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The decline in the category hit Knoll very hard, causing its revenue to fall 13 percent in the first year of the pandemic, according to the company, and triggering an escalating series of layoffs, salary and benefit freezes, and closures of production facilities. This may have facilitated the merger. “Certainly the condition we’re in right now made it a prime time,” Mr. Watson said of moving forward with the merger.
According to MillerKnoll statements, combining the companies’ operations is expected to yield $100 million in savings. This raises questions concerning pricing and quality. It also creates something of a monopoly on the legacies of the iconic designers associated with the two flagship brands, which read as a who’s who of high Modernism: At Herman Miller, these include George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, Ward Bennett and Charles and Ray Eames; at Knoll, it’s Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Frank Gehry, Harry Bertoia, Maya Lin and the company’s co-founder Florence Knoll.
Perhaps most important, the merger announcement worried some in the design community that these companies’ spirit of unconventionality could be hampered by their union.
“There is maybe a possibility that merging and becoming less competitive among themselves might slow down innovation, make them kind of reinforce what they’re already working with,” said Elise DeChard, the owner of End Studio, a four-year-old architecture and design office in Detroit that focuses on residential, commercial and adaptive reuse projects.
Yet the pioneering histories of these companies are so intertwined as to make their amalgamation strangely inevitable. “I guess my reaction initially was, like, Wow, I’m surprised someone didn’t think of this before,” said Andrew Blauvelt, the director of the Cranbrook Art Museum.