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Hearth & Home May 2014

The Creators

By Tom Lassiter

New products may propel an industry forward, but it’s the creators of those products that are the real driving force.

There’s a story about Steve Jobs walking with a reporter through a parking lot at Apple’s California headquarters. Jobs, always focused, interrupted the conversation and stopped to inspect a shiny new vehicle.

He circled the car, viewing it from every angle, and peered inside before issuing his assessment.

“They got it right,” he said approvingly. The car was the New Beetle, which debuted in 1997.

Jobs famously understood that design matters.

Good design sets a product apart from the pack. Whether it’s a corkscrew or a folding chair or a mobile phone, a well-designed product speaks to the best thinking of its era. A product with great design may stand the test of time.

Think of the Eames Lounge Chair, the Maglite flashlight, and the toy known as Slinky. Each is a consumer favorite, each was introduced decades ago, and each remains in production today. Each product is in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Designers working in the casual furniture field face all the challenges confronting other industrial designers, plus another that carries additional pressures: The furniture trade is fashion driven, creating the need for annual new-product introductions.

Some outdoor furniture designers are well known and widely respected throughout the industry. Examples include Richard Frinier, who in his early career was on the design staff of Brown Jordan, and John Caldwell, who sold his first design (Mai Tai) to Brown Jordan at the age of 19. Both designers went on to establish independent firms and serve a number of furniture manufacturers.

Other furniture designers who generate new products year after year may be less celebrated, but their efforts are just as integral to keeping manufacturers competitive and consumers motivated.

Some independent designers specialize in creating products for one industry. Others, such as Carsten Astheimer, serve clients ranging from ambulance makers to yacht builders to medical equipment to outdoor furniture.

“For me,” Astheimer says, “design is about solving problems. It’s about working with marketing and manufacturing to make a product, at the right price, to do the best job that it can.”

Hearth & Home reached out to a number of casual furniture designers, asking them to share with us a bit about themselves and their work. Here’s what the respondents had to say.

Carsten Astheimer

Firm: ASTHEIMER Years as a casual furniture designer: 20 Nationality: German Studio location: UK Training/education/design school: Art Center, Pasadena, California

Vista by Gloster.

Designers you consider most influential on your career:

“I have always looked up to Franz Von Holzhausen, a good friend of mine who is now Design director of Tesla cars. He has always been pushing boundaries and can draw like Michelangelo.”

Best-selling product designed since 2005:

“Vista Outdoor Furniture for Gloster.”

Favorite product designed since 2005:

“Bella by Gloster.”

Explain why this is your favorite:

“I think it has all of the aspects of design that I like: It’s a piece that has generated strong emotional reactions – mainly positive!

“It’s a highly-crafted piece, showing our design skills and Gloster’s manufacturing capabilities. It’s very coherent and pure.”

Describe your philosophy as a furniture designer. What are the beacons or guideposts that you always keep in mind on any project?

“First understand the target customer, in order to understand the context in which the furniture will be placed. Outdoor furniture should marry with the architecture of the customer’s home.

“Then it is all about creating an emotional connection between customer and product, that element of desire.

“Once the design theme for the product is defined, I set about making the product as coherent and consistent as possible in proportion and detail. I believe that perfection is attained not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

What challenges/rewards attract you to casual furniture design?

“The greatest reward a designer gets is seeing the satisfaction of a user with the product, and with furniture design you get to witness this directly.

“The greatest challenge is that furniture has been designed and redesigned so many times that being innovative and relevant is not easy.”

Philip Beherns

Firm: Natura Design Years as a casual furniture designer: 19 Nationality: U.S. Studio location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina Training/education/design school: B.S. mechanical engineering; journeyman wood worker, Germany; 30 years designing or building furniture

Airo2 by Homecrest.

Designers you consider most influential on your career:

“Hans Wegner and Mies van der Rohe.”

Best-selling product designed since 2005:

“Dansk Lounge Chair by Gloster (not sure about best-selling, but it sure was the most fun).”

Favorite product designed since 2005:

“Airo2 by Homecrest.”

Explain why this is your favorite:

“It’s an all-weather outdoor, full upholstery look that uses no foam or filler. The technology allows large cushion volumes to be created that are always cool and dry to sit on.”

Describe your philosophy as a furniture designer. What are the beacons or guideposts that you always keep in mind on any project?

“Less is more. Honest, natural, with something unexpected. Use materials for what they are, when they are needed, rather than for what you want, when you want. Distill an idea down to its essence and let it express itself.”

What challenges/rewards attract you to casual furniture design?

