The ICON | Coconut Lounge Chair

  • WORDS Stephen Crafti
  • est living living edge herman miller nelson coconut lounge chair 750x540

    In the sixth instalment of our ICON series, we’re highlighting the Coconut Lounge Chair designed by George Nelson in 1955.

    There are few chairs, if any that come close to the Coconut. Designed by George Nelson in 1955, its name came from being approximately one-eighth of the size of an overscaled coconut. But rather than having a rough surface, this chair is soft to the touch and as comfortable to sit in. The chair’s shallow sides allow for movement in several directions, and as artist Bill Luke who was a pivotal figure in the trajectory of the Coconut Lounge Chair in Australia says, “The older I become, the easier it is for me to get out of”.

    Bill Luke first discovered the Coconut Lounge Chair in the early 1970s, when he was engaged as a designer for football legend Ron Barassi’s office furniture business in Melbourne at the time. “I still recall seeing the Coconut at Furniture City. Then it was one of the city’s largest furniture businesses, particularly when it came to imported furniture,” Bill says. He instantly purchased the chair that has now found a home in his son’s house.

    Fast-forward to the early 1990s, and Bill started his own furniture business, located in Church Street, Richmond. Well before the post-war modernist aesthetic took hold worldwide, in the late 1990s and early noughties, Bill was selling the Eames’ lounge and ottoman and classics, including George Nelson’s Coconut Lounge Chair.

    His stock of these chairs increased to 30 after meeting a gentleman who came into the showroom, who was responsible for producing some of their componentry. “The shells were just stacked up in his garage at the back of his house. But I was also fortunate to have Kjell Grant (the late eminent industrial designer) on the scene who helped me ‘join the dots’ that lead to other involved in the production process,” he says.

    est living herman miller 2

    Photography courtesy of Herman Miller.

    est living herman miller 1

    Photography courtesy of Herman Miller.

    Being ‘ahead of the game’ can sometimes be a problem. And although Bill was able to reupholster his chairs in both leather and primary-coloured woollen fabrics, the uptake was very slow. “It was an extremely slow process. It must have taken about 10 years before they became highly desirable pieces of furniture,” Bill says. In the mid-1990s, Bill convinced Herman Miller Australia to reissue these chairs, again with moderate success. ‘The problem with some of the Coconut Lounge Chairs from this period is their weight. They started to be made in plastic and were reduced in size so that they could fit into their cubic-square-metre box and produced offshore,” Bill says.

    Unlike the lighter plastic versions of the Coconut Lounge Chair, Bill’s three pieces at home, a renovated church in Middle Park, aren’t simply moved around. Constructed in steel with a heavy chrome tubular metal base, they appear light but are heavy to lift. Two of these chairs can be found in the living room, with its soaring cathedral ceilings, one covered in bright red fabric, the other in a yellow-tinged ochre. The third chair, covered in olive green, takes pride-of-place in the main bedroom. Framed by art (Bill has been collecting paintings and furniture for decades), the aesthetic is one of eclecticism.

    Bill enjoys combining periods of design, whether it’s Biedermeier from the late 19th century or the more recent icons such as the Coconut Lounge Chairs. And while one can find a reproduced Coconut Lounge Chair, the originals occasionally appear on-line for around $AU10,000. “At last, people have caught on,” Bill adds.

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    The Coconut Lounge Chair in tanned leather.

  • george nelson's iconic designs

2 comments on “The ICON | Coconut Lounge Chair

  1. Hi Andy,

    The Coconut Lounge Chair is available at Living Edge in Australia.


    the est team

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