50 years ago, in a meeting at Herman Miller, history was made where the question was asked “Wouldn’t it be beautiful to have some kind of sculptured leg on a piece of furniture?” At the time, this had really never been done; sculpting metal in an industrial sense was somewhat beyond the pale. George Nelson, Director of Design at Herman Miller pushed forward with the concept as he wanted to use it to make furniture that was efficient, that was cost-effective, and that the buyer could put together themselves with little direction or difficulty when it was shipped in flat boxes.
George Nelson began with the legs, insisting that they be made of metal, machine formed, pre-finished and beautiful. Swaging-using pressure to taper and curve a metal tube-proved to be the best way to produce the legs, which are 16-gauge steel and have adjustable glides. Nelson designed an entire product offering around this idea, including a desk, work table, and dining tables.
The shell echoes another familiar form. Nelson borrowed (with permission) the patented process for moulding plastic that Charles and Ray Eames had developed. But he added a twist. He created separate seat and back shells and then glued them together. The result is a sculptural shape that fits the body and provides a pleasant give.
My Mom introduced me to “Swag” by decorating my bedroom in our loft with this modern classic. Placed at a desk this chair fits today’s needs just as it did when it was first introduced, in 1958. The Nelson Swag Collection, in all its glory and classic grace, is available in full in this re-issue from Herman Miller. Check out DWR for the entire collection.