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Herman Miller Tries A New Strategy: Reissuing Designs By Non-Household Names

Ward Bennett, the pioneer of the conversation pit, enjoys a posthumous resurgence.

Herman Miller Tries A New Strategy: Reissuing Designs By Non-Household Names

By design standards, Ward Bennett was nothing short of an overachiever. He began his career in Manhattan’s Garment District at age 13, designed his first clothing collection at 15, and left for Europe at 16, where he wound up under the tutelage of Constantin Brancusi. When he returned to New York, he designed clothes and dressed shop windows during the day, and studied with the painter Hans Hofmann at night. His ceramic works were included in the 1944 Whitney Annual Exhibition. His jewelry was exhibited in a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art.

That was all before he turned to interior design in the mid-'40s, ushering in a minimalism defined by high-quality materials as well as industrial touches—and foreshadowing the loft aesthetic that would take hold in the '70s. His clients included everyone from David Rockefeller and Chase Manhattan Bank to Tiffany’s and Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone. Yet, despite having designed more than 150 chairs during his lifetime, few of his designs remain mass-produced today.

Fortunately for Bennett fans, Herman Miller is reissuing a number of his iconic designs as part of its new collection, including the Scissor chair, inspired by the mid-19th-century chaise transatlantique, the classic beach chair, and the I-Beam table, resembling its namesake, which can stand alone or become the base for a glass top. Together, they speak to his signature style of combining pared-down forms with comfortable proportions.

The move is an interesting one: As the tastes of its audience have matured, they’ve also grown savvy to the lines and tastes of periods like the 1960s and 1970s, whose designs fell out of favor for one reason or another in the last 20 years. Miller, for its part, is rediscovering pieces whose greatest days might actually be ahead.