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Herman Miller Targets Modern Consumer With Design Within Reach Acqusition

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- High-end furniture designer Herman Miller is seeking to grow in the residential furnishing market with its acquisition of Design Within Reach , announced late on Thursday. Herman Miller CEO Brian Walker told TheStreet on Friday the purchase of DWR is part of a vision to expand the company's presence in modern design and become a brand for both the home and the office.

"We can become much more of a lifestyle brand," Walker said of the DWR purchase in a telephone interview. Walker said DWR's successful launch of a larger store format called Studio was a key driver of the transaction. 

DWR is currently the largest retailer of Herman Miller's furniture designs, with nearly 20% of its total selection designed by Herman Miller. Walker expects that as DWR prioritizes large Studio formats, the mix of Herman Miller designs will now grow in DWR stores as a result of both companies' merger.

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In addition to giving Herman Miller's brand more visibility by way of DWR's base of customers, the company will also acquire a growing portfolio of exclusive furniture designs. The deal "won't be turning DWR into Herman Miller," Walker noted. Instead, he said Herman Miller would look to benefit from a wider presence in DWR stores, which Walker called "a marketplace for a modern lifestyle."

DWR will be run distinctly from Herman Miller and it will continue to carry other designers. Knoll , a manufacturer of furniture designs from Frank Gehry, Eero Saarinen and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, said on a Friday conference call it doesn't expect the merger of DWR and Herman Miller will impact its earnings.

Herman Miller, DWR and Knoll all are part of a growing trend to bring mid-20th century design into the mainstream. In many respects, DWR, under founder Rob Forbes, was a pioneer. After discovering designers such as Saarinen, Forbes launched DWR with the intention of bringing "out of reach" style into enthusiasts' homes. However, after Forbes left DWR in the mid-2000s, the company strayed from his vision in a brief and tumultuous run on public stock markets

DWR's Turnaround After Near Collapse

For DWR, a seller of designs from greats such as Le Corbusier, Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson, the merger with Herman Miller marks a dramatic turnaround after the company nearly folded in 2009 amid over-expansion, lawsuits and a fall from grace within the design community.

Herman Miller will pay $154 million for an 84% stake in DWR. For majority owner Glenhill Capital , DWR's purchase price is indicative of the company's turnaround. Glenhill invested $15 million for a 92.8% stake in DWR in August 2009, as the company struggled to stay afloat under contentious CEO Ray Brunner, who pushed for store expansion and was accused of infringing on other manufacturers designs in a flurry of lawsuits