Nelson Swag Leg Chair by Herman Miller
designed by George Nelson
At A Glance: Designed as an answer and even an improvement to the Eames Molded Plastic Chairs, this product by George Nelson, a close friend of the Eameses, is equally acclaimed in design circles. He improved the chair by making it more breathable and giving it a kind of hinge, making recline possible and comfortable. And he added his inimitable swag legs, tapered metal tubes that are as attractive as they are supportive.
What's To Like: The look of this chair is stunning and modern, and the feel is comfortable and supportive. It's a piece of design history as well - a conversation piece as much as it is a style and function piece.
What's Not to Like: The chair is modeled on the Eames Molded Plastic series (with the permission of Charles and Ray). So if you want the original, you might go in a different direction.
The Bottom Line: This is a beautiful chair by a great designer, and it's a slight improvement over the older Eames Molded Plastic Chairs.
The Nelson Swag Leg Chair is first and foremost a very comfortable desk chair. Great pains were taken by the Nelson design team to make sure that it wasn't just an ornament, wasn't just another attractive but unusable chair. In keeping with their plans to integrate the home and the work environment, they wanted the chair to as comfortable at the dining table as it was and the work table, and to look good enough to complement and accentuate both. This was no easy task, and in the end they brought in an extra set of minds to work on the problem; the minds of Charles and Ray Eames.
George Nelson and Charles and Ray had always been good friends, ever since he first discovered them in New York and brought them onto the team at Herman Miller. Now, when Nelson needed a new element to propel his chair to new heights, he looked to them. Recently, they had developed the now famous series of plastic, egg-shaped chairs that are still popular in schools and auditoriums. Nelson loved the look of the chairs, but saw some areas for improvement (one of them being the addition of swag legs of course). He asked Charles and Ray for permission to use the look of their chairs to influence the look of his own, and they agreed. The result was a mix-up of the three great minds that thrived rather than suffered for the sharing of ideas.
So the Nelson Swag Leg Chair is of two minds (or three minds). The top half is all Eames, with several major alterations. It's molded plastic, with only two parts. Unlike the Eames chairs, the Nelson version wasn't a total shell; there was a large gap between the seat and the seat back. This did two things for the chair; it made it more comfortable and it made it less hot. One of the main complaints people had about the Eames chair (if they had any at all) was that heat could build up between the user and the plastic of the seat, and it could cause sweating and discomfort. By removing a large part of the shell, Nelson allowed air to pass through the material, and people no longer overheated. But having two parts instead of one also provided something else; a hinge. The hinge point for the Nelson Swag Leg Chair is at the armrests, and that allows the back of the chair to actually move in response to users; to slightly recline. This makes it more comfortable, because it's more flexible and adaptable to the user. Pretty neat trick.
The bottom of the chair, however, is all Nelson. The swag leg technique is used in its most effective form on the chair. While all the legs on every piece of the Nelson group look great, it's in the chair that they reach their full potential in design. The legs are swept into a sort of swag leg bouquet underneath the seat of the chair, and then they splay back out at the bottom to form a solid and secure base. Th effect is beautiful, stylish, timeless. It's the final punctuation on one of the more elegant chapters written in the history of Herman Miller design.
The combination of the three designers is a rare thing in the world of industrial design; the willing and nearly wholesale incorporation of someone elses aesthetic or technical achievement with no obfuscation. Not only did Nelson have no problem with publicly borrowing elements of the chair from Charles and Ray, Charles and Ray openly allowed him to borrow. This was the essence of their friendship, but also of the design spirit that permeated Herman Miller at the time; the ideas were all out there, it was just a matter of making them as perfect and as human-centered as they possibly could be. It also speaks to Nelson's strength as a designer. He had enough humility and integrity to ask permission and to use the Eames chair ideas, but he also had the creative talent to make the resulting masterpiece unique, and uniquely his own. The finished product was not a creation of the Eameses, nor was it partly theirs; in the same way that a maker of video collages owes little to their sources when they do good work, Nelson owed nothing to the Eameses except appreciation for their inspiration.
The Nelson Collection is a revival of a historic collection by George Nelson. Introduced in 1958, the group's evocative chairs, tables and desks have a look, scale and function that are right for today. These classic, sculpted designs can be used individually or together in the home or office.
The Herman Miller Nelson Swag Leg Chair is also known by the following manufacturer Item Numbers: DAF.
Recyclable polypropylene seat and back. Steel legs.
Overall: 31.875" h x 28" w x 21.88" d
Seat Height: 18"
Arm Height: 26.5"
The armchair's look is light-scale and sculpted; the chair shell flexes with the sitter and prevents heat buildup. Wide, flat armrests so forearms can rest comfortably. 2-piece molded seat with arms and back, waterfall edges, cast-aluminum base with steel-tube legs and adjustable glides.
Stylish Seated Comfort
Separate seat and back. The look is light-scaled and sculpted; the chair shell flexes with the sitter and prevents heat buildup.
Wide, flat armrests. Forearms can rest comfortably.
Shell and leg choices. Shells are available in white, grey, or black, with the option to order the seat and back in any combination of colors; leg finish can be chrome, white, or black.
What's a swag leg?
Herman Miller named this furniture for the process that created the distinctive legs. Designer George Nelson started with this idea: "Wouldn't it be beautiful to have some kind of sculptured leg on a piece of furniture?" How could that be done without wood and hand-carving tools? Using pressure to taper and curve a metal tube came to be known as swagging.
With his swag leg group, George Nelson didn't try to design an innovation; the innovation resulted from his criteria for the design. He began with the legs, insisting that they be made of metal, machine formed, and prefinished. He also wanted them to be easy for the consumer to assemble, so the desk and tables could ship knocked down to save on cost.
Swaging--using pressure to taper and curve a metal tube--proved the best way to produce the legs, which are 16-gauge steel and have adjustable glides. George Nelson added solid walnut stretchers that bolt to the legs for a stable, durable base common to the desk and tables.
The swag leg chair presented a bigger problem: How to connect four legs. Thanks to some ingenious engineering, the resulting base looks natural and simple. As one early observer said, it "grows up like four tree roots and unites into one strong upward thrust."
For the chair shell, Nelson got permission from Charles and Ray Eames to use the patented process they developed for molding plastic. Nelson took the process a step further and created separate seat and back shells that he glued together. With 21st century innovations in technology and material, today's shells are fully authentic and made of recyclable polypropylene.
Read the entire design story behind the Swag Leg Collection.