Aeron, meet Tulip. Or perhaps better said, Aeron, EAT Tulip. Herman Miller has acquired Knoll. When all is said and done, Knoll CEO Andrew B. Cogan will depart. Present Herman Miller CEO Andi Owen will take the helm of the “new entity,” howsoever it shall be named.
The move seems timed for HM to capitalize on the emerging post-pandemic moment. To wit, “As distributed working models become the new normal for companies, businesses are re-imagining the office to foster collaboration, culture and focused work, while supporting a growing remote employee base. With a broad portfolio, global footprint and advanced digital capabilities, we will be poised to meet our customers everywhere they live and work.”
Accck. Sounds a bit Big-Brotherish to me.
In the interim, Knoll stock is up; HM stock is down; and the Interwebs are abuzz with speculation and commentary. Here our some of our favorites.
“This terrifies me and makes me sad.”
“I can’t say I’m surprised but it still feels like a gut punch.”
“Wow! Furniture I can already not afford is about to get even more expensive. Yippee!”
“The only time I ever get to use their furniture is in 3D modeling…”
“I don’t Knoll if this is a good idea but we will always have Steelcase.”
“This just further ensures their monopoly over Eames and other legacy design licenses.”
“They've already priced out most individual consumers. The knock off market is happy I'm sure.”
The Wal*Mart of high design?
“Wake me up when Ikea buys them.”
“Capitalism is a giant vacuum. It sucks.”
“I don’t know who gets squeezed yet in terms of layoffs. Probably middle management types.”
“This highly complementary combination will create the preeminent leader in modern design, catalyzing the transformation of the home and office sectors at a time of unprecedented disruption.”
Go to newleaderinmoderndesign.com to read more details about the transaction (but beware of security risk—seriously, this page is flagged).
Bull or Bear
“The main benefit of this deal is cost synergies. Management teams usually over-exaggerate the cost benefits of deals when they are empire building.”
“Furniture is still a very competitive industry after this deal.”
“Herman Miller didn't get a discount here.”
“Rowley Law PLLC is investigating potential securities law violations by Knoll Inc. (NYSE: KNL) and its board of directors concerning the proposed acquisition of the company by Herman Miller.”
While both companies have Michigan roots, it’s always felt to me like Knoll was a bit more “Euro.” Founder Hans was a German émigré, after all (wife Florence had Saginaw roots). This can be good or bad depending on which aesthetic you gaze out onto the Atlantic Ocean from, but I’ve always been a bit of a Euro-phile.
So who would win a smack down between these star-studded portfolios?: The Eames, Isamu Noguchi, Jasper Morrison, and Konstantin Grcic vs. Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Hans Wegner, and Warren Platner?
Maybe a more pertinent question is which of the above are living?
Yes, I prefer van der Rohe’s Barcelona to Nelson’s Marshmallow, Bertoia’s Shell Chair to Eames’ Molded Fiberglass, even Generation to the iconic Aeron (though I certainly acknowledge the debt).
So even granting that this may be a moment whose time has come, I can’t help but feel a certain loss. And a palpable nostalgia.