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Tuesday September 16, 2014
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Birth of the Cube Farm

 

continued

"The original Star Furniture Company that later became Herman Miller was one of many, many Grand Rapids-area furniture companies that grew up before World War I. They capitalized on wood from northern Michigan's forests and on a stable, hard-working Dutch-American and Polish-American work force. (Herman Miller was in the Dutch farm town of Zeeland, outside Holland.) But even before the Great Depression, the Grand Rapids furniture industry faced a crisis because so many factories had moved to North Carolina to take advantage of cheaper labor.

"Area manufacturers, by then often led by the second generation, sought out specialty niches. As Grace notes, Herman Miller's son-in-law, D. J. De Pree, hired famous designers like Charles Eames and his wife Ray Eames, George Nelson, and Isamu Noguchi, and later recruited Bob Probst. Steelcase, based on a super-successful fireproof metal wastebasket, expanded into metal office furniture. Baker, Widdicomb, and Kindel went for the high end, including museum reproductions.

"By 1989, when I was researching Hunts' Guide to West Michigan, the Holland area had become cosmopolitan enough that cutting-edge design types were willing to live there. Creative new restaurants, interesting retailers, Lake Michigan, the dunes, and proximity to Chicago all drew design transplants.

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