George Nelson Furniture

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wikicollecting

2015-06-26 10:59:33

The furniture of designer and architect George Nelson (1908-1986) proved hugely influential, making him one of the founders of American Modernism.

History and Background

George Nelson attended Yale University, initially with no intention of becoming an architect. He became interested in architecture during his first year, and graduated with an architectural degree in 1928.

After winning a scholarship to study architecture for a year in Rome in the early 1930s, Nelson decided to travel Europe interviewing a series of leading modernist architects, with the ultimate goal of somehow getting the articles published in America. He succeeded, thus introducing the United States to the European avant-garde.

Nelson became an editor of Architectural Forum magazine in 1935, where he became extremely vocal about modernist principles. In 1945, he was hired as company director of the Herman Miller furniture company, despite having never designed furniture before. Prior to his involvement, the company had been making more conventional designs, but hired Nelson after reading his book "Tomorrow's House", which outlined several new concepts, amongst them the 'storage wall' and the 'family room'.

Nelson held the position until 1972. Nelson's design studio, George Nelson Associates, created some of the most iconic pieces in modernist furniture during the 20th century.

Guide for Collectors

Nelson was responsible for the creation of several iconic pieces of furniture whilst working at Herman Miller, amongst them the 'Marshmallow Chair', created in 1956, and the 'Coconut Chair', also created in the mid-fifties. The former consisted of several seemingly free-floating circular cushions affixed to a metal frame, which combined to create both comfort and signal an intriguing new design, serving as a forerunner to the Pop Art movement of the 1960s.

It is this boldness and playfulness in creation which collectors would be advised to seek, as they are archetypal George Nelson. Another of Nelson's well-known designs is his Platform Bench, which consisted of several wooden slats and was introduced in 1946. Strong and multi-purpose, the bench is easily identifiable for it's clean lines, and has become one of the most collectable furniture pieces from the 20th century.

Works such as the Marshmallow Chair and the Coconut Chair remain in production, so can be purchased for around $300 for the latter and $1000 for the former. For a vintage piece, collectors should expect to pay more.

Value and notable auction sales

George Nelson is not a household name, yet for those with a passion for bold design and a love of modernist furniture, his work has tremendous value. The monetary value of Nelson works is very much dependent on size, scale and condition. On 19th November 2011, Concept Art Gallery sold a pair of George Nelson dressers for $1600, whilst items of iconic status, such as Nelson's slated bench, sold from Fairfield Auction for $375 on the 20th November 2011.

A thin edge cabinet from Nelson's time at Norman Miller sold for $5500 on 16th November 2011, and a vintage Marshmallow Sofa sold for $7000 at Clars Auction Gallery on 13th November 2011.

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