George Nelson Associates ( American, 1947 - 1983 )
Herman Miller, Inc. ( American, 1923 )
- designed c. 1954–1955
Consisting of eighteen circular cushions mounted to an openwork aluminum and steel tube frame, this icon of 1950s design was, according to a 1956 Herman Miller catalogue, intended to appeal to consumers on the basis of its "astonishing appearance" and correspondence to the needs of modern life. George Nelson and his design associates were important in the creation of a modernist aesthetic during the mid-20th century, and this extraordinary sofa is a fine example of their work. According to Irving Harper, who worked in Nelson's New York firm, the idea for this sofa was based on an unusual concept of assembly. Whereas a traditional sofa consists of a wooden frame entirely covered by upholstery, the Marshmallow design consists of an exposed metal frame to which separate circular cushion units are attached in strategic positions. Although chairs had been made this way, the idea that one could rest comfortably on independent units as opposed to a solid surface was a radical one.
Unfortunately the production of this model proved costly because it required a great deal of hand labor to upholster and mount the many cushions. Furthermore, the design was so radical that few private consumers accepted it. Consequently, Marshmallow sofas were produced in small numbers and then eventually removed from production around 1965. They were most often used in offices and hotels, rather than in homes. The design was introduced to a new generation when production was renewed after 1988.
Charles Venable, "Marshmallow sofa," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 264.
Kevin W. Tucker, DMA unpublished material, Label text, March 2009.