International Decorative Art

Marshmallow Sofa

Marshmallow Sofa

Design Date 1956

Designer Irving Harper (1916-2015, American)

Manufacturer Herman Miller Furniture Company (1923-1960), Zeeland, MI

Media metal, latex foam and naugahyde upholstery

Dimensions 31 x 52 x 29 inches

Irving Harper, a designer for George Nelson Associates, created the Marshmallow Sofa as an example of customizable mass-produced design. Each cushion is a barstool seat mounted individually on a metal frame. Cushions could be added or subtracted to manufacture a sofa in any number of lengths. The Marshmallow Sofa was intended to be a modern solution to low-cost furniture production, because upholstering chairs was a time-consuming, hand-done process. Unfortunately the injection-molded plastic seat presentation that inspired the sofa ultimately did not work, leaving the company to make and cover the cushions one at a time. Kirkland Museum’s Marshmallow Sofa is from the original production with foam cushions covered in original orange naugahyde (vinyl coated fabric, expensive in its day). Less than 190 were made between 1956 and 1961 due to their intricacy. The Marshmallow Sofa’s bright colors (including mix-and-match cushion colors), unification of separate parts and strong geometric design made it a precursor to the Pop Art designs of the 1960s. Architect and designer Alexander Girard, the head of the fabric and textile division at Herman Miller, designed the hues of the naugahyde upholstery. Though the Marshmallow Sofa was an icon of “atomic” style with its round, modular parts, its producer, the Herman Miller Furniture Company, found practical issues with its design: it was not very stable and would flip over if someone sat at the end of the empty couch. Since the design and manufacturing process were impractical and expensive, and the design was radical for its time, original Marshmallow Sofas have become a rare design icon.

ON VIEW in Promenade Gallery 2

Markings Original tag under left front cushion, "Sold by Herman Miller Furn, 622 Mdse Mart, Chicago, ILL. 3440 Sofa 5670

Credit Line Collection Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

Accession Number 2004.0011