As a Michigan-based Herman Miller A&D liaison, Hilda Longinotti previously worked under George Nelson for approximately two decades, before arriving at Herman Miller for another 35 years. She is currently traveling worldwide to speak about her experiences with both George Nelson and Herman Miller in a lecture series titled “Stories from a Classic.” Contract speaks with Longinotti to learn more about her experiences in the design industry.
Profile Snapshot: Hilda Longinotti
Company: Herman Miller
How would you describe your design style?
I would say eclectic, like the furniture. Because I take a little from the past, a lot from the present, and a little something from what’s to come.
What, in your opinion, is the best thing about your work?
What I have found, in events such as “Stories from a Classic,” is that I reach out to young architects and designers, and give them a little perspective from the 50s and 60s. And a number of them have come up to me and told me that they were inspired by what I said. I am sort of in awe that I get this response from the young ones. In fact, at “Stories from a Classic,” last Thursday, my past was there—that is, folks from George Nelson and my family; the people, architects, and designers that I did business with; and the new kids on the block. All of it right there. The CEU was listening to a high school dropout!
Herman Miller is getting me to write a book, as well, and that’s something to look forward to. But I keep procrastinating! At 78, most people’s careers end, but mine just began again. I am enjoying a renaissance.
What/who has been your greatest inspiration and why?
George Nelson first. George Nelson gave me my college degree and Master’s degree, and Herman Miller gave me my Ph.D. Jack Lenor Larsen was my mentor for 15 years, as well.
You’ve stayed 35 years with Herman Miller. Why is that? What was it about the company that attracted you in the first place?
Well, I knew the company when I joined. I knew it for 55 years, because I interfaced with Herman Miller people in Michigan, and I knew the founding father, D. J. DePree, and his two sons, who took over the company later on. When I left George, I got a phone call from Herman Miller and they asked me, “Will you join us?” And I was delighted! It was like being regenerated, and the feeling goes on.
I retired in January 2009, but I still go in three days a week. I still have my work station, my computer. It’s exhilarating for me to be able to do it—we appreciate each other. You know, Herman Miller is one of the Fortune 500 firms, where women are especially lauded and appreciated.
What is your favorite Herman Miller product and why?
What else can I say but the Marshmallow Sofa? [Herman Miller] actually gifted me with one. My second favorite is the Eames Lounge Chair, and they gave me three of those.
Do you think the company will be changing much in the following years? If yes, how so?
Absolutely—it has already changed. It is always evolving. It has changed more in the last few years than the last 20! Herman Miller is always ahead of the curve—they have amazing leadership. They spend millions of dollars in research and development, and they did this even in the recession.
For more on New York's chapter of "Stories from a Classic," click here.