Herman Miller Cosm Chair Reviewed

You’ve probably heard of Herman Miller and if the brand doesn’t ring a bell the name Aeron might. This adjustable, award-winning and tenured – it’s been around since 1994 – masterpiece of a task chair is sworn by and eagerly recommended, albeit most people will tell you to buy pre-owned.

Cosm is Aeron’s more fashionable cousin. Where the Aaron is a utilitarian – though still aesthetically pleasing – highly adjustable, very personal office chair the Cosm is a one-size-suits(-almost)-all that adjusts to you and has no bells or whistles save for the standard height adjustable gas lift.

I once jokingly referred to the Cosm as my “goal chair,” swearing I’d eventually own one if I had to sit in a cold, empty, derelict lot surrounded by waist-high weeds in lieu of owning a house. Ironically – thanks to Herman Miller – I now possess a Cosm… and, due to other circumstances, I currently lack a house. It’s funny how these things work out.

I selected – after much deliberation – a high-back, Graphite Cosm with adjustable arms. While the mesh “leaf” arms are true to the original design aesthetic and minimal need for adjustment, I felt adjustable arms made more sense for my – fingers constantly on the keyboard – purposes. I was picking a Cosm with the intent to use it in my planned home office, although I never expected it to be saving me from a month and a half relying on a dining table and chairs.

The Cosm chair arrived pre-assembled and the delivery driver was happy to relieve us of the – rather large – box. While Herman Miller do provide *dis*assembly instructions, it’s a complicated process involving some finickity tools to reach recessed bolts. Hot-swapping arms, for example, would not be easy.

This fact lends itself well to the aesthetic appeal of the Cosm. The chair looks and feels like a consistent whole, and Herman Miller have not needed to make compromises to make assembly easy or hide fixings. This is in stark contrast to my Noblechairs Hero, which arrived in pieces and has some rather ugly plastic warts to hide the bolts holding it together.

It was the Aeron and the many recommendations that turned me on to Herman Miller. But it was the Cosm’s unique style that drew me to it in particular. Looks are how this chair captivated me, so forgive me for waxing lyrical about the Cosm for a moment.

Looks. The elegant in the room.

The Cosm design undoubtedly has a streak of science fiction set-piece about it. The mix of sweeping, organic curves with the stark, crisp angles of the base seem like they should contrast jarringly but this juxtaposition somehow works. The chair looks as if it might have been grown rather than manufactured. Everything blends together into a visual whole that defies you to understand its inner workings, but is keen to say “I’ve got your back”.

The arms, while optional and available in three different types: leaf, fixed, adjustable, blend seamlessly into the Cosm’s overall frame, sprouting from the upper base with no visible form of attachment. There’s a single bolt for each arm, somewhere, but it’s deeply recessed and defies all investigation. In fact it needs a six inch 6mm hex bit to remove.

The adjustable arms – while not true to the original simplicity of the Cosm’s design – are harmonious with the angular poise of the lower base. I’m happy that I made the right choice in this regard.

The Cosm demands close inspection to divine its secrets. Material choices are carefully considered and often a little surprising. For example the angular lower base – despite all appearances from a distance – is actually plastic and so are the casters. The use of metal in the Cosm is purely utilitarian and nowhere is a material used merely for appearance or finish. There’s no “carbon fibre” or “gunmetal” here, only exceptional, rational design. It’s really quite a beautiful object and doesn’t rely on cheap tricks for frills.

By the same token, Herman Miller do not make design mistakes that require ugly hacks to cover up. How many gas lift chairs have you owned with a janky telescoping set of plastic cups trying to hide the piston? Here the entire body of the gas lift mechanism is contained within the base of the chair, and only the piston itself stands proud. There’s nothing here to hide.

Colour coordination is top notch, with “Graphite” black matching across materials from mesh, to plastic, to metal. Upon close inspection you may be surprised to find the typical signs of injection moulding around the chair back. The Cosm isn’t magic, it’s a fusion of existing manufacturing techniques applied with thought and finesse.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be showy. Herman Miller aren’t coy about the details- they opted to keep the edges of the back open, showing off the interlocking teeth structure within. This celebration of the ugly truth of the chair’s construction is typical of design that pushes the limits of manufacturing techniques. They want you to know how the mesh is supported- they say as much in their design story- and… it really works.

The use of metal in the tilt mechanism and arms makes everything feel reassuringly sturdy. Everything that should flex, does flex, and everything that shouldn’t stays stubbornly put. How the single bolt retaining the arms manages to keep them so firmly secured beats me- but it involves a very fancy, captive bolt and the metal arm slots into the metal frame. This fact is a testament to the benefits of pre-assembled furniture.

Every choice in the Cosm is purposeful and deliberate. Materials are chosen for their physical properties and not for aesthetic appeal. Nothing is superfluous and every detail deliberately doesn’t stand out. Yet, despite this rigorous adherence to utilitarian design, the Cosm is a chair you can stand back and admire.

In a fashion the Cosm’s graceful curves and constraint-led design are more than superficially analogous to the design of a sports car. We can appreciate the poise of a Koenigsegg CCX or a Bugatti Veyron, but we also instinctively understand that its shape is a function of drag coefficients, weight distribution and structural integrity. The Cosm isn’t contrived to provide comfort and support, any less than a beautiful car is contrived to be aerodynamic.

Function

I could toss flowery prose at this beautiful object until I bored you to tears, but it’s a chair and not an ornament. The proof is in the pudding. Pudding your bottom on the chair. And I’ve done a fair bit of this since it arrived.

