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Design & Designer Series: Richard & Catherine Frinier

Furniture World Magazine


For this installment in Furniture World’s Design and Designer series, we speak with Catherine and Richard Frinier, the award-winning furniture and textile design team who design with an emphasis on resort-at-home and ultra luxe resort environments. Richard, originally a sculptor and lighting designer, holds a Master of Arts degree and has traveled to more than 40 countries across five continents serving as inspiration for his authentic, relevant and memorable designs. In 2002, he launched his own design firm in California along with his wife and partner, Catherine. Today, Richard Frinier’s designs are licensed as exclusive and co-branded designs to lifestyle and legacy brands and manufacturers, including Glen Raven/Sunbrella, Brown Jordan, Century Furniture, Dedon, and others. His body of work encompasses hundreds of collections and thousands of individual product designs across furniture, textiles, lighting and accessories ranging from soft modern and contemporary to transitional, traditional and exotic forms with an unmistakable essence of understated modernity blended with neoclassicism.
Due to the extraordinary passion for and dedication to his work, Richard Frinier has garnered over 90 design excellence and career achievement awards. He is regarded as one of the premier designers of indoor/outdoor furniture and textiles in the world for his design innovation and longstanding commitment to the design trade and home furnishings industries.

Quantum is the first design Richard did for Brown Jordan when he started working for them back in the early 1980s. This was his first ‘outdoor’ furniture design. It is still in the line today and they created this special Anniversary Edition to celebrate over 30 years in production. The image below shows the newer, anniversary edition featuring a unique parabolic fabric in the sling surface which makes the seating extremely comfortable.

Inside or Outside

We asked Richard about, “Inside or outside, you decide”, a saying he’s known for creating. “It’s a phrase,” he said, “meant to give power to furniture consumers to decide where they want to place furniture, as opposed to having a manufacturer or retailer tell them that a particular item can only be used outdoors or indoors.
“Our designs tend to blur the lines between inside and out. To make this idea work, we create performance furniture. Performance furniture doesn’t fade, has finishes that hold up to sun, salt and rain. By creating quality, durable furnishings with a substantive design aesthetic, they may then be used successfully indoors and no longer just for exteriors.”

“We always hear people talk about performance fabrics, but rarely do we hear the industry talk about performance furniture,” adds Catherine.

“Richard has always said,” she observes, “that retailers leave money on the table because they view furniture placed in the outdoor category as a seasonal product. If a product is designed, manufactured and executed so that it can be used indoors as well as out, there’s no reason why it can’t be marketed as such. Furniture made to be placed outdoors can take a lot more abuse, and be enjoyed much more than typical furniture designed for indoor-only use.

“For retailers who do a trade business as well as serving retail consumers who walk through their doors, there’s also an opportunity to change how they display this kind of furniture on showroom floors.

“Today, more interior designers are looking at outdoor furniture and asking, ‘How do I make my client’s outdoor areas, balcony, rooftop, or screened-in room look more eclectic and more curated like the rest of the house? How do we mix this up and still make it look attractive?’

“This idea of mixing it up is a huge opportunity, but retailers really have to think about how to do that, and manufacturers have to think about how they’re going to present this idea to retailers. It’s typical for manufacturers to show retailers a broad range of collections. However, this does not mean that these styles will automatically go together.

“Change needs to start with manufacturers and how they put their showrooms together so retailers can visualize how their collections can be used together to create more interesting spaces. Retailers need to take these ideas, be inspired, and challenge themselves to look at collections differently, then with confidence and relevancy present them to their customers.”

Richard Frinier told Furniture World that he thinks this change can also be initiated by retailers. “With the old model,” He observes, “Outdoor furniture manufacturers knew that new introductions needed to include a table and chairs with matching loveseat, sofa and lounge. Every retailer pretty much had the same shopping list. That worked for a long time, but now at the retail level there is an opportunity for the category to evolve. This might be done by mixing collections to create settings that reflect a lifestyle, and perhaps also blurring the distinction between designs that were previously considered for indoor or outdoor use only.”

But how to do this? Catherine suggests that, “Many retailers already have the in-house talent to do this, but if they don’t, there are other ways. They might consider hiring one or more of their interior design customers to help them set up the floor. The very best retailers make sure that their showrooms don’t look like a warehouse, but others still have a way to go.”

Richard agrees that bringing in an interior designer is an excellent idea, and says that this idea might successfully be expanded by a retailer into a consumer showcase or meet the designer event to bring in customers.

Catherine elaborates, “Consumers could be invited to learn how they can have as much fun with their outdoor furnishings as they do with indoor areas. There’s always a new and fresh way to look at things. And, even if a retailer has its own interior designer staff, on most retail floors there’s still lots of room for exploration to kick store merchandising and display up a notch.”

Design leadership

Switching gears, we asked Richard to comment on design leadership. “To be a design leader today,” he says, “you have to be focused on making a design happen not only for its form and function, materials or price point. You have to make a cultural and emotional connection with the end user. Think Apple. Tesla. Each design has to have its own personality and offer an experience. Too often today, creative vision and process management can intersect in a way that requires shortcuts to save time, costs or both. Designers can lose their way trying to design a way out of a box that has yet to be built – rather than creating something original, authentic and memorable – something that demonstrates design leadership. Design leadership for designers, manufacturers and retailers is most compelling when it involves knowledge, talent, vision, intuition, core skills, passion, ambition, and the desire to make something relevant for not only today, but also tomorrow. It takes creativity, focus, motivation and even bravery to not sell out when talking about true design leadership. Brands in touch with their design leadership are really on a journey toward building their brand’s legacy. When you think about design in these terms, you start thinking differently in a good way. You start looking at what’s missing, and become a steward to help take a brand to where you want it to be – not just for the next furniture market, but for the next five, 10, 20 years and beyond.

What do consumers want?

“Consumers,” he notes, “are very design conscious due to social media and have a strong desire for design that is functional and relevant to their lives. They also like to follow and buy brands that demonstrate a clear and authentic sense of community locally, regionally and globally.

Design Trends

Commenting on trends, Richard says, “Once a designer recognizes a trend, it’s too late. They need to be a step and a half ahead, otherwise by the time their next new product is launched 18 months later, it will be passé!

Adds Catherine, “Retailers can not afford to be in a safe zone with regard to trends. Instead, they need to be in a zone with where they convey relevancy.”
It’s obvious to anyone who has been in the industry for more than a few years that furniture styles that were the mainstay of furniture stores 20 or 40 years ago are no longer present at retail.

“It’s true,” says Richard, “that some of the reverence for truly authentic architectural styles has evaporated. This is due in part to the intentional crossovers in styling and mixed-use materials created by manufacturers wishing to appeal to the broadest of audiences possible. Modern is becoming more important, capturing a larger portion of the market. Today, furniture design is closely linked to not only fashion but also lifestyle and socioeconomic trends. When you look at trends in general, it is easy to see what may be interpreted to become part of the design lexicon, whether form, function, texture or color.” Some of the general trends he mentions are:
  • Expansion to the resort-at-home lifestyle
  • Interiors moving outside, and exteriors coming inside
  • Vertical living
  • Smart technology. Social responsibility
  • Home businesses/offices
  • Sustainable design.
  • Green living.
  • Vegan and organic foods for home gardens.
  • Care and personal products and services for quality at-home living for aging sector of the population.
  • Natural and alternative approaches for wellness and healing.
  • Balanced living.
  • Community.
  • Charity.
“The population is growing, so it is especially important that the home furnishings industry attends to trends in vertical living that will become more the norm. Smaller living spaces will continue to trend, and especially small vertical living spaces that will require manufacturers to think about the products they bring to market for this growing sector of the marketplace.”

