Architect Spotlight: George Nelson

If you’ve been following along with our Architect Spotlight series, then you know that each month, we like to feature an inspiring architect and showcase some of their most famous works. As a business, we’ve been focusing more on custom furniture design lately, so we decided to take a look at one of our favorite furniture designers from the American Modernism movement, George Nelson.

The Bubble Lamp; Photo via Eve Wilson for The Design Files

The Bubble Lamp; Photo via Eve Wilson for The Design Files

George Nelson didn’t set out to be an architect; as the story goes, he ran into the architecture building to get out of the rain while attending Yale University in 1924, and he was so inspired by the works inside that he decided to switch his major. We’re particularly drawn to stories like that because we don’t come from a traditional woodworking background, either — sometimes things just fall into place (with a lot of hard work, that is).

Soon after graduating, Nelson won an architecture prize and was awarded a year to study abroad and study architecture in Rome. While in Europe, he began writing for Pencil Points magazine, interviewing bigger names in the modernist movement and becoming a more well-known name himself. After returning to the US, Nelson became editor of Architecture Forum, constantly working to promote the idea that designers should try to better the world by making things that followed the rules of nature. While he wasn’t actually designing much at this point, we love how those years he spent really thinking about design and how it should function influenced his most famous works decades later.

Nelson began working as Director of Design for the Herman Miller furniture company in 1947, even though he had no experience whatsoever designing furniture (another reason we respect him so much: he made things happen and figured them out as he went along). Nelson was known for his ideas about useful, functional design, and he quickly injected those ideas into his designs for Herman Miller, producing iconic pieces and hiring some of our personal favorite designers like Ray and Charles Eames and Harry Bertoia to work for the company. Later, he went on to form his own George Nelson Associates, Inc., which continued to pioneer modernist design until the early 1980s.

The Sling Sofa; Photo via 1st Dibs

The Sling Sofa; Photo via 1st Dibs

So, what are some George Nelson designs that you may know? We’re particularly fond of the 1946 Slat Bench, which is still being produced today through the Herman Miller company; the 1947 Bubble Lamp is an icon of natural, modernist design that can still be purchased through Modernica; and the 1955 Coconut Chair, which embodies Nelson’s natural-yet-modern style and is still available through the Herman Miller company. Most in-line with our style, however, is the incredible Sling Sofa — with its low profile, leather upholstery and steel frame, this one is definitely a huge inspiration for 1767.

For more Architecture Spotlights, check out the full series on the 1767 blog. Want to create a custom piece of furniture based on a favorite vintage style? We’d love to collaborate! Shoot us an email at to get started.