Why furniture from this 100-year-old design firm is still a good investment
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Why furniture from this 100-year-old design firm is still a good investment

There’s hardly an office or a home that has not been touched by the Herman Miller design legacy

By Robyn Willis
Mon, May 22, 2023 10:57amGrey Clock 5 min

If there’s a lesson to be learnt from working from home, it’s that the benefits of the ergonomic chair are real. And we have a man called Bill Stumpf to thank. A key designer with iconic American furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, he joined in the early 1970s tasked with designing furniture for the modern office. 

The chairs Stumpf designed, including the Aeron – the office chair by which all others are now judged – join a long line of exemplar designs from Herman Miller, which celebrates its centenary this year.

Founded in 1923 when DJ De Pree bought the Star Furniture company and renamed it in honour of his father in law, Herman Miller started to hit its stride as a business in the 1940s when De Pree found himself in need of a new design lead. 

The Herman Miller design team, including George Nelson (centre) and Ray and Charles Eames (far right)

In 1945, he hired the up-and-coming designer George Nelson who released the platform bench in 1946. A year later Nelson helped De Pree recruit Charles and Ray Eames following the exhibition of their groundbreaking moulded plywood furniture. 

The Platform Bench, designed by George Nelson for Herman Miller

By the early 1950s, the Eames’ research into new materials like fibreglass culminated in the release of the world’s first moulded fibreglass chairs, the popular shell chair still in demand today.

After the success of his platform bench, Nelson went on to design the Marshmallow lounge, as well as his perennially popular range of lights, including the Bubble, Cigar and Saucer pendants.

George Nelson’s Marshmallow Sofa, released in 1956

Subsequent designs to hit the market included the Eames Hang it All, with its distinctive ball-shaped hooks, and, perhaps the best known of Herman Miller’s chairs, the Eames lounge chair and ottoman, which took its inspiration from a baseball catcher’s mitt. An instant classic, the chair is now in the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. 

Frank Di Giorgio, director at Living Edge, which is the main distributor of Herman Miller furniture in Australia, is the proud owner of an Eames lounge and ottoman, which is on display in the Sydney showroom.

“I bought it in the 70s and it’s one of the most comfortable chairs, although no one’s really allowed to sit in it now because it’s on show,” Di Giorgio says. “It’s a design that gets better with time.”

The Eames lounge and ottoman has an enduring appeal. It is teamed here with George Nelson lights from the Herman Miller range, available from Living Edge

 

As with all their designs, the lounge chair and ottoman was the result of years of research and design by Ray and Charles Eames. This approach to design is part of the company’s DNA. It is perhaps most evident in the ongoing development of their office furniture systems, initially developed by Nelson and Robert Propst, who joined in 1956. The pair worked together to create the Action Office system of freestanding units. Stumpf joined later, initially working under Propst.

Before the advent of Stumpf’s Ergon chair, released in 1976, there was little to no understanding of the idea of comfort in the quickly evolving world of the modern office.

Based on detailed research into the human body, the Ergon (short for ergonomic) became the blueprint by which all other office chairs were measured in terms of comfort as well as efficiency.

Stumpf later went on to design the hugely popular Aeron chair for Herman Miller in 1994, which has been copied or modified so often that its skeletal frame and stretched mesh body have become synonymous with office furniture and fitouts. 

Di Giorgio says the Aeron caused quite a stir when it was released.

“I remember when the Aeron came out and everyone wanted to know where the fabric was because the seat was made only of mesh,” he said. “Now every office chair has a mesh seat. It changed the perception of office chairs.” 

Given the sustained popularity of the Herman Miller range now, it’s hard to fathom that several designs, including the Hang It All, the Marshmallow sofa and Nelson platform bench were discontinued in the 1960s. However, they were among a slew of designs reissued in the 1990s as new audiences fell in love with their minimalist, mid century lines. Sadly, with the surge in popularity have come a tsunami of imposters. Di Giorgio says the replica pieces have little in common with the genuine article.

“It’s easy to create a silhouette without understanding what has gone into the product,” he says. “If people want authentic design, they need to understand the product and the trials and tribulations that go into that piece. 

“The pieces are not right if the materials are not right.” 

He says government legislation in Australia that allows copied designs to be sold as long as they are referred to as ‘replica’ still has a way to go to catch up with other areas of design.

“They don’t let people sell fake Gucci bags but they let (something similar) happen in furniture,” he says. “Even being able to call products by their name with ‘replica’ in front of it is problematic.”

However, he says as the appeal of the Herman Miller range endures, customers are becoming more educated about the design legacy. Indeed, thanks to the growing ‘work from home’ model, demand for a reliable, comfortable office chair is stronger than ever.

