George Nelson, born 1908 in Hartford, Connecticut (USA), studied architecture at Yale University. A fellowship enabled him to study at the American Academy in Rome from 1932 to 1934. In Europe, he became acquainted with the major architectural works and leading protagonists of modernism.
In 1935, Nelson joined the editorial staff of the 'Architectural Forum', where he was employed until 1944. A programmatic article on residential building and furniture design, published by Nelson in a 1944 issue of the journal, attracted the attention of D.J. DePree, head of the furniture company Herman Miller, Inc. A short time later, George Nelson took on the position of Design Director at Herman Miller. Remaining there until 1972, he became a key figure of American design; in addition to creating furnishings for the home and office, Nelson also convinced the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Girard to work for Herman Miller.
In 1957, Vitra founder Willi Fehlbaum signed his first licence agreement with Herman Miller to produce furniture for the European market. During the ensuing decades of the collaboration with Vitra, a close friendship evolved between George Nelson and Rolf Fehlbaum, who later said about Nelson: 'No other prominent designer spoke as intelligently or wrote as coherently about design'. Nelson expressed his thoughts on design topics in numerous articles and eleven books; his seminal treatise 'How to See' was recently reissued in a new edition by Phaidon.
Along with his position as Design Director at Herman Miller, Nelson opened his own design office in 1947, George Nelson Associates, Inc., working together with such outstanding employees as Irving Harper, Ernest Farmer, Gordon Chadwick, George Tscherny and Don Ervin to create countless products and objects, some of which are now regarded as icons of mid-century modernism. His architectural work included numerous private residences. The Sherman Fairchild House (1941) attracted considerable attention, and his Experimental House exemplified his interest in prefabricated building and flexible floor plans.
George Nelson died in New York in 1986. His estate, which is held by the Vitra Design Museum, encompasses roughly 7400 manuscripts, plans, drawings, photographs and slides dating from 1924 to 1984. In 2008/09, the Vitra Design Museum mounted the exhibition 'George Nelson – Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher.