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Gabriel Tan on the serendipity that brought his new range for Herman M...

Gabriel Tan on the serendipity that brought his new range for Herman Miller to life

Gabriel Tan on the serendipity that brought his new range for Herman Miller to life

Designer Gabriel Tan reveals the inspiration and ideas behind his new Luva seating collection and Cyclades tables for Herman Miller.

A sofa that almost seems to embrace the user, moulds to one’s desired resting position, and whose soft, rounded profile brings a smile to one’s face – all of these qualities define the new Luva modular sofa and armchair by Singapore-born, Porto-based designer Gabriel Tan for Herman Miller. An interesting feature is the backrest that can unroll – like a glove – into an open back to allow a relaxed lounge posture or fold – like a closed ‘fist’ to become supports for working on a laptop or chatting with a friend.

Together with the seats, Tan also introduces the Cyclade Tables, whose sculptural forms were inspired by one of his design heroes Isamu Noguchi. The three pieces emulate the form of Pangea as they are composed together or apart.

Tan reveals more in this conversation.  

How did this collaboration with Herman Miller come about?

Gabriel Tan: During the pandemic lockdowns in 2020, I started having an ambition to design the most comfortable sofa – one that would fill people’s physical and emotional needs for comfort and security. I spent months sketching, testing and modelling a glove-like sofa concept (eventually named Luva, which means “glove” in Portuguese). When it was ready I showed it to one of the companies I have always wanted to work with: Herman Miller.

I knew the design director of Herman Miller from my past collaborations with Design Within Reach, which is a Herman Miller-owned company. It was purely serendipitous that they were looking for a sofa like this right at that moment. I had designed the sculptural Cyclade coffee tables earlier. Herman Miller was also interested in them, and eventually decided to develop them both at the same time and launch them together. 

What are the unique features of the Luva sofa and lounge chair?

The Luva sofa and lounge chair are extremely comfortable in both low-back and high-back positions. We worked very hard to make sure they look visually well proportioned in both modes, even when all of the sofa modules are in the unfolded high back positions. We wanted to maximise comfort and iconic beauty, and not compromise on either. So far, we have had extremely positive responses from people who have sat in them, with many saying they are incredibly comfortable.  

Gabriel Tan - Luva modular sofa and lounge chair

How does the Cyclade tables complement the Luva seats, and how does the entire set fit into today’s modern lifestyles?

Both the Luva sofa and Cyclade tables are easily reconfigurable to allow users to adapt them to different spaces and create different interactions in their homes. That was why we decided to do a joint launch for both collections. They totally fit in with today’s modern life because depending on whether we are hosting a party at home, watching a sports game with friends, or having an important conversation among family members, we may want to arrange our space differently to best facilitate these different forms of social interactions.

How do these pieces reflect the Herman Miller branding, lineage and technical abilities?

There were unintentional coincidences between the Luva seats and Herman Miller’s other iconic products. I recently found out from Herman Miller’s editorial director that inspiration for the Eames Lounge Chair also came from a glove – but a baseball glove instead of a boxing glove.

Herman Miller has a heritage of craft, especially with its classics from Ray and Charles Eames, George Nelson, and Isamu Noguchi. Later, till the present day, the brand became known for its precision engineering with its ergonomic task chairs like Aeron and Cosm. Our Luva seats and Cyclade tables combine elements of craft with precision engineering, connecting Herman Miller’s heritage with its present-day renowned capabilities and leading to a new chapter for the brand as it shifts its focus to the home.

Gabriel Tan - Luva modular sofa and lounge chair

The way that the Luva sofa is stitched, creates this balance between soft volumes with loose folds, which requires highly experienced upholstery craftsmen, while the engineering of the unfolding mechanism needs to be rigorous to ensure that it can live up to the long warranty the brand offers. The Cyclade tables’ die-cast aluminium trumpet-shaped legs enable them to be flat packed without tools, while the half-elliptical tabletop edge requires careful hand finishing.

What were some challenges in both the design and making of the Luva sofa?

The challenge in designing something with a soft and loose shape is how to effectively communicate the design intent. I used a mix of hand sketches and 3D modelling to convince Herman Miller to invest in the project. Then came the harder part: how to actually produce this. Herman Miller eventually decided to produce it in Italy, with a factory and craftsmen that I can safely say after having worked with them, are some of the most skilled in the world with regards to sofa upholstery. 

The Luva collection is now your living room seating. What is some feedback from your family?

I received the sofa and lounge chair four months before the launch and we personally tested them out vigorously. My wife and mother-in-law are usually brutally honest with their design criticisms, especially with regard to functionality. They both love the sofa and found it particularly comfortable. My children are always bouncing and rolling on them so I think they have no complaints!

Gabriel Tan - Luva modular sofa and lounge chair

On the topic of seating, what is another favourite chair designs of yours?

The No.14 chair by Michael Thonet is one of my favourites. Something mass-produced in 1859 and still used in many cafes and homes 164 years later deserves ultimate respect. The incredible thing is, I don’t ever see that chair becoming obsolete.

You have designed many types of furniture and accessories. Anything else you wish to test out? 

I would love to design lighting, and am currently working on an ambitious lighting concept. Hopefully, it will see the light of day soon. 

Gabriel Tan - Luva modular sofa and lounge chair

Herman Miller

Gabriel Tan

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Luo Jingmei

Luo Jingmei enjoys writing about architecture and design, having grown up in an assortment of unbridled spaces and contemplative nooks. She was mentored under Singaporean architect Yip Yuen Hong fresh from architecture school but lured to the editorial world, finding catharsis in the written word. A former deputy editor of Cubes Indesign, Jingmei is now an avid contributor to myriad international and local publications including Habitus and Habitus Living and seeks to author authentic narratives. Portrait by Tawan Conchonnet