Design Moment: Nelson Platform Bench, 1946

Familiar and practical: The locker-room bench from the father of American Modernism

The Nelson Platform Bench

The Nelson Platform Bench

 

There’s much about American designer George Nelson’s (1908-1986) Platform Bench that seems so familiar that it is perhaps an unusual piece to feature in a design column. In short it looks like your typical locker-room bench.

Yet when it was launched in 1946 as part of the industrial designer’s first collection for furniture giant Herman Miller, it was hailed as a landmark of modern design. His basic theory was that design should be “honest” – he is frequently called the father of American Modernism – and this bench announces itself and its purpose clearly. Solid wood slats are spaced to let air and light through, and finger-jointed for strength, resting on a polished chrome or ebonised wood base. Its immediate success lay in its versatility.

The 1948 Herman Miller furniture catalogue suggested the platform bench “is primarily a high base for deep and shallow cases, but it also serves as a low table for extra seating”. By 1955 the catalogue noted that the bench “has proved to be one of the most flexible and useful units in the collection”. It was reissued by Herman Millar in three sizes in the 1990s.