The SAYL Chair Really Is "The Best for the Most for the Least" (Product Review)

herman miller sayle chair photo
SAYL Chair at a Herman Miller 1952 desk model 4658.

Emma Alter

Office chairs are a difficult design problem. Herman Miller's classic Aeron chair has been a hit for over a decade, but it costs nearly a thousand bucks and is rarely seen outside of high-end offices, although it was the darling perq of internet startups; there were even Aeron hockey tournaments. At the other end of the scale, crowding the aisles of Staples and Walmart, are the usual low-end home office chair that had perhaps a height adjustment but not much else, that sell for well less than a tenth of that.

Design of the SAYL Chair

Herman Miller's SAYL is designed by Yves Behar to sit in the middle: a beautiful, ergonomic chair made from sustainable materials at an affordable price. It nails it.

herman miller sayle chair photo

There are a couple of ways to make things cheaper: use cheaper materials, offshore production or just use less of everything. The first two were not an option; the chair is made from safe and healthy materials and Cradle to Cradle certified, so PVC is out. Herman Miller makes most of its furniture in Michigan, and tries to limit it's offshore production to serve offshore markets.

herman miller sayle chair inspiration

Yves Behar of Fuseproject went back to first principles and started taking things out. They call it eco-dematerialization- "Through design iteration, we reduced material use (and environmental footprint), without sacrificing durability or comfort." So the complex mechanisms of the chair back become the flexible mesh, stretched " a way that provided the greatest tension at points where support is needed and the least in areas that would allow for the most expansive range of motion." From the Fuseproject website:

By rethinking every part of the chair, we were able to innovate the back structure and offer the first frameless suspension system. We sought to remove anything that was not necessary while still delivering a high level of performance and aesthetics. We call the resulting products eco-dematerialised and attainable: lower carbon footprint (30% lighter) and lower retail cost thanks to materials and assembly savings.

But you can still adjust height, depth, tilt, arms and more.


herman miller sayl chair cal photo
 Kelly Rossiter

I do not use an office chair; I have a standing desk. However my wife does, and I asked her for her comments:

I remember many years ago my husband gave me an office chair as a birthday present. It is akin to receiving a vacuum cleaner as an anniversary gift - a bad idea. Having said that, I think I'd be pretty happy to receive this Herman Miller chair. There are so many ways to adjust it that it's quite easy to make it fit you properly. You can get your back right up against the mesh for support and it's comfortable enough to sit in all day. I have been known to just put my feet up and read while I'm sitting in it. The back also tilts back quite far so you can get a good stretch if you are too busy to get up and walk around. The only downside to this chair is that the cat loves it too, and I occasionally have to wrestle him out of it to get my work done.
herman miller sayle somewhere in between image
It's somewhere in between.

The SAYL doesn't have all the controls of an Aeron. Its appearance takes a bit of getting used to, but it grows on you.

But the real wonder of it is that they deliver an American-made chair built to Cradle to Cradle Silver standards that starts at $ 399. It is more than a chair; it is a different approach to design that Charles Eames used to practice, delivering "The Best for the Most for the Least." It demonstrates that you don't have to make something out of crap in China to be competitive, you just have to design it better.