofa into a bold, playful shape that was extremely forward-thinking for its time. Made up of 18 colorful cushions that are attached to a brushed tubular steel frame, it led the way into the pop art trend of the 1960s and has become known as a recognizable symbol of that era. Available through Herman Miller and made in the USA, you can choose from five colored vinyl options and can add additions of six extra cushions in order to create a sofa of indefinite length. Nelson designed it for both residential and commercial spaces, so you can detach the cushions for easy cleaning and can rearrange them in order to balance out wear and tear. Photo: Courtesy of Herman Miller

Taking Everyday Objects to a Whole New Level

Nelson Ball Clock
Nelson Ball Clock
Throughout the midcentury era, George Nelson became known for creating everyday objects in order to help bring modern design into American homes. One of the objects he’s most known for, is the clock. Over a number of years, George Nelson Associates designed more than 150 of them for the Howard Miller Clock Company, who sold them through the 1980s. The first creation was the Ball Clock, which was designed by Irving Harper for George Nelson in 1949 and is still produced by Vitra to this day. Made in Poland, it consists of 12 brass spindles that are finished with solid hardwood spheres. With a high-quality quartz movement, you can choose from colorful options, a natural colorway, or a black and brass version. Photo: Courtesy of Design Within Reach
Nelson Eye Clock
Nelson Eye Clock
George Nelson created everyday objects in the 1950s with the mission of bringing modern design into American homes. The prolific designer worked with Vitra to create a variety of wall clocks—one of which is an eye shape that’s rendered in brass and walnut. Now considered an icon of midcentury design, the Eye Clock is a distinct departure from traditional versions with faces enclosed in glass. Alternatively, the abstract eye even includes lash ticks to mark the time instead of a conventional numbered face. The hands are geometric and graphic, which is consistent with many of Nelson’s other clock designs. It can be mounted on the wall and includes a high-quality quartz movement. Photo: Sean Litchfield

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