Don’t you just love tops. I’ve always liked them. They just make you feel like stripping out the carpet, painting yourself red and spinning as many as you can right before the in-laws walk into the room.

That, however, has nothing to do with the design and inspiration behind the Herman Miller Select series of Tops. These are totally designer grade. Created by KleinReid with inspiration from the good ol’ Eames duo. We got the story on how it was done. Then took the tops and did’em up in SolidWorks with a little rendering in PV360 and modo.

Here’s whatcha love…

Tops of Paper, Tops of Plaster

I picked the story up from the Herman Miller blog and contacted the design team, KleinReid, to find out how they tackled the idea.

What did KleinReid use to design the tops?
The tops were designed using paper, heavy scissors and a half a bag of plaster. We started by cutting dozens and dozens of paper silhouettes — which let us explore forms quickly and kept the curves very human. We then turned plaster models of our favorites, revising and fine-tuning as necessary. Once the final tops were chosen, their paper silhouettes were scanned and traced in Illustrator to maintain proportion and integrity of curve during lathe turning.

What gave them the idea for the profiles they chose?
The starting point for the tops was the collection of tops the Eames amassed from around the world. Our trio was inspired by traditional wood and metal styles — each taking a different skill level to master. Above all they had to be elegant objects that begged to be played with and held.

We designed these shapes first with scissors and paper.
We fold the paper in half and cut out the silhouette with scissors like cutting paper dolls. We like to use good quality office paper, a heavier gage paper insures that the silhouette is symmetric. The scissors must be of very good quality to produce the right curves. We like to heavy steel scissors, like the kind used to cut fabric. After we choose the silhouettes that we like we go directly to turning models in plaster. This really lets us see the form and make necessary changes, some are big changes, and some are minute. We will sometimes make dozens and dozens of paper silhouettes, and several turned plaster models to arrive at the finished shape.

Easier with SolidWorks and PhotoView360 Have Been Easier?

It’s incredibly interesting to see the different ways people conceptualize and idea. The paper/plaster approach seems messy and time-consuming, but those hands-on methods can add the character of angst, papercuts, and plaster burns to that special design. I hate papercuts, so I’m taking the solid modeling approach and doing it up in SolidWorks with a little rendering in PV360… and modo. Here’s the process.

Create the profile in SolidWorks

Revolve the profile in SolidWorks

The Renderings

I tried this three different ways, just to see how close each could come to the photograph of the tops up above. Here are the results. Click to Enlarge.

The default SolidWorks RealView Setting

Rendered in PhotoView 360

Rendered in modo

Now tell me if anyone of these could have saved some time during conceptualization for the tops. How many profiles could you revolve and render in the same time it takes to cut and turn one in plaster?

Want to try some other things with the top? Donwload it here!!


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.