“The hunt for the new – a new project, a new material, a new way of doing something. To conceive of a concept, develop it and then see it in real life is about as good as it gets.”

Dann Foley

Firm: Dann Inc. Years as a casual furniture designer: 6 Nationality: American Studio location: Palm Springs, California Training/education/design school: Drexel University,
Nesbitt School of Design Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Bel Air Daybed from Dann Foley Lifestyle for Skyline Designs.

Designers you consider most influential on your career:

“I could never list just one influence. Designers of the past would be Billy Baldwin, Sister Parish and set designer for MGM, Edwin B. Willis. Designers of the present would be Thomas Pheasant, Thom Filicia and Michael S. Smith.”

Best-selling product designed since 2005:

“My best selling piece is the ‘Hancock Park’ outdoor wing chair – Dann Foley Lifestyle for Skyline Designs. It’s a chair and a half, it’s big and deep and beautifully detailed. It works fabulously in pairs and groups around a firepit, low table or in a row.”

Favorite product designed since 2005:

“Bel Air Daybed, Dann Foley Lifestyle for Skyline Designs.”

Explain why this is your favorite:

“I have an affinity for daybeds in my interior design and I use them in many different ways, settings and styles. For my outdoor collection I wanted the same scale and luxuriousness in a daybed. The length and depth are such that it can be used as a banquette, sofa or even a lounge. The banding detail on the cushion has everyone buzzing.”

Describe your philosophy as a furniture designer. What are the beacons or guideposts that you always keep in mind on any project?

“I approach furniture and product design the same way I approach any design project. The obvious answer is, with an eye for style and detail. But I begin every design by first looking back. I love taking the best of the past and updating it for today’s lifestyle. I am a firm believer that you can break any rule you want, as long as you first know the rule. History of design, space, art and architecture are paramount to me in my work.”

What challenges/rewards attract you to casual furniture design?

“Living the ‘outdoor lifestyle’ of Southern California has afforded me the opportunity to really experience just how luxurious casual furniture can and should be. I want to create collections that speak to the scale and detailing of indoor furniture for the outdoors. From my perspective, luxury and scale are the ultimate descriptive words for casual furniture design.”

Richard Frinier

Firm: FrinierAtelier. I am an outside consultant who licenses collections and provides consulting services to clients and partners. Years as a casual furniture designer: 30-plus Nationality: American, born in California Studio location: Southern California Training/education/design school: B.A. and M.A. California State University Long Beach

Elements from the Richard Frinier
Collection for Brown Jordan.

Designers you consider most influential on your career:

“Hall Bradley, my mentor who designed for Brown Jordan from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, also Hendrik Van Keppel and Taylor Green of Van Kepple Green – VKG.”

Best-selling product designed since 2005:

“Elements from the Richard Frinier Collection for Brown Jordan.”

Favorite product designed since 2005:

“Quantum Parabolic by Brown Jordan.”

Explain why this is your favorite:  

“Because my Quantum Parabolic design for Brown Jordan is a 30th Anniversary and updated version of my original Quantum design, which was the first design I created after starting my work in this industry with Brown Jordan. The original Quantum has been in continuous production and among Brown Jordan’s top selling designs for the past 30 years.

“It rose to critical acclaim winning awards from the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and a ROSCOE Award from Interior Design magazine, which has evolved in recent years to become known as the Annual Best of Year Awards.

“The framework and comfort of the design (then and now) has always been a favorite of architects and consumers. Also, I was able to incorporate into the new anniversary editions of Quantum Parabolic and Quantum Woven two materials I helped to bring into our casual industry: parabolic fabric to update sling seating surfaces and make them more comfortable, and also woven resin. These materials established two new categories of furniture design.”

Describe your philosophy as a furniture designer. What are the beacons or guideposts that you always keep in mind onany project?

“Understanding the client and their customer and the range of end users. Being mindful of not only what people are looking for, but also that which is missing and filling that void. Capitalizing on the DNA and strengths of a client and working to overcome any technological or material limitations along the way. Designing to contract specifications because casual furnishings are not only for homes and gardens, but indoor/outdoor furniture, textiles and accessories are for resorts, spas, hotels and other contract and hospitality settings around the world.”

What challenges/rewards attract you to casual furniture design?

“I was originally a sculptor and lighting designer when I discovered a picture of a chaise lounge on the cover of The Los Angeles Times magazine. It was an epiphany for me. I was drawn to its sculptural form. The use of materials. Its setting. I pretty much knew right then, this was what I wanted to do with my art and craft.

