“Nothing is done in a vacuum,” Amy Auscherman, Herman Miller‘s corporate archivist, tells us. And for more than 100 years, Herman Miller has impacted culture as much as culture has returned the favor. Their designs are timeless. They have acquired companies to create a family of influence. Most of all, they have pushed furniture design remarkably far—changing homes and offices worldwide.
To celebrate Herman Miller’s intricate history, as well as situate the brand for its next 100 years, Auscherman, Sam Grawe and Leon Ransmeier, spent the better part of four years scouring design collections (the Vitra Design Museum, UCLA Libraries, Eames Office, Museum of Modern Art, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation included) for Herman Miller-related documents, photographs, archives and illustrations for the new book, Herman Miller: A Way of Living.
“There have been other books about Herman Miller in the past, but none that have gone to the detail to not only delve into the company’s history in and of itself, but also position that history and products and architecture and people within the context of culture overall,” Auscherman says.
“I know everybody loves to say, ‘Never before seen!’ but there are truly those images,” she laughs. “We spent two weeks at the Library of Congress going through the Eames photography collection and the manuscript collection. More specifically, there’s an amazing color slide collection that they kept that really hadn’t been opened up to researchers until we went and sort of poked at them. We are able to get early access and had a lot of the materials digitized for the first time.”
Featuring 10 chapters that go in-depth on everything from key figures in the company’s history to pivotal moments in popular culture that shaped its trajectory, this book is the summation of Herman Miller’s existence thus far—the most expansive one to date, Auscherman affirms.
“Even the nerdiest nerds and Herman Miller fans and people who have spent their whole working life at the company will have something to learn from this book,” she says. “I sit in this interesting position at the company where I kind of know the genesis of ideas that have proliferated and made the company what it is today. These ideas have been revisited and refined over and over again—not in a bad way. Usually, people aren’t coming up with something totally new, but they’re new iterations on something that’s already existed and making it better.”
The book, which features thousands of images, coincides with an exhibition (opening 19 May) that will take place at Herman Miller’s flagship store in NYC through the summer.
“I’m here in New York installing, what I think is, one of the biggest exhibitions of materials from Herman Miller’s that’s been mounted—at least since the Walker Art Center show in the ’70s,” Auscherman tells us. “We pulled hundreds of items from our own archive—a lot of graphic design posters, ephemera, catalogs and artifacts that are all being installed. It’s kind of like the book in real-life in a way.”
Herman Miller: A Way of Living ($90) is available now from Phaidon. The coinciding exhibit opens to the public on 19 May at the flagship NYC store, located at 251 Park Avenue South.
Images courtesy of Phaidon