The Marshmallow Sofa

The Marshmallow Sofa

The Marshmallow sofa has come to be referred to as "atomistic in style" in the sense of a whole exploding into multiple parts (in this case, the cushions). It seems to be an adaptation of the representation of the atom in which the colored pillows represent the atomic particles.

Although it was initially called "Marshmallow love seat," the sofa was designed for both homes and offices since its dimensions (130×80, with the possibility of extending it to infinity) allowed its use in both locations.

It must be said that in time it became known that Nelson was not the original creator. Still, one of the firm's designers, Irving Harper, since at that time unique designs were usually attributed to the studio where they worked, in this case, George Nelson Associates, Inc.

A salesman from a Long Island plastics company presented George Nelson with an example of the company's ability to create foam discs. The reduced costs prompted Nelson to invite his designer Irving Harper to design a piece incorporating the discs, which he did in a weekend. Unfortunately, the manufacturing turned out to be neither cheap nor straightforward, making this sofa a luxury piece instead of a commodity. Nevertheless, the firm Herman Miller dared to market it, bringing it to light in 1956.

Despite its popularity, only 186 Marshmallow sofas were produced between 1956 and 1961. Then, after a 34-year break, it was brought back into production and is currently marketed by Herman Miller in the USA and Vitra in Europe.

An early explosion came in the 1930s when Harper was an architecture student in Rome. Before returning home, he had an idea that struck him with a bang: he would travel around Europe and interview leading modern architects to obtain articles that he would publish in the U.S. He was very successful, and in the process, introduced the U.S. design community to the European avant-garde. This set in motion a sequence of what he called "lucky" leaps in his profession that were inevitable results of his brilliance as a designer, teacher, and author.

The first leap was to be appointed editor of Architectural Forum magazine. Working there on a story in 1942, he was looking for aerial photos of badly damaged cities when suddenly he had an explosive idea: he developed the concept of a downtown pedestrian mall, which was featured in the Saturday Evening Post.

Soon after, another creative explosion led to the Storagewall, the first modular storage system and forerunner of system furniture. The Storagewall was featured in an article in Life magazine in 1945, generating a enormous attention in the furniture industry. Herman Miller founder D.J. De Pree saw the article and was so impressed that he paid for a visit by Nelson to New York and convinced him to become his design director, and that encouraged Nelson to seek his design firm, George Nelson & Associates. The close, friendship and professional relationship between Nelson and De Pree resulted in an incredible range of products, from the fun Marshmallow Sofa to the first L-shaped desk, a forerunner of today's workstations.

Nelson said about Herman Miller: "-He- is not playing follow the leader. It's one of the reasons George Nelson & Associates worked with Herman Miller for more than 25 years as they led design into the modern era.

George Nelson & Associates created many iconic product designs, showrooms, and displays for various companies and organizations during this same period.

Nelson said that for a designer to address human needs creatively, "he must first make a radical, conscious break with all the values he identifies as anti-human. Designers must constantly be aware of the consequences of their actions on people and society. He stated that "total design is nothing more (or less) than a process of relating everything to everything." He stated that beyond an specialization, designers should seek to earn a broad base of knowledge and understanding.

Nelson is one of the few skilled, and so he did; with the help of creative explosions in his time, he helped define the modern, human design.


Permanent Collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Lifetime Achievement Award, American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1991

Scholar in Residence, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Design, 1984

President, International Design Conference in Aspen, 1965, 1982

Good Design Award, Museum of Modern Art, 1954

Trailblazer Award, National Home Furnishings League, 1954

Best Office of the Year, New York Times, 1953

Gold Medal, Art Directors Club of New York, 1953

Prix de Rome in architecture, 1932

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