This April, the legendary American furniture company Herman Miller announced plans to acquire another legendary American furniture company —Knoll, for $1.8 billion.
After months of work, the deal has been finalized. The acquisition is complete. And Herman Miller has announced a new name: MillerKnoll, an amalgamation of the two names (though Herman Miller and Knoll will remain distinct brands under the MillerKnoll umbrella). The idea is to protect the legacy of one of the most successful design partnerships of the 20th century.
Herman Miller was not the original founder of Herman Miller. A company called Star Furniture, started in 1905 in Zeeland, Michigan, could be considered something of a prequel. Eighteen years later, in 1923, Herman Miller and his son-in-law, J. D. De Pree, the furniture company’s president, purchased 51% of the company’s equity and renamed it The Herman Miller Furniture Company.
Miller was a businessman, not a designer. And many of Herman Miller’s greatest furniture icons were developed by commissions from design stars, such as Charles and Ray Eames and Isamu Noguchi.
The Knoll furniture company was founded in 1938 in New York City by Hans Knoll. (His family was in furniture design, but he would ultimately take the lead on furniture sales). In 1946, he married Florence Schust, and the two became partners, renaming the company Knoll Associates.
A trained architect, as well as a designer, Florence led interior design strategy and worked with design commissions. Her influence touched every small design choice coming out of Knoll, right down to the letterheads. She also designed furniture, filling the brand with what she undersold as “meat and potatoes” designs. These designs, like her “Relaxed” sofas and armchairs, still look perfectly contemporary, and would be at home in any furniture showroom or home today. Hans died in 1955, while Florence became president of the company for five years and continued designing for decades. Knoll went public in 1983 for the equivalent of about $100 million today. After privatizing, the company went public again in 1997 for the equivalent of roughly $27o million today, and then again in 2004 for the equivalent of roughly $24o million today.
The name MillerKnoll might be a jarring shift to anyone in the design community (all of Herman Miller’s sub brands like HAY and Design Within Reach will keep their existing names). But it makes sense in context: Rather than erase the legacy of the Knolls, Herman Miller has proven that it’s willing to compromise a bit of its own identity to preserve it.