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Modern Woods: A Herman Miller Story

It’s been 25 years since Herman Miller ceased using Brazilian rosewood in their furniture designs, as irresponsible over harvesting of the wood became very apparent to the sustainably conscientious company. Since then, an alternative has been found, reviving the authentic 1956 rosewood aesthetic.

Herman Miller |YLighting
Eames Lounge Chair with Ottoman + Walnut Stools from Herman Miller

The harvesting of Brazilian rosewood involved a slash-and-burn method, where tropical rainforests were cleared for grazing cattle and growing crops. Due to its environmental exploitation, an international ban was placed on the Brazilian rosewood species in 1992, as it became known as one of the “most endangered” species. Brazilian rosewood was taken off the market completely and exportation was prohibited. This ban ultimately forced sustainably conscientious companies, like Herman Miller, to cease using the precious wood in their design and production.

Herman Miller |YLiving
Eames Production

It was a difficult decision to make though, as rosewood was used in the original 1956 Eames lounge chair. What made rosewood so special was that this rare reddish, dark-brown wood would hold its color as it oxidized. It was this unique characteristic coupled with its scarcity that made it a highly prized commodity that was extremely difficult to come by. Once the iconic lounger ceased being produced with its original rosewood, the Eames lounge chair, in a way, lost its luster.

Herman Miller |YLiving
Eames Lounge Chair with Ottoman from Herman Miller

But 15 years later, in 2006, a sustainable forest management allowed Herman Miller to revive the original aesthetic of their iconic design with the use of santos palisander veneer. Santos palisander recalls the aesthetic of the 1956 Eames lounge chair and ottoman, returning it to a closer representation of its former glory. Though it isn’t Brazilian rosewood, it’s about as close as it’s going to get.

Herman Miller |YLiving
Noguchi Coffee Table + Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair With Wood Legs from Herman Miller

But it wasn’t just the Eames lounge chair that suffered the loss of Brazilian rosewood. The Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair With Wood Legs, was first produced with a Brazilian rosewood veneer. Now, alongside the Eames Lounge Chair, the Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair has also benefited from the use of a santos palisander veneer.

Herman Miller |YLiving
Eames® Molded Wood Side Chair with Wire Base from Herman Miller

Beyond the restoration of iconic designs that had once used Brazilian rosewood, Herman Miller has taken to reimagining original designs with santos palisander. The Eames Molded Wood Side Chair is the reinterpretation of an original Charles and Ray Eames design. With the help of 3-D veneer technology and santos palisander, the Eames Molded Wood Side Chair realizes the Eameses’ decades-long effort to make a wood shell chair featuring a single-form.

Herman Miller |YLiving
Eames Lounge Chair with Ottoman from Herman Miller

Remaining true to their support of sustainable forestry, Herman Miller is supplied with santos palisander by auditors who certify the sustainable forest operations. These auditors are managed by independent, third-party organizations who have developed standards for harvesting. The result of this happy set of regulations is an increase in demand for certified wood, giving producers more incentive to continue practicing sustainable forest management.

Herman Miller |YLiving
Eames Hang-It-All® + Nelson Platform Bench from Herman Miller

It’s plain to see that wood plays an integral role in the production of iconic Herman Miller designs. The classic Noguchi Coffee Table would be nothing without its sculpturally shaped, solid wood base. Nor would the wooden construction of the Nelson Platform Bench maintain its integrity without its solid maple slats. We’re happy to see and support the sustainable usage of santos palisander in our favorite designs from Herman Miller.

 

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Team Y

Team Y is a dedicated group of design devotees. We love everything that has to do with modern design, from products like lighting, furniture and decor all the way to interior design, architecture and city planning. What inspired the design? How does it work? What does it mean? We want to know. And once we know, we are constantly inspired to share what we've discovered with others who love design as well. That's Y.

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