Ray Wilkes

U.K. (1936)
Born in Surrey, England and educated at the Royal College of Art, Ray Wilkes made an indelible contribution to the American furniture landscape when he designed the Modular Sofa Group affectionately known as the "Chiclet" for its resemblance to the colorful gum. After Wilkes graduated from the RCA in the early 1960s, he arrived in America with the dream of working in the studio of Herman Miller’s Director of Design, George Nelson. He got his dream job, and immediately became a design troubleshooter on Nelson's team. They were vexed by problems attaching the upholstery to the frame of the Sling Sofa, and Wilkes successfully used rubber sheeting to secure the cushions—an innovation of the sort that would come to exemplify Ray Wilkes furniture.

Wilkes embraced new and emerging technologies throughout his career, which brought him to Rhode Island for several years working with Harvey Probber, briefly back to England, then out to Michigan when he was offered a position at Herman Miller where he worked throughout the 1970's and '80s. Ray Wilkes furniture design from this era now seems to have predicted the future. Working with design director Bob Blaich, Wilkes wanted to see what he could do with a new foam injection machine at the factory. Like the Eames experimenting with bent plywood, Wilkes developed the Modular Sofa with inspiration from technology. He created rounded forms, and found that Herman Miller’s two-way-stretch fabrics—designed in brilliant hues by Alexander Girard—worked perfectly as upholstery. Wilkes has characterized his personal aesthetic as "total simplicity," and he sees this as part of both the process and product of designing, something that’s evident in the clarity and directness of Ray Wilkes designs. "Minimalism isn't just straight lines," he once said. "The most important thing is the form, and the simplicity of making it."
Ray Wilkes
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