George Nelson’s Coconut Chair: The Three-Cornered Coconut Shell Fit for a Fidgeter


First impressions of Nelson’s distinctively shaped Coconut seat can bemuse the sitter. What at first sight seems distinctly redolent of a Jacobsen Egg or Swan, becomes on closer inspection a piece of furniture that is tantalisingly evocative of other design classics but at the same time frustratingly unclassifiable. This illusiveness derives from the designer’s collectivist philosophy, a philosophy that places his designs at the confluence of a number of mainstream modernist sensibilities.

Nelson’s Syncretism

Nelson’s genius remains in large part his wonderful ability to eschew accusations of being derivative or imitational. Indeed, Nelson’s ethos meant that his method was essentially syncretic, which meant that he borrowed, assimilated and adapted other designs in the understanding that “total design is nothing more or less than a process of relating everything to everything.”

Nelson’s “Zap” Moment

In outlining the moment when a design assumed a salient form among the various bits of design detritus roving his mind, Nelson described a “Zap” moment of revelation– a process not dissimilar to the instant when a camera lens shuts and the image is captured for posterity. The “Zap” in 1955 captured a design that is eminently recognisable and is as evocative of Post-War American confidence and bravura as any Eames classic.

The Coconut: A Chair For All Seasons and Sitters

It’s three cornered structure – with the third corner a tad elongated to form the back-rest – allows the sitter freedoms afforded by few other chairs. With its lightly dipped arms and barely discernible backrest, the coconut’s lightweight design could accommodate a contortion artist. The chair completes its lightweight and integrated aesthetic with a generously padded cushion, which is usually upholstered in black leather or a peach coral. However, a famous edition of the chair was issued that sported a brown and white design that gave the chair a bona fide coconut aesthetic. To finish the chair, the moulded plastic frame/shell is fixed to a neat and clean network of three chrome legs.

Prices and Dimensions

In America the Herman Miller Inc. furniture company have the sole manufacturing and distribution rights for the Nelson Coconut Chair. The chair retails at: $3,899.00. In Europe the chair is manufactured solely by Vitra.

However, like Arne Jacobsen, Eames, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe classics, there a number of faux or ‘inspired-by’ George Nelson Coconut Chairs on the market. Invariably, the price reflects the chair’s material and craftsmanship, but a typical faux Nelson Coconut Chair retails at around $700.

An original Herman Miller/Vitra George Nelson Coconut Chair measures: 33″h x 34″d x 40″w.

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