“Those new hybrid systems (of working) are not going away and people need to be supported at work and at home,” he says. “Ergonomics is just as important at home, and as we are allowing people to work from home, we need to make sure we support and set them up correctly at home and at work with desk chairs.”

While the upfront cost often puts pieces into the ‘investment’ category, it’s a ‘buy once, buy well’ model that Herman Miller and Living Edge extoll.

“Those chairs have a 12-year warranty because (Herman Miller) stand by their product,” Di Giorgio says. “The sustainability is taken into account as well – they recycle components at Herman Miller. 

“You’re still finding a lot of those chairs around.”

That kind of result speaks for itself. 



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Electric Cars and Driving Range: Here’s What to Know

How far can an electric car really go on a full charge? What can you do to make it go farther? We answer these and other questions that EV buyers might ask.

By Bart Ziegler
Wed, Nov 29, 2023 7 min

Many people considering an electric vehicle are turned off by their prices or the paucity of public charging stations. But the biggest roadblock often is “range anxiety”—the fear of getting stuck on a desolate road with a dead battery.

All EVs carry window stickers stating how far they should go on a full charge. Yet these range estimates—overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency and touted in carmakers’ ads—can be wrong in either direction: either overstating or understating the distance that can be driven, sometimes by 25% or more.

How can that be? Below are questions and answers about how driving ranges are calculated, what factors affect the range, and things EV owners can do to go farther on a charge.

How far will an electric vehicle go on a full battery?

The distance, according to EPA testing, ranges from 516 miles for the 2023 Lucid Air Grand Touring with 19-inch wheels to 100 miles for the 2023 Mazda MX-30.

Most EVs are in the 200-to-300-mile range. While that is less than the distance that many gasoline-engine cars can go on a full tank, it makes them suitable for most people’s daily driving and medium-size trips. Yet it can complicate longer journeys, especially since public chargers can be far apart, occupied or out of service. Plus, it takes many times longer to charge an EV than to fill a tank with gas.

How accurate are the EPA range estimates?

Testing by Car and Driver magazine found that few vehicles go as far as the EPA stickers say. On average, the distance was 12.5% shorter, according to the peer-reviewed study distributed by SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers.

In some cases, the estimates were further off: The driving range of Teslas fell below their EPA estimate by 26% on average, the greatest shortfall of any EV brand the magazine tested. Separately, federal prosecutors have sought information about the driving range of Teslas, The Wall Street Journal reported. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The study also said Ford’s F-150 Lightning pickup truck went 230 miles compared with the EPA’s 300-mile estimate, while the Chevrolet Bolt EV went 220 miles versus the EPA’s 259.

A GM spokesman said that “actual range may vary based on several factors, including things like temperature, terrain/road type, battery age, loading, use and maintenance.” Ford said in a statement that “the EPA [figure] is a standard. Real-world range is affected by many factors, including driving style, weather, temperature and if the battery has been preconditioned.”

Meanwhile, testing by the car-shopping site Edmunds found that most vehicles beat their EPA estimates. It said the Ford Lightning went 332 miles on a charge, while the Chevy Bolt went 265 miles.

That is confusing. How can the test results vary so much?

Driving range depends largely on the mixture of highway and city roads used for testing. Unlike gasoline-powered cars, EVs are more efficient in stop-and-go driving because slowing down recharges their batteries through a process called regenerative braking. Conversely, traveling at a high speed can eat up a battery’s power faster, while many gas-engine cars meet or exceed their EPA highway miles-per-gallon figure.

What types of driving situations do the various tests use?

Car and Driver uses only highway driving to see how far an EV will go at a steady 75 mph before running out of juice. Edmunds uses a mix of 60% city driving and 40% highway. The EPA test, performed on a treadmill, simulates a mixture of 55% highway driving and 45% city streets.

What’s the reasoning behind the different testing methods?

Edmunds believes the high proportion of city driving it uses is more representative of typical EV owners, says Jonathan Elfalan, Edmunds’s director of vehicle testing. “Most of the driving [in an EV] isn’t going to be road-tripping but driving around town,” he says.

Car and Driver, conversely, says its all-highway testing is deliberately more taxing than the EPA method. High-speed interstate driving “really isn’t covered by the EPA’s methodology,” says Dave VanderWerp, the magazine’s testing director. “Even for people driving modest highway commutes, we think they’d want to know that their car could get 20%-30% less range than stated on the window sticker.”

What does the EPA say about the accuracy of its range figures?

The agency declined to make a representative available to comment, but said in a statement: “Just like there are variations in EPA’s fuel-economy label [for gas-engine cars] and people’s actual experience on the road for a given make and model of cars/SUVs, BEV [battery electric vehicle] range can exceed or fall short of the label value.”

What should an EV shopper do with these contradictory range estimates?

Pick the one based on the testing method that you think matches how you generally will drive, highway versus city. When shopping for a car, be sure to compare apples to apples—don’t, for instance, compare the EPA range estimate for one vehicle with the Edmunds one for another. And view all these figures with skepticism. The estimates are just that.

Since range is so important to many EV buyers, why don’t carmakers simply add more batteries to provide greater driving distance?

Batteries are heavy and are the most expensive component in an EV, making up some 30% of the overall vehicle cost. Adding more could cut into a vehicle’s profit margin while the added weight means yet more battery power would be used to move the car.

But battery costs have declined over the past 10 years and are expected to continue to fall, while new battery technologies likely will increase their storage capacity. Already, some of the newest EV models can store more power at similar sticker prices to older ones.

What can an EV owner do to increase driving range?

The easiest thing is to slow down. High speeds eat up battery life faster. Traveling at 80 miles an hour instead of 65 can cut the driving range by 17%, according to testing by Geotab, a Canadian transportation-data company. And though a primal appeal of EVs is their zippy takeoff, hard acceleration depletes a battery much quicker than gentle acceleration.

Does cold weather lower the driving range?

It does, and sometimes by a great amount. The batteries are used to heat the car’s interior—there is no engine creating heat as a byproduct as in a gasoline car. And many EVs also use electricity to heat the batteries themselves, since cold can deteriorate the chemical reaction that produces power.

Testing by Consumer Reports found that driving in 15- to-20-degrees Fahrenheit weather at 70 mph can reduce range by about 25% compared to similar-speed driving in 65 degrees.

A series of short cold-weather trips degraded the range even more. Consumer Reports drove two EVs 40 miles each in 20-degree air, then cooled them off before starting again on another 40-mile drive. The cold car interiors were warmed by the heater at the start of each of three such drives. The result: range dropped by about 50%.

Does air conditioning degrade range?

Testing by Consumer Reports and others has found that using the AC has a much lower impact on battery range than cold weather, though that effect seems to increase in heat above 85 degrees.

I don’t want to freeze or bake in my car to get more mileage. What can I do?

“Precondition” your EV before driving off, says Alex Knizek, manager of automotive testing and insights at Consumer Reports. In other words, chill or heat it while it is still plugged in to a charger at home or work rather than using battery power on the road to do so. In the winter, turn on the seat heaters, which many EVs have, so you be comfortable even if you keep the cabin temperature lower. In the summer, try to park in the shade.

What about the impact from driving in a mountainous area?

Going up hills takes more power, so yes, it drains the battery faster, though EVs have an advantage over gas vehicles in that braking on the downside of hills returns juice to the batteries with regenerative braking.

Are there other factors that can affect range?

Tires play a role. Beefy all-terrain tires can eat up more electricity than standard ones, as can larger-diameter ones. And underinflated tires create more rolling resistance, and so help drain the batteries.

Most EVs give the remaining driving range on a dashboard screen. Are these projections accurate?

The meters are supposed to take into account your speed, outside temperature and other factors to keep you apprised in real time of how much farther you can travel. But EV owners and car-magazine testers complain that these “distance to empty” gauges can suddenly drop precipitously if you go from urban driving to a high-speed highway, or enter mountainous territory.

So be careful about overly relying on these gauges and take advantage of opportunities to top off your battery during a multihour trip. These stops could be as short as 10 or 15 minutes during a bathroom or coffee break, if you can find a high-powered DC charger.

Before embarking on a long trip, what should an EV owner do?

Fully charge the car at home before departing. This sounds obvious but can be controversial, since many experts say that routinely charging past 80% of a battery’s capacity can shorten its life. But they also say that charging to 100% occasionally won’t do damage. Moreover, plan your charging stops in advance to ease the I-might-run-out panic.

So battery life is an issue with EVs, just as with smartphones?

Yes, an EV battery’s ability to fully charge will degrade with use and age, likely leading to shorter driving range. Living in a hot area also plays a role. The federal government requires an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on EV batteries for serious failure, while some EV makers go further and cover degradation of charging capacity. Replacing a bad battery costs many thousands of dollars.

What tools are available to map out charging stations?

Your EV likely provides software on the navigation screen as well as a phone app that show charging stations. Google and Apple maps provide a similar service, as do apps and websites of charging-station networks.

But always have a backup stop in mind—you might arrive at a charging station and find that cars are lined up waiting or that some of the chargers are broken. Damaged or dysfunctional chargers have been a continuing issue for the industry.

Any more tips?

Be sure to carry a portable charger with you—as a last resort you could plug it into any 120-volt outlet to get a dribble of juice.

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