Pop Before Pop
The 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.
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