In fact we’ve all been putting our bottoms into the Cosm. From toddler to adult we’ve been treating it like a chair rather than a delicate object to be admired from a distance. You might be surprised to know that the gas lift goes high enough for a toddler to use it as a dining chair… yup, been there done that. In fact the gas-lift range is pretty spectacular with around 13cm of travel, reinforcing the Cosm’s one-size-fits-all goal.

This factoid lets me segue into perhaps one of my favourite features – the trigger for gas lift adjustment. Rather than some wobbly lever jutting out awkwardly, a hand-sized button on the underside of the chair edge is connected by what I can only describe as a bicycle brake cable. Probably a nylon sheath with a braided steel cable down the middle. This simple detail means the top of the chair can rock freely back and forth and the button will always be in the same intuitively easy to reach position. When actuating the gas-lift switch your thumb and palm rest upon the seat-edge, while your fingers do the pressing.

Herman Miller’s design goal for the Cosm was to create a chair that accommodates anyone, and yields to their posture. The lack of adjustment is strictly by design and – indeed – with Leaf arms installed the only possible adjustment is the height.

I feel Herman Miller have achieved this goal, and it didn’t take particularly long to reach this conclusion. The elegance of the Cosm design is self evident from the moment you sit in it. The chair yields as you plonk yourself down and springs back into place, cushioning the action of sitting as if it were catching you in a fall. The back flexes as you lean into it and the whole chair tilts smoothly back as you relax.

In keeping with the minimal adjustment design there’s no way to lock the tilt of the Cosm or tune its resistance to your weight. I found that a gentle push with my toes or raising my arms above my head in a stretch was required to kickstart a recline and relaxing into the Cosm for a brief mental break felt natural. Indeed the high-back Cosm seems to fit me like a glove and as a tall, slender person I can’t help but feel it’s an idealised design that works best with certain body types and I’m just on the fringe somewhere.

I’m not sure how much truth there is to the tilt tension being tied to the chair height in any direct way. A lower chair makes it much easier to push yourself backwards, but the tension is entirely a function of your body weight. Herman Miller tactfully call this “vertical force” but the simple fact of the matter is the chair will be more difficult to tilt back the heavier you are. Weight distribution plays a part here, too, and you’re no doubt familiar with the principle of leverage. A taller person would have a much easier time of reclining than a shorter person of the same weight.

The tilt mechanism is ingenious, even ignoring the variable tension. The back of the chair tilts freely through its full range without lifting the front edge much. This might seem like a simple thing to accomplish, but the back and bottom of the chair are one continuous sweeping whole that do not have the benefit of a hinge for reclining. This means that your posture does not change when reclining and the Cosm supports your back throughout. Most chairs will aim for a pivot point toward the front edge of the seat, but few succeed so elegantly as the Cosm.

Interestingly the high-back isn’t as high as my Noblechairs Hero and this actually works very well. I normally have my hair tied back and on a truly high-back chair my ponytail is left with nowhere to go. On the Cosm I can lean back comfortably with my hair over the top edge and my neck very well supported. It’s a small detail, but one I really appreciate. Running my hands down the back of the mesh when seated reveal few areas where it’s not taught and in firm contact with my back. This is one of the few chairs I’ve sat in where I’ve gained nothing by slouching, a bad habit that I’m all too keenly aware of.

The height adjustable arms – which I deliberately chose over fixed or leaf due to my tendency to rest my forearms across them while typing – are solid and comfortable with a firm but flexible surface. The adjustment mechanism works well, but it’s a little counter-intuitive. The adjustment switch is a trigger on the front, underside of each rest that begs you to hold them like guns when changing their height. This is a little awkward and a jarring contrast to the thoughtfully placed chair height adjustment switch. If you adjust your armrest height frequently you might find the triggers a little grating since you have to change your posture somewhat to actuate them. I prefer mechanisms that place the adjustment at the fingertips, just over the edge of the rest.

Arms aside, the Cosm’s lack of adjustment will certainly be its most controversial feature. In a week or so of using the chair for work I haven’t felt a pressing need to make adjustments to the tilt tension or lumbar support. The fact that I can’t change these things also means I can’t get into a state of hysteresis, where I’m constantly adjusting things too far one way or another and never quite achieving comfort. I’m reserved to let the chair do its thing and, thankfully, the Cosm does it extremely well.
Perhaps the crowning achievement of an adjustment-free chair is that anyone can sit in it and experience the same comfort. My father-in-law’s first impressions were “that looks really nice”, followed shortly by “we could replace the sofas with these.” With no awkward lumbar support controls, or similar complex contrivances the Cosm is an “I sits, I fits” chair that can be shared. It’s something I’d be happy to have in the corner of a lounge, with a minimal desk setup for laptop docking and casual work (read: writing blog posts) where my office would otherwise be a little lonely.

In Conclusion

The Cosm did not disappoint. I love how it looks, I love how it feels and it’s the right chair for me. Those with more specific requirements for fine adjustment, neck support, adjustable lumbar support and – generally – all the sundry requirements of a chair you might sit in far too many hours a day, far too many days a week, will probably still prefer the Aeron. If you’re looking for something that’s aesthetically and functionally a notch or two above the very best gaming chairs, stops you from slouching, and still permits some backward tilt for relaxation (although, no, this chair can not “do this”) then the Cosm is an excellent choice. It will be very, very difficult for me to return to my Noblechairs Hero.

While I’m trapped in house move purgatory the Cosm has been a lifesaver, clawing me back from the brink of crippling neck pain with the help of a custom-built laptop riser:

If you haven’t treated your posterior to a new lockdown chair yet, then the Cosm is stunning piece of work-from-home luxury that will see you through many years to come.