Director of Product Design
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Increasingly dated

Inevitable Design

Our bed, although regrettably not our bedroom

Our bed, although regrettably not our bedroom

During the summer of 2015 my wife and I slept on a mattress on the floor for three or four months. The veneer on our IKEA monstrosity had begun to chip and warp, so one day I ordered a Casper mattress and threw everything else out the moment it arrived.

Harkening back to the William Morris quote about only bringing into your home that which you know to be useful and feel to be beautiful, it's truly surprising just how hard it is to find those two properties in one piece of furniture. Most furniture is at best ‘variant on a theme’, at worst insensitive and utterly compromised.

It took hundreds of bed frames to find a simple, elegant walnut frame well above our price level. After a couple of months of indecision on the floor it became clear that there was in reality no choice at all and we bought our new bed, The queen-sized American Modern bed from Design Within Reach*.

And it's amazing. No more than a sturdy wooden plate, beveled inwards ops the lower side to create the illusion of being thinner, with six brass-capped legs (two along the center, out of sight).

In the foot-end a ledge runs the breadth of the frame holding the mattress in place. The mattress otherwise simply lays on the frame making access effortless, and at the head-end three curved pieces of metal hold in-place a simple round-edged headboard, tilted slightly backwards.

It's clear just from looking at the frame itself that the materials are great, but it's the design itself that is the price; what Jony Ive might call “inevitable”. It would later turn out to be a 60 year old design by George Nelson, which I was gleefully unaware of at the time.

But having spent time perusing bed frames, I couldn't help but wonder—since beds have always been around—why are the vast majority so utterly ‘evitable’?

Perhaps because the inevitable design requires great materials. Not simply because it makes the bed look better, but because the materials dictate what's possible.

Great materials, with the strength to pull together this design, are expensive, therefore most designs are instead forced to construct their way towards the strength needed to support the human body, which causes the inevitable to be obscured by assemblage, insipid wide-edged sides and a morass of compromises.

There's a parable about software design in there somewhere, but this isn't a parable thinkpiece, so leave it alone.

* The American Modern line of bedroom furniture disappeared a few months after we had bought our bed, and in its place DWR trumpeted the arrival of the Nelson Thin Edge collection. Very similar furniture, with an even higher price tag. The American Modern line might have been an attempt a new version of the Thin Edge collection? It's strange either way as it seems like Herman Miller, which owns Design Within Reach, also holds the right to the Nelson collections, so why the intermediary step? Moreover, the American Modern line was slightly different, and is no longer available.

Michael Heilemann