Chair Story: Nelson Coconut Chair

By: jwilder

The Nelson Coconut Chair is one of the coolest mid-century modern chairs ever made. Get to know the story behind this chair and you will want one!

nelson coconut chair
Nelson Coconut Chair. Produced by Herman Miller Furniture in 1955.

Coconut Chair Introduction

The Coconut Chair was designed by George Nelson and George Mulhauser and produced by the Herman Miller furniture company in 1955.

The Coconut Chair has the most whimsical personality and cleanest design of all famous mid-century modern chairs. It certainly has a tropical vibe.

After reading this article you will know:

  • The history of the Coconut Chair,
  • The designer of the Coconut Chair,
  • How much a good Coconut Chair replica costs.
  • Where to find Coconut Chair replicas.

Coconut Chair History

The Coconut Chair (Product Number: 5569) was produced by the Herman Miller Furniture Company in 1955. George Nelson and George Mulhauser were the designers of the Coconut Chair.

George Nelson was the director of design at Herman Miller and George Mulhauser was one of Nelson's designers.

While the Coconut Chair design is attributed to George Nelson, George Mulhauser was probably responsible for the design. George Mulhauser went on to design several famous mid century modern chairs of his own, which I will write about in the future, and will be listed in Iconic Chairs of the 20th Century.

Many articles on the web claim that the inspiration for the shape of the chair came from the Kresge Auditorium at MIT, designed by architect Eero Saarinen. Though there is a striking resemblance to the three point dome, I have not found any authoritative proof that link the two designs together.

Without a doubt, the name of the chair reveals the source of the design inspiration: the coconut!

George Nelson typically described the shape of the chair as a slice of coconut that had been divided up into eight sections.

A 1956 design statement reveals the goal of the Coconut Chair design: The Coconut Chair "was developed to give lounge seating comfort together with great freedom of movement. Many positions are possible in this chair with a maximum of comfort in every case." This design goal was very similar to vision that Florence Knoll had for the Womb Chair, produced in 1948. It's possible that Herman Miller was positioning the Coconut Chair as a competitor to the Knoll Womb Chair.

The original chair design used a metal shell, which I’m sure was quite heavy. They switched to fiberglass resin when it was proven to be a suitable material for creating curvy products. Today the chair shell is made of plastic.

Herman Miller produced the Coconut Chair from 1955 to 1978. It was reintroduced in 2001 and is still in production today.

An official Coconut Chair from Herman Miller retails for about $8000. But don't be discouraged about the insane price. See the next section for more reasonably priced replicas.

George Nelson Bio

Nelson was born May 29, 1908 in Hartford, Connecticut. He was an architect, industrial designer, author, editor, and teacher. He has also been called one of the founding fathers of modernism in the United States.

Nelson graduated Yale University with a degree in architecture (1928) and a degree in fine arts (1931). After finishing his education he spent several years in Europe where he met and interviewed modernist pioneers, such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Gio Ponti.

After returning to the United States he spent almost a decade as a writer and editor. During this time he also wrote a book titled Tomorrow's House (Simon and Schuster, 1945), which introduced concepts such as the family room and the Storagewall.

In 1945, D.J. De Pree, the president of Herman Miller Furniture Company, was impressed with Nelson's design ideas and offered him a job. Nelson accepted the offer and advanced quickly to director of design in 1947.

In 1947, while working for Herman Miller, Nelson opened his own design office in New York City. In 1955 he incorporated the office as George Nelson Associates, Inc. and moved to Park Avenue South. Are you getting a little "Mad Men" vibe here?

Nelson remained director of design at Herman Miller until 1972.

George Nelson had a long and influential career, with accomplishments far too numerous to cover in a few sentences. So let’s just say the Coconut Chair has a powerful story behind it.

Coconut Chair Replicas

A new Herman Miller Coconut Chair retails for about $3800, but there are replicas available.

In order to give you a quick overview I created a list of the most popular sources for mid century modern reproduction furniture and the current base price for their version of the Coconut Chair.

Base Price: $1,399.00

More Modern Chairs

The Nelson Coconut Chair is one of many famous mid-century modern chairs.

Do you want to learn more about famous mid-century modern chairs? Then check out my modern chair reference guide: Iconic Chairs of the 20th Century.

Updated: 5-1-2023

James Wilder

James Wilder is the owner, writer, photographer, designer, and developer for MOTOR Texas.


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