I’m gonna love him, and hug him, and pet him, and call him George Nelson
So, if you have any interaction with me in real life, you probably have figured out I have an addiction to collecting certain things. The list is finite but long enough to make planning ahead for the next purchase an actual aspect of the process.
I have been for the past few years been keenly collecting mid century design, furniture to be exact. I will say, It has been almost 15 years that my interest started, but I did not simply have the kind of space to properly collect. The better part of my after work hours broken up with eating dinner, a quick workout at the gym and a scan of ebay, with all my key word lists begging me for attention with each subsequent post from a random seller.
The ubiquitous Eames Zenith shell lounge chair, has been a long standing love, and one I have had some success conquering in the past couple years with enough looking for the right color and condition. With these things, sometimes it is always about the relationships you find along the way… you make a good purchase with someone, they will let you know when another score becomes available. It is like any gateway drug, the dealer knows when you have it bad and is happy to oblige. It is a mutually satisfying encounter in which you drain your bank account.
Regan has been nothing short of a saint, when at some random time of day I inform her, I need to go on a last minute 5-7 hour road trip to pick up a chair, table, or shelving unit, because I don’t want to pay shipping, or simply want to see the piece in person before the deal is over. I try my best to be realistic and not go past New Jersey, Pennsylvania or Delaware, but even then, I do question my sanity.
George Nelson designs have been becoming more of a focus to me, as I graduate from the standard Charles and Ray fare. Granted I am no where near the level of buying multi tiered ESU units, but I have for the most part filled a large majority of my early check off list, in terms of the iconic early production. 1948 red aniline CTW, 1946 Black aniline LCM, 1947 LCW, Aluminum groups first year lounges and ottomans and La Fonda Miller stripe sets, first year Elephant grey LAX and DAX, 1963 mint 670/671s all sit quietly among the sheepskins and comatose cats. But no George…
George has been elusive. But I had to start somewhere and felt the 1958 DAF was a good place to begin. I had lost one at a Wright auction in my hotel room in Saigon… sitting up at 3am bidding on a sketchy wireless hotel connection, as my dream chair went to some high roller or museum. Indeed the 28% commission was also a bitter pill to swallow too, even If I had “won”. Wright auctions, as with many big houses, always bring out the guns to a knife fight and to be honest are never indicative of actual “value” just high-profile pissing matches. That might be my sour grape talking.
Two weeks ago I spy a listing online on one of my favorite love /hate auction sites, and watch a fairly clean black/charcoal DAF come and then go. I did bid, then forget to snipe and then curse myself as I realize I missed the end of auction while getting ready to go to bed. This is the most feared end to a hunt, to simply be stupid and forget to pull the trigger.
But as luck would have it, another is listed by the seller, and I contact her to inquire if she has more. She and I talk on the phone and discuss the details of the condition, and price. She then tells me she has two left of the three she bought. Three is an odd number (pun) to have, but I am pleased by the idea of a set, as it is always better to have an original pair that lived life together than match them up later.
I form my plan and do mental math on what I can sell to offset an unexpected second DAF.
Problem is , she has another interested party in the third chair. I worked out a price on the second one but she needs to wait to hear back from them before I can take them both. I relent and wait for her call in a day or two and get slightly nervous that she told the other buyer there was about me, and they simply end my daydreams with a paypal email.
My karma was good that week, and it seems the shipping was a sticking point for the other parties. It then starts to worry me too that this might get complicated and ask if I can pick them up in person.
All of course without telling Regan I have made plans for the weekend for her.
Needless to say the call of George was strong, and the desire to score barely used first year versions overrode my common sense, and I make the deal, send the money and gather the troops: my midcentury sidekick Ms Miller. Off to Long Island we go.
The drive was longer than expected, but we arrived before schedule, and got a call from the seller while on our way through Queens, prompting her to change plans and meet us in the parking lot of her work.
She was younger than I expected, only a few years older then myself. She was energetic, direct and very friendly… a personality that came across in our emails and past phone conversations.
We walked over to her SUV and she presented us with two bundles wrapped in what appeared to be vintage mid century curtains. Very appropriate I thought. Moving the shells to our car, I unwrapped them, and was struck at how beautiful the finish of the fiberglass was. Onyx mixed with mercury, fresh and watery gloss, still amazingly intact.
The label, as I checked the patent number ,indicated 1958, making these first year production. Since having a tendency to enjoy finding the first year productions of each style, and this was the clincher for me.
Even though I had paid for them a week before, she kindly made sure I was happy before I took them. Carrying the Swag legs over, I was also amazed at the condition of the chrome and ebony plastic feet. Though there was a slight difference in color… one shell being one shade darker than the other, I felt they were an iconic pair, and were certainly going to be the new center pieces in my ever growing chair “library”.
Parting ways, we drove away and spent the rest of our day searching Long Island for food and beach, in no particular order. A good end to what was a very good beginning to my “George” initiation.
Now in a sense calling these chairs Nelson designs is sort of like saying Charles Eames single handedly designed the LCW. Nelson like Eames was a director of design employing many talented designers under his name. These included “George Mulhauser (designer of the Coconut Chair), Robert Brownjohn (designer of the sets for the James Bond film Goldfinger), Don Chadwick, Bill Renwick, Suzanne Sekey, Ernest Farmer, Tobias O’Mara, George Tscherney, (who designed the Herman Miller advertisements), Lance Wyman, and John Pile.”
The Swag chairs, although iconic in Nelson lore, however were designed by Charles Pollack, who was known for his Herman Miller Pollack Executive chair in 1963. Nelson did in fact give credit for the chair design to Pollack, but as with Eames studio, many of the revisionist design histories have not come out until recently.
This does not reduce my love for George, and his vision. The Swag series still remains one of the cornerstones of Herman Miller’s design output, and the DAF is in my humble opinion one of the finest designed objects, let alone chairs in production today.
As I looked in the rear view mirror driving home, I smiled to myself knowing, it had been a long journey to finally add these to my collection, and in a way, the difficulty had added to the sense of satisfaction and appreciation.
Nelson may not have been the one who put pen to paper or even had much to do with it’s creation, but he was the catalyst for the team of people who brought a paradigm shift to the design consciousness of the country and the world. And for that I am grateful. The DAF is one badass chair.