Original models of the Marshmallow sofa have fetched tens of thousands of dollars at auction courtesy of the famously limited inaugural production. A fusion of function and Pop Art created by former George Nelson employee and young designer Irving Harper (1916–2015), the sofa was conceived after a salesman from a Long Island, New York–based plastics manufacturer visited George Nelson Associates in Manhattan with his company’s new injection-molded vinyl pads. The pads were durable and cost-effective, argued the salesman, because they were “self-skinning” and wouldn’t need upholstering. To Harper, the cushions presented a design challenge — one he gamely accepted. He worked up a model over a weekend’s time.
The Marshmallow sofa’s scattered disks, which measured 10 inches in diameter, looked as if they were suspended in midair. When the sofa debuted in 1956, the Herman Miller catalogue listed the design as the “Marshmallow Love Seat #5670” and credited it to Nelson rather than Harper, stating, “Despite its astonishing appearance, this piece is very comfortable.”
Unfortunately, with 18 cushions per brushed tubular steel frame, the venture was far more expensive than Nelson and Harper realized, and Herman Miller manufactured only a couple hundred models in the initial batch. The company stopped producing the sofa in 1961 but reissued the piece in the 1980s. Now it’s available in leather and a variety of brightly colored fabrics. Harper, who redesigned the Herman Miller logo in 1946, conceived of other Pop Art–style furnishings while working for George Nelson, such as the Ball clock and Sunburst clock.
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