“It has been a remarkable journey for me to be designing for this industry. I am drawn to the materials, the people and the possibilities. Challenges actually serve to drive some of my creativity, such as the materials we use must be weather resistant and this comes with some inherent limitations.

“As an artist, I enjoy designing indoor/outdoor casual furnishings and textiles, which may in almost all cases, go inside or outside. I view them as functional sculpture that provides a relaxing destination. It is also important to design from every angle, as furniture is usually floated in a space, inside or outside, so not only the front, but the sides and backs of the designs become critically important for them to be authentic where they are placed and enjoyed.”

Mark Tyrie

Employer: Barlow Tyrie Years as a casual furniture designer: 15 Nationality: British Studio location: Braintree, Essex, England Training/education/design school: Art and Design Foundation – Diploma - Braintree College, Essex, England Furniture Design and Craftsmanship – B.A. (Honors) – Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, High Wycombe, England

Chesapeake from Barlow Tyrie.

Designer you consider most influential on your career:

“The work of designer/artist Fred Baier influenced my decision to study furniture over sculpture as his work shows furniture can be sculpture.

“Fred Baier, and his alter ego Captain Veneer, in their single-minded pursuit of making a vision reality, elevate furniture design and craftsmanship to an art form.”

Best-selling product designed since 2005:

“Mercury by Barlow Tyrie.”

Favorite product designed since 2005:

“Chesapeake by Barlow Tyrie.”

Explain why this is your favorite:

“As an all-teak product it’s special, and as a design it works well. The combination of contemporary angles softened with profiles and classical scrolled arms make it feel ‘of the moment,’ contemporary and classical at the same time.”

Describe your philosophy as a furniture designer. What are the beacons or guideposts that you always keep in mind on any project?

“Be open to all forms of influence as inspiration can come from the strangest of places. Listen to criticism, as being very close to a project can be blinding. Creativity is not a pretty process; accept some chaos. Value the materials you work with; they are noble and deserve respect.”   

What challenges/rewards attract you to casual furniture design?

“Working with family is both challenging and rewarding whatever you do, but we are blessed to be working in the casual furniture industry, and I am fortunate that I get to do what I love.”

Paul Rogers

Firm: OW Lee Co. Years as a casual furniture designer: Eight Nationality: American Studio location: Ontario, California Training/education/design school: N/A


Madison Collection from OW Lee.
San Cristobal Collection from OW Lee.

Best-selling product designed since 2005:

“San Cristobal Collection by OW Lee.”

Favorite product designed since 2005:

“Madison Collection by OW Lee.”

Explain why this is your favorite:

“The lines of Madison are simple and elegant. Furthermore, the styling allows it to be used in many different styles of architecture and décor.”

Describe your philosophy as a furniture designer. What are the beacons or guideposts that you always keep in mind on any project?

“Give the customer what they want. Many of my designs begin with what I believe our customer base is looking for. That being said, oftentimes comfort will dictate what a design will ultimately become.”

What challenges/rewards attract you to casual furniture design?

“Contributing to my family’s 65-plus-year-old business has been the most rewarding part of developing my design abilities. I feel like I’m lucky to have a skillset that helps us transition from the third to fourth generation of OW Lee.

“Other than that, I think design of any sort is a valuable mental exercise that keeps one’s mind sharp. Constantly searching for the next best thing in casual furniture occupies a great deal of my time both on and off the clock.”

What Is Good Design?

The Ten Commandments of Dieter Rams

606 Universal Shelving System, 1960.
T 1000, 1963. T 1000 CD, 1968.
SK 61.

Dieter Rams served as chief design officer for the German firm Braun from 1961 until 1995. He was responsible for setting a design standard that created scores of memorable household and electronic products. He also designed furniture for the British firm Vitsœ. The 606 Universal Shelving System, introduced in 1960, remains in production today.

Back in the late 1970s, Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him – “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors and noises.” Aware that he was a significant contributor to that world, he asked himself an important question:

Is my design good design?

As good design cannot be measured in a finite way, he set about expressing the 10 most important principles for what he considered was good design. Sometimes they are referred to as the ‘Ten Commandments.’ Here they are.

Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles for Good Design

  1. Good design is innovative.
    The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Good design makes a product useful.
    A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  3. Good design is asthetic.
    The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Good design makes a product understandable.
    It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Good design is unobtrusive.
    Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  6. Good design is honest.
    It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  7. Good design is long lasting.
    It avoids being fashionable and there-fore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
    Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect toward the user.
  9. Good design is environmentally friendly.
    Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. Good design is little design as possible.
    Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Source: Vitsœ


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