Round the Clock
Jeff Miller literally lives what he designs, 24-7
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
A veteran of Ecco Design Group, where his clients included Herman Miller, Oxo, and Motorola, Jeff Miller is now on his own. His furniture, innovative yet never overwrought, has made him a rising star—and much of it can be found in the New York loft that he shares with his wife, Jane Seo, a fashion consultant and partner at the soon-to-launch accessories company Katherine Fleming.
The 1,200-square-foot space multitasks as a studio, testing ground, and showcase for Jeff Miller Design's ever expanding array of residential products, from the ingenious Clipt chair, tactile Plato side table, and dynamic Obo shelving units for Baleri Italia to seating and tables for Itoki and lighting for Kun da lini and Tronconi. He invited us over to tell us more.
What ties your work together?
I'm sort of captive to my background in industrial design. When I conceive of a design, it seldom starts with a form or a trend. Itusually comes from being intrigued by something I've seen. For instance, I was recently in Barcelona, Spain, where there were rows and rows of parked scooters everywhere. All those saddles side by side, each slightly different, gave me the idea to make a chair like a scooter seat.
I'm also interested in pushing materials. A typical chair might consist of a plastic shell on a metal-rod base, but allowing the base to intertwine with the shell is a new interpretation. That's how the Clipt chair came to be.
What have you learned from living with your designs?
A lot. Clipt, for example, is supposed to be a café or meeting chair, and it's great for two or three hours. But I've been using it as a task chair. For eight to 12 hours a day, it's not the best.
Now I'd like to make a plastic chair that's comfortable indefinitely. I think dynamic comfort could be designed correctly into an ergonomic plastic form—and that people would appreciate a $200 chair that looks good at a dining table, too.
What else do you have at home?
Many of the pieces here were cobbled together from industrial suppliers nearby. Above the dining table, which is built of one-by-10s, is a lamp I made by wrapping fluorescent tubes in polyethylene foam packaging. For a four-panel partition, I cut rectangles of different sizes from a single sheet of acrylic and attached them with chrome-plated hinges.
I'll spend days thinking about how to make pieces I can assemble in 20 minutes from inexpensive materials. Then I'll mix them with more luxurious items, like our Big Shadows lamp by Marcel Wanders and our Oblong sofa by Jasper Morrison.
How does your apartment inspire you?
My furniture designs often come from thinking about what I'd want myself. Flipt, for example, was an outgrowth of not having enough space for a standard chaise longue. I first prototyped it for this apartment. Then I showed it in 2003 at the furniture fair in Milan. Baleri's art director, Federico Carandini, saw it there and approached me about working with him.
You've helped to take Baleri in a new direction.
Baleri was founded in the 1980's with an industrial aesthetic that was typical of the time but began to seem a bit cold. When fashion designer Nino Cerruti bought the company five years ago, he injected a warmer feel. Wood fit well with that concept, so I introduced the formed-plywood Bigbend table and Littlebig chair.
How is it different working in Europe?
With U.S. companies, it's more about following a brief based on catering to the customer—the customer is always right. The European model, at least in the high-end residential sector, is more concerned with exploring the company's vision, finding designers that mesh with it, and letting the consumer benefit from a result that didn't start as a marketing spec.
What's next for you?
We're seeing a bifurcation between super-inexpensive stuff, which may not be the best quality, and art furniture, fantastical, one-of-a-kind, hugely expensive pieces. As the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, globally, some people are paying nothing for nothing while others are out-paying for the most outrageous things.
I'm still trying to walk a middle line with well designed furniture at an appropriate price. If the middle classes survive, I'll have some great things for their homes.