Reintroducing Ray Wilkes
The witty minimalist designed Herman Miller's most memorable foray into post-modern furniture, reissued 45 years later
You probably don’t know Ray Wilkes, the person, as much as you recognise #raywilkes, the hashtag. The latter is usually paired with a photo of Wilkes’s most enduring design, a modular seating system that looks uniformly cheerful with its distinctive, rounded silhouette. You may also spot a #raywilkes in the wild, as did a vintage dealer in the Bay Area in an Instagram post, who had scored a pair of hefty chrome chair bases off the designer himself a few years ago. The bases are unusual, and rare – they were only prototyped for Herman Miller, never in production.
Herman Miller has reissued his iconic Modular Sofa Group – dubbed “Chiclet” – for a new generation.
As it so happens, Ray Wilkes the person is 85, living in Southern California, and possessed of a keen memory for detail. He recalls the address of George Nelson’s Manhattan office (50th Street at 5th Avenue) when Ray first arrived in the United States on a study grant from the Royal College of Art. He remembers the precise Herman Miller catalogue (Action Office I, 1964, with a green cover) to which he contributed drawings, in collaboration with fellow Nelson Office alum Tomoko Miho.
As Lance Wyman, another friend and colleague from the Nelson days, attests, Wilkes is “always sharp as a tack and very witty”.