George Nelson

United States

Designer, architect, and author George Nelson was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1908. As a student of architecture at Yale University, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1928 and his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1931. Between 1931 and 1932, he studied at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., at which point he won the Rome Prize, which provided a two-year stipend to study at the American Academy in Rome. While there, he conducted interviews with 12 leading architects of the day (including Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Gio Ponti, and Walter Gropius), which were published in the magazine Pencil Points.

In 1935, Nelson became associate editor of Architecture Forum and Fortune magazines, for whom he continued to work through the 1940s. His writing drew the attention of D.J. DePree, president of Michigan-based furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, and Nelson subsequently designed his first collection for the brand in 1945; in 1947, he became the company’s design director. There he designed hundreds of furniture pieces and recruited rising design talents including Isamu Noguchi and Charles and Ray Eames, among others.

In 1947, Nelson launched a studio in New York to design furniture, architecture, graphics, and exhibitions for clients such as General Electric, Olivetti, Abbott, and more. Over the years, the firm was known variously as George Nelson, George Nelson & Associates, and George Nelson and Company, and its staff included the designers George Tscherny, Gordon Chadwick, Ettore Sottsass, Michael Graves, and Arthur Drexler. Landmark designs include the Bubble Lamps (1952), Coconut Chair (1955), Marshmallow Sofa (1956), and the Comprehensive Storage System (1959). In 1959, Nelson was lead designer for the American National Exhibition in Moscow, the site of a series of exchanges between Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, which became known as the “Kitchen Debate.”

Over the course of his career, Nelson produced hundreds of designs for furniture, building, and graphics, as well as almost a dozen books and numerous magazine articles. He passed away in New York in 1986 at the age of 77.