The Herman Miller furniture company, based in Zeeland, Michigan, was one of the dominating forces in the spread of American mid-century modernist style, and continues to be an anchor and innovator in the furniture industry. From the 1930s onward, the company began taking bold steps like employing designers with a new, and sometimes even startling, vision of how the modern home should be furnished and decorated. Designers like George Nelson and Gilbert Rohde, each of whom served for a time as Design Director, Charles and Ray Eames and Verner Panton helped establish the reputation the company enjoys for the quality and pioneering energy of the pieces they produce.
The company started when Dirk Jan DePree and his stepfather, Herman Miller, purchased the Star Furniture Company in 1923. Throughout most of the 1920s they produced mainly traditional pieces for the home and historical reproductions. In the 1930s, after the realization that this style was not keeping the company afloat financially, DePree began to accept that their approach was not fulfilling the modern needs for furniture. Inspired by the advice of Gilbert Rohde that the smaller houses being built needed modern, more efficient furniture, DePree completely reinvented the company aesthetic.
Just after WWII Herman Miller began the relationship with the Eames that brought them an incredible amount of industry and consumer attention. The Eames designed the company's first California showrooms and Herman Miller opened several other showrooms in Chicago's Merchandise Mart and in New York City featuring Eames furniture. Over the next decade the company also brought on furniture designer Isamu Noguchi and textile designer Alexander Girard who led the company's brief Textiles & Objects store, which opened in New York in 1961. In the 1960s Herman Miller saw a new incarnation as a leader in office furnishings with the development of Robert Propst's "Action Office." This design plan for a modular office committed to ergonomically designed furniture helped revolutionize the relationship between design and corporate environments.
Herman Miller states in their company profile that Charles Eames best articulated their aim and philosophy when he said that, "it was never my design objective that the furniture be different or novel; only that it be good to sit in, good to use, good to look at, and easy for everyone to buy." While the furniture they distribute is usually strong in all of these respects, it was also the sense of novelty that exposed the company as leaders in furniture for the modern home.