George Nelson, Teaching Us How to See the World with Atomic Age Design

An architect, engaging educator, published author, recreational photographer, graphic designer, home furnishings designer, and a total rabble-rouser, George Nelson stamped his mark that will forever echo through the pages of design history, shaping face of Mid-Century modern design in America and the rest of the world for over four decades.


George Nelson
George Nelson

To a lot of people, George Nelson can be recognized as the vibrant designer of pieces such as the Marshmallow Sofa, Coconut Chair, and Ball Clock – however, these iconic pieces represent only a fragment of the prodigious output provided by an individual who shaped the American scene for design after World War II. In forty years, Nelson composed a collection of stunning works, both as an individual designer, and in collaboration with talented associates. His contribution to design filled the world we live in today with hundreds of buildings, furniture pieces, graphic designs and exhibitions, alongside almost a dozen books, and well over 150 articles in various magazines.

It’s difficult to imagine that such an authoritative name made its way into the history books by pure chance, as Nelson only chose to study architecture at Yale University after a rainstorm drove him through the school doors, and left him captivated by the work on display.


George Nelson Coconut Chair

Coconut Chair

When considering the pieces most commonly associated with Nelson’s fingerprint, it’s impossible to ignore the Coconut Chair – a piece designed to surround the user in comfort. Nelson once commented that, “Total design is nothing more or less than a process of relating everything to everything.” As such, it makes sense that he would create a lounge chair out of the image of a slice of coconut. The shape of the chair was intended to combine freedom of movement with absolute comfort, and the unique form invites a number of varied seating positions. Rather than searching for a shape that was functionally equivalent to the human body, Nelson chose to produce a symbolic statement that offered a brand new and completely versatile style of sitting.


George Nelson Marshmallow Sofa

Marshmallow Sofa

The whimsical Marshmallow Sofa is a landmark of Mid-Century modern furniture design that still turns heads today. Created using eighteen round, and surprisingly comfortable cushions that float on an artistic frame, users can select matching colors or multiple hues for the right atmosphere in a lounge, lobby, or private office. As a furniture piece, this sofa represents one of the earliest manifestations of Pop Art in the world of furniture design. The unique and exciting form makes it one of few truly unique sofas in the history of design.


George Nelson Slat Platform Bench

Wood Base Slat Platform Bench

The Slat Platform Bench created by George Nelson in 1946, is an icon for Mid-Century modernism. For Nelson, beauty and utility were equally important concepts, and this rectangular bench is the amalgamation of this belief. It can serve just as well as a platform base, table, or seating area, depended on the given situation and the perceived need. It’s no wonder that it has been named “timeless” by numerous design experts. The piece came as part of George Nelson’s very first collection for Herman Miller, and it still stands today as a benchmark for modern design. Like other pieces created by Nelson, the platform bench uses clean lines which reflect his penchant for “honest” design and the roots of his architectural background.


George Nelson Ball Clock

Ball Clock

Throughout the years, George Nelson has been recognized as a pioneer of modern timepiece designs. In his time, Nelson developed over 150 completely iconic clocks, utilizing whimsical modern shapes and pure, bold color. Nelson Associates, which was first launched in 1947, employed some of the greatest designers of the time to contribute to this collection of clocks, including Don Ervin, Irving Harper, and Charles Pollock. Of these 150 clocks, the Ball Clock was the very first creation designed for the Howard Miller Clock Company. Today, the piece is available in a wide range of different finishes, including stunning natural wood, or bright, vibrant colors.


George Nelson Eye Clock

Eye Clock

Twice the size of earlier designs, the original 1957 Eye Clock constitutes part of George Nelson’s iconic collection of over-sized clocks. The Mid-Century modernist visionary designed the piece for the “Twilight Zone” era of popularity. By turning the developed image of a human eye into a figurative composition of geometric forms, the clock immediately encapsulates the stunning and playful style Nelson is well known for. The “lids” are carved from brushed brass, with a walnut horizon and maple pupil. Both practical and whimsical at the same time, the lashes of the eye mark each hour as the huge geometric hands sweep by, drawing the attention of anyone who enters the room.


George Nelson Sunburst Clock

Sunburst Clock

The Sunburst Clock is considered widely to be one of the most beloved creations produced by George Nelson. Already recognized as a pioneer for modern timepieces, Nelson’s Sunburst Clock is perhaps the most recognized of his 150-strong collection. A perfect example of his love for bold shapes and vibrant colors, the iconic sunburst design remains a staple of Mid-Century modernism today.

The Impact of George Nelson on the World Today

The director of design for the Herman Miller Furniture Company, George Nelson made his name as one of the most influential Mid-Century modern designers of the twentieth century. His influence on design, not only in America, but across the globe, has been awe-inspiring.

Nelson’s appetite, zest, curiosity, and skill allowed him to bring his work to life and characterize himself as a man encapsulated by a specific era. The work that he both produced, and supported, has changed everything that shapes the way people lived, played, and worked in his time, making him more than just a beacon of modern design, but a designer of modern life.

Today, and indeed in the future to come, George Nelson’s name will be printed throughout the history books of design, inspiring the future of furniture, and changing the way that we see the world around us.