When a new national museum opens in Norway next year, visitors will see on display the custom-designed Portrait Chair manufactured exclusively by Herman Miller.
With pieces featured in collections around the world, Zeeland-based Herman Miller (Nasdaq: MLHR) is no stranger to museums. September, however, marked the start of a new chapter, with the brand’s first-ever chair specifically designed for a museum.
At the 2021 Designer’s Saturday event in Oslo, Norway, from Sept. 10-12, attendants were invited to take a sneak peek into the country’s much-anticipated National Museum, opening in June 2022, while also getting a chance to see the Portrait Chair, designed by Norway’s Andreas Engesvik and exclusively manufactured by Herman Miller, in the space it was designed to occupy.
The origins of the Portrait Chair began four years ago as part of an open competition sponsored by Statsbygg — the National Property Board of Norway — and co-organized with the National Museum of Norway.
The competition brief called for a welcoming, multifunctional chair for use in the museum’s many public spaces, including all of its galleries, the grand hall, prints and drawings study rooms, restaurant and lounge café.
The process began with an open prequalification competition that attracted 26 applicants. From these, 10 finalists were shortlisted, and their names were placed in sealed envelopes for blind judging. A jury headed by British designer Jasper Morrison then narrowed the entries down to one winner, Engesvik.
In the same way a painted portrait aims to display the likeness, personality and even the mood of the subject, the Portrait Chair was designed to embody the essence of Norway, the museum said.
“The chair is charged with symbolic meaning,” said Denise Hagströmer, design historian and senior curator of design at the National Museum of Norway. “It has an official identity, as it has, in effect, been commissioned by the nation, and it will be the chair present in the museum’s key public spaces. It will be the museum’s signature design object for contemporary Norwegian design culture.”
The forms and lines of the Portrait Chair relate to the forms and lines of the seated human body. In addition to the simple accents and natural materials that are common to contemporary Scandinavian design, Portrait’s sinuous lines and universal forms bring forth the poetic aesthetic of Norway, the museum noted.
“I wanted this to be a generous and comfortable chair, but I think it’s also important, when you work in a familiar typology, to differentiate the design,” Engesvik said. “The Portrait Chair builds on a familiar form — wood seat and backrest with tubular steel — but it has been carefully proportioned and visually softened.”
Hagströmer said Norwegian design has gained increasing international attention in the past couple of decades.
“This was a golden opportunity for the museum to build on that by promoting contemporary Norwegian design,” she said. “The Portrait Chair is sophisticated, taking its intended surroundings into consideration, and manifests a design historical lineage at the same time as being extremely contemporary.”
Once the design was selected, the process then turned to picking the company to manufacture the design. The open producer procurement procedure also was conducted by the National Property Board.
“They concluded that Herman Miller’s century-long history and world repute stood out, as did Herman Miller’s acute understanding of the nature of this commission and the importance of the collaboration with Statsbygg, the National Museum and Andreas Engesvik,” Hagströmer said. “Further aspects that stood out include Herman Miller’s competence, capacity and attention to quality, research and development, as well as their technical and environmental management.”
Engesvik said it was an honor to work with Herman Miller on the project.
“For me as a furniture designer, it’s great recognition that an old and prestigious brand like Herman Miller will be manufacturing the Portrait Chair,” he said.
While this is Engesvik’s first project with the Herman Miller brand, it’s not his first with the company. Engesvik has worked with other brands that are part of the MillerKnoll collective, including Danish design brand HAY and Scandinavian brand Muuto.
The Portrait Chair is available for purchase now as a side chair or an arm chair, with several different finishes and upholstery options through Herman Miller. The museum is planning to offer an exclusive finish option of the chair in its gift shop. The starting retail price is $630.