Pop Before Pop

Marshmallow Sofa

The icon of post-war design, the Marshmallow sofa epitomizes an optimistic and heroic moment in American history. Designed by Irving Harper and George Nelson in 1954-56, the sofa breaks with upholstered furniture forms in a dramatic way. The seat and back planes are formed solely from upholstered circles rising on small pins from the structure. The tubular frame is curved, further reinforcing the floating aspect of the seat. While clearly echoing the influence of the atomic age, as epitomized in Nelson’s Ball clock from 1949, the Marshmallow is a precursor to the geometric purity and playfulness of Pop.

Herman Miller was a design leader and in 1956 was still willing to market avant-garde furniture to the corporate world.  The original sales literature for the Marshmallow discusses the sofa being used in contract settings for “use in lobbies in public buildings.” This came to pass in the reception area of Commonwealth Edison in New York in 1958, a company not unfamiliar with other uses of atomic design, when the present lot was commissioned in this larger form and custom color.  

Ultimately, the Marshmallow was not a commercial success, a total of 186 sofas were produced prior to its discontinuation in 1961. From this limited production run, a small number of custom-orders were made in a double-sized variation of the standard form. The sofa retains the original multicolor Naugahyde upholstery in Alexander Girard designed hues. The chromatic and visual play serves to heighten the Pop aesthetic demonstrated in this piece.

The very definition of iconic, the Marshmallow sofa, through its color and form, expresses the exuberance and possibility of design in the post-war.


George Nelson (1908-1986)

Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1908, George Nelson studied architecture at Yale University, teaching for a short time before the Great Depression. In 1932, he won the Rome Prize and spent the next two years studying design in Italy. Returning to the states, Nelson sold his essays to Pencil Points and became an associate editor at Architecture Forum and Fortune magazine.  After reading Nelson’s innovative book Tomorrow's House, then president of Herman Miller furniture company D.J. De Pree hired Nelson as design director. Nelson launched his first collection in 1947 and transformed the struggling company into a groundbreaking leader in the field. Nelson remained at Herman Miller until the mid-1960s, and was responsible for bringing Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard and Isamu Noguchi on board.

In 1947, Nelson opened his own design studio, George Nelson Associates, Inc. which at one time employed over seventy people. The company’s work within corporate settings revolutionized the concept of branding and elevated industrial design to new heights. Throughout his career, Nelson continued to write critically about design across multiple planes, teaching and consulting until his death in 1986. 

You don’t think your way to creative work. You work your way to creative thinking. 

—George Nelson

George Nelson & Associates

Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1908, George Nelson studied architecture at Yale University, teaching for a short time before the Great Depression. In 1932, he won the Rome Prize and spent the next two years studying design in Italy. Returning to the states, Nelson sold his essays to Pencil Points and became an associate editor at Architecture Forum and Fortune magazine. After reading Nelson’s innovative book Tomorrow's House, then president of Herman Miller furniture company D.J. De Pree hired Nelson as design director. Nelson launched his first collection in 1947 and transformed the struggling company into a groundbreaking leader in the field. Nelson remained at Herman Miller until the mid-1960s, and was responsible for bringing Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard and Isamu Noguchi on board.

In 1947, Nelson opened his own design studio, George Nelson Associates, Inc. which at one time employed over seventy people. The company’s work within corporate settings revolutionized the concept of branding and elevated industrial design to new heights. Throughout his career, Nelson continued to write critically about design across multiple planes, teaching and consulting until his death in 1986.

Auction Results George Nelson & Associates

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Rare and important Marshmallow Sofa | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Rare and important Marshmallow Sofa
estimate: $50,000–70,000
result: $112,500

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Comprehensive Storage System | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Comprehensive Storage System
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $36,750

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Thin Edge end tables, pair | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Thin Edge end tables, pair
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $34,800

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, custom jewelry chest | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

custom jewelry chest
estimate: $30,000–40,000
result: $33,600

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Marshmallow Sofa | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Marshmallow Sofa
estimate: $30,000–40,000
result: $30,420

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Marshmallow sofa, model #5670 | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Marshmallow sofa, model #5670
estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $27,600

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, custom wall clock, model #2237 | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

custom wall clock, model #2237
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $24,000

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, miniature chest, model #5511 | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

miniature chest, model #5511
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $24,000

GEORGE NELSON, Marshmallow sofa | Wright20.com

George Nelson

Marshmallow sofa
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $20,700

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Marshmallow sofa | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Marshmallow sofa
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $20,000

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Carousel weather vane | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Carousel weather vane
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $20,000

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Marshmallow sofa, model 5670 | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Marshmallow sofa, model 5670
estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $20,000

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Whirlygig clock, model 2268 | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Whirlygig clock, model 2268
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $18,600

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, miniature cabinet | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

miniature cabinet
estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $18,200

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, table clock, model 2208 | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

table clock, model 2208
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $18,000

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, jewelry cabinet, model #5211 | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

jewelry cabinet, model #5211
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $17,700

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Watermelon table clock, model 2219-B | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Watermelon table clock, model 2219-B
estimate: $6,000–8,000
result: $17,700

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Marshmallow sofa | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Marshmallow sofa
estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $17,500

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Clocknik table clock, model 2270 | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Clocknik table clock, model 2270
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $17,500

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Rare Five Leaf chairs from the 1964 New York World's Fair, pair | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Rare Five Leaf chairs from the 1964 New York World's Fair, pair
estimate: $8,000–10,000
result: $17,500

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Comprehensive Storage System (CSS) | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Comprehensive Storage System (CSS)
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $16,250

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Watermelon table clock, model 2219B | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Watermelon table clock, model 2219B
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $16,250

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, chaise lounge, model #5490 | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

chaise lounge, model #5490
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $15,600

GEORGE NELSON & ASSOCIATES, Comprehensive Storage System (CSS) | Wright20.com

George Nelson & Associates

Comprehensive Storage System (CSS)
estimate: $9,000–12,000
result: $15,600

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