In FORM’s new issue, our Showroom column features some recent outdoor furnishing designs. For our Web readers, we’re delighted to share our interview with Richard Frinier, a dean of contemporary design. Here, he discusses how he came to be in the business, how he approaches his work, what makes a good chair and some of his surprising sources of inspiration.
How did you get your start?
I was originally a sculptor and lighting designer and came to design furniture many years ago when I was approached by a former California furniture manufacturer to design a case good collection for bedrooms. I gave it some thought and one of my ideas went into production and sold over 9,000 sets. Sets not pieces. This unexpected success led me to explore the possibilities of focusing on furniture design in my design practice.
One weekend, I discovered a picture of a chaise lounge on the cover of what was then The Los Angeles Times Magazine. It was made by Brown Jordan. In that moment, I had an epiphany about channeling my creative energy into outdoor furniture design for its sculptural qualities. I went on to join Brown Jordan as a staff designer in the early 1980s staying 21 years and evolving to become the Company’s Chief Creative Officer overseeing 14 brands in the areas of design and product development, brand stewardship, marketing, advertising and public relations. I generated hundreds of collections and thousands of individual designs during those years many with patents, and we also garnered over 60 design excellence awards.
In 2002, I launched my own creative consultancy, where I license my furniture, textile and accessory collections. It has been an exciting time for me over the past 12 years to evolve my work at large. Today, I am celebrating over 30 years of design and my designs for others have translated into nearly one billion dollars in sales. Along with my clients, we have received another 20 awards with many success stories around the world, including a Stars of Design Award from the Pacific Design Center and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Casual Furnishings Association. This is my passion and I hope to be working at my craft for many years to come.
How do you approach designing a chair?
My approach to design is deeply rooted in my passion for materials, either new materials or older materials used in new ways, and also my understanding of the importance of less is more—using a method of reductive detailing until I have edited the design down to its purist form, leaving only what is relevant and important for its style, function and comfort.
I am also very inspired by architecture and both interior and exterior spaces. The architecture and spaces inform me and serve as great inspiration for what will come next. I always keep in mind that furniture, especially outdoor furniture, is not simply used for dining, lounging and entertaining. Whether the furnishings and textiles are used in a residential or hospitality environment, they may be seen from all sides and from many different perspectives. How the back of a chaise or arm detail on a dining chair or the scale of a lounge chair or daybed are created —all become even more important, as they are seen from a living room or lobby area beyond glass sliding doors; from balconies looking down to a pool; or they are actually used for interior spaces and not just exterior spaces. The integrity of the form, frame, styling and materials—each carries a unique significance to the overall creation with intention by design.
I begin with quite a bit of interaction with my clients to learn what they would like, what they need. I also study what they already have, as for me it is always about what is missing that draws me into a project. It is important to fully understand the DNA of a client in order to incorporate the feeling of their company, while still designing something that is recognizable as one of my own creations. I have spent many years collaborating with my current clients. Twenty-one years designing in-house for Brown Jordan; and, since forming my own creative consultancy in 2002, I have enjoyed very successful design collaborations with Glen Raven/Sunbrella, Brown Jordan, Dedon, Century Furniture and others. I am celebrating well over 30 years of designing myself. So, it is never just about the design alone. It is about blending my client’s brand identity with my own. In this process, I have developed a body of work with each client and at large as an artist. The process itself is driven with passion and focus. In this regard, it is more similar to other creative processes. It requires dedication to a constant thought process surrounding the design and how it will be viewed and used, and also a commitment to the continual refinement of a design, which in total informs you when a design is complete.
How has new technology during the design stage and/or during production changed how you approach your design process?
While there are newer technologies, such as 3D printing, we have a way to go before that particular technology becomes mainstream in designing furniture.
I still prefer to draw by hand for its authentic and intuitive nature is very important to my design process. The making of one-off prototypes is still done by hand. The biggest thing that technology has changed in terms of designing products is that there has been a democratization of design—making it increasingly accessible because of the Internet. It has resulted in dramatic changes in how the A+D community and consumers alike inform themselves and learn about products and how these products are specified and purchased.
How has your aesthetic evolved over your career?
I design a very broad range of architectural styles of furniture, from modern and contemporary to transitional and traditional. My style is most commonly recognized and referred to as being classic and timeless by my colleagues in the design industry and also from the press. I am emphatic about using my design skills through the process of reductive detailing, resulting in finished designs that do not possess more embellishments than the design calls for, to be as purely authentic as possible. I have always been a futurist with a reverence for the past. I stay as true as possible to my designs from conception to production.
It is actually pretty complicated to create a comfortable and distinctive chair that will also pull up to a dining table and allow the arms to go under that table just perfectly, so that your hands when placed on the chair’s arms will actually clear well under the table. In good design, sometimes achieving the obvious and simplicity becomes a complex proposition. Also, you never know where a chair may be used, whether for residential or hospitality spaces, so everything I design must pass the industry’s commercial testing standards.
The most important challenge for me in my own design process is to create something that looks exactly like something you have never seen before. I endeavor to create designs that allow the eye to rest easily upon them. It is extremely important to me that my designs are authentic, relevant and memorable.
What are some of the pleasures of doing it?
Working with people domestically and internationally to make it all come together. I also enjoy the story. Creating the name and sharing the inspiration. Working with photographers and directing photo shoots. Designing and creating marketing materials and ad campaigns. It is a more complete and satisfying creative process to influence and create the entire package in totality to ensure the understanding and success of my designs for my clients and myself.
My design concepts seem to possess and convey the passion that I felt during their creation. This helps to establish an emotional link with others. It really doesn’t get much better for me than to see a person’s expression change when they see a design I have created that they love. Making an emotional connection with people is personal. If my design can evoke this type of emotional response, it is really the highest compliment to me.
Architecture and the space architects create.
When I see something is missing.
When someone tells me, “It can’t be done.” I love a challenge and challenging others.
Quietude. My mind is creative when it is at rest. It wanders solving problems and generating new ideas.
Procrastination also motivates inspiration.
What are some of your favorite chair designs of others?
1952 Diamond Chair by Harry Bertoia; 1946 Van Keppel Green Lounge Chair and Ottoman; 1965 PK24 Chaise Lounge by Paul Kjoerholm; 1966 Lounge by Richard Schultz
Who are your favorite designers and/or architects?
Pierre Koenig, Richard Neutra, Killingsworth and Brady, Oscar Niemeyer, Claudio Silvestrin, Thiep Cung.