Suspension seating

The SAYL Chair is stylish, ergonomic and eco-friendly. But isn’t that exactly what we expect from Yves Béhar and Herman Miller?

It’s always interesting to imagine that the furniture in a home, or even an office, has a story to tell. Something similar to the old adage “if these walls could talk”. Stories about furniture are not just about the people that use them though. Complete stories about furniture would also have to include the design, the construction process, the material used and, more existentially, the reason for its being.

It’s true that not every piece of furniture is worth a story but, the result of more than two years of examining and redesigning the concept of a chair, the latest collaboration between Yves Béhar of fuseproject and Herman Miller manufacturing definitely is. With more than 1 000 sketches and some 70 prototypes to arrive at the ideal one, the SAYL Chair has a story, and one that will no doubt add to its value and popularity.

Inspired by the suspension bridges of San Francisco, Béhar approached the design of the SAYL Chair by asking whether the same principles that are used to suspend a bridge over water can be used in the design of a chair. The next step in the design process was to look at everything that could be taken away from the design to allow it to do more. The “less-is-more” approach was a conscious decision taken at the outset of the design process to enable “an unprecedented sense of freedom for the sitter with a design that utilised the least materials”, Béhar says. Following an “eco-dematerialised™” philosophy it enabled the design team to remove anything that wasn’t vital to the use of the chair.

The SAYL Chair is designed to reflect the culture of the modern workplace, while also exceeding all expectations. The 3D intelligent™ suspension back technology used in the design ensures maximum comfort, support and freedom. The frameless back means that the chair has no hard edges and is easily able to suspend and support, with the principles applied here similar to those used in suspension bridges.

Proper ergonomic support is made possible by the different degrees of tension infused directly into the injection-moulded back of the chair’s proprietary material. The three-dimensional intelligence adapts to a person’s shape and movements, providing the necessary sacral, lumbar and spine support. Herman Miller corporate ergonomist, Bill Dowell says: “The SAYL back supports the transition area from the thorax to the lumbar and again between the lumbar and the sacrum. The area in between is allowed to flex and adapt to each individual’s spine, while supporting the healthy forward rotation of the pelvis. The 3D Intelligent™ Suspension Back, and a similar mechanism under the upholstery in the foam back chair, ensure the support is there.”

The new SAYL Chairs are for those that seek life unframed. Béhar explains: “It’s human nature to seek life unframed. People want to go beyond expectations. And they want that same unframed spirit in the objects they use and how they experience them.”

With the SAYL Chair, Béhar again pushed the boundaries of technology and design in his characteristic way. By making the chair functional and cost-efficient the design becomes attainable and human-centred. “If a design isn’t ethical, it can’t be beautiful, and if it isn’t beautiful it shouldn’t be at all,’ says Béhar.

SAYL is available in a variety of colours and finishes. Apart from being the most affordable Herman Miller chair to date, it also has a small carbon footprint. A fantastic 93% of the chair is recyclable!

Task and Guest models also form part of the SAYL family of chairs and are the result of a process of research and iteration that Béhar describes as “draw, build, break and repeat until you arrive at something unique”.

There’s a story to the name of the chair too. Again inspired by the suspension bridges of San Francisco and the sailing vessels that pass beneath these bridges, the SAYL suspension back is also reminiscent of a full mainsail. Replacing the “I” of “sail” with a “Y” is a subtle reference to the innovative Y-tower structure of the chair.

Sitting in the SAYL Chair is a feeling similar to the sense of freedom experienced at full sail, and an ideal way to relax and listen to interesting stories… Sometimes about furniture. 

Watch the Talk with Yves Béhar