Opportunities for design collaboration

“The best design collaboration partnerships are rooted in manufacturers who are true to their DNA yet remain open to what’s next,” Richard explains. “Those with a great reputation for well designed and executed product, plus superior sales and customer service, who work with the best designers possible, are those who will have the greatest rates of success. When a manufacturer and a designer successfully work together, everyone else involved also succeeds – designers, manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, interior designers, architects and the end users. The most important benefit of a good design collaboration is that the customers will receive the very best designs, created by the very best manufacturers, offered through some of the finest distributors, furniture stores and retailers. Getting the design right is about the customer. Manufacturers and designers must take care to not lose sight of this along the way. Additionally, to get the design right, manufacturers need to be willing to take the design far enough along in the development process to ensure superior execution, so that products will meet or exceed customer expectations. When a design is refined to the point that its personality comes through, that is the point when customers will make an emotional connection with it. The end product will always be more resolved, elevated and successful when the design is not rushed to get it to market. Some designs can be created on a short product development schedule while others will take longer to create something truly authentic, relevant and memorable.”

How did you become a furniture designer?

Asked about how he got into the design business, Frinier recalled, “I started my design career as a freelance artist and designer working in the mediums of wood, lighting, pottery, sculpture, and jewelry, making one-of-a-kind and commissioned art pieces. I also earned a Master of Arts Degree and taught advanced furniture manufacturing and crafts at the college level for many years. This teaching experience deepened my passion and understanding of people, materials and challenges, while gaining experience in the design process from concept, research and development to manufacturing and production.

“During my college years, I took two trips to Europe. On one of these sojourns, I drove a vintage Triumph motorcycle from London to Marrakesh and back again. It was an experience of a lifetime. All of the diverse influences across so many regions and cultures remain with me, and may be seen across my body of work today. While working on my Master’s degree here in the States, I became friends with a fellow student who also managed a furniture factory. Rather unexpectedly, he challenged me to come up with what I would like to see in a bedroom collection. After some thought, I developed some ideas. One of the designs caught his eye and we quickly found ourselves making it happen. Over the next five years of production, this case goods collection sold 9,000 sets, which peaked my interest in the direction of furniture design.

“Though I started my furniture design career with case goods for interiors, in the early 1980s, I discovered a picture of a chaise lounge on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Magazine. It was a design by Brown Jordan, where I ended up going to work as an entry level designer and then stayed with the Company for over 20 years becoming Chief Creative Officer and lead designer overseeing all product design, brand creative, marketing, advertising, and public relations for Brown Jordan and its sister companies at that time. In 2002, I formed my own design consultancy based in California, where I design and license co-branded and exclusive collections to a select and international clientele for interiors and exteriors across residential, contract and hospitality segments. Over the years, I have been fortunate to design thousands of individual pieces across hundreds of collections with multiple designs still in production and selling after 20, and in some cases, over 30 years since they were originally launched.

“Over the course of my career, I have approached design as an art historian, always looking for what came before and what is missing, including indigenous cultures that had not yet been influenced by international style.”

Design presentation

“Our industry is constantly evolving and getting better,”says Richard, “yet there is always room for improvement, innovation and for a desire to evolve and elevate. I highly recommend that more home furnishings retailers and manufacturers attend international markets, such as the Milan Furniture Fair and Maison et Objet in Paris to see how designs are presented at these events. Once there, they should also take time to visit retail showrooms.” Catherine Frinier adds, “I agree with Richard that more retailers should visit international home furnishings shows. For example, Maison&Objet is a wonderful place for display inspiration. It’s just spectacular. They can take a 4-by-6-foot exhibition space and turn it into something that’s just absolutely magical. From a merchandising point of view, that is a great show and Paris is a great city.”

In addition, Catherine and Richard suggest that Furniture World readers Subscribe to and view online the digital versions of the many international trade and consumer magazines to see an often unique and artistic approach to visual merchandising, display and advertising. Says Richard, “There is still a difference between Europe and North America in these areas, and as these differences begin to crossover and disappear, we will see a much more refined and uniquely creative approach in the future. I will say that there are many manufacturers, furniture stores and retailers who do an amazing job and I am fortunate to work with some of them, but they are the few not the many, and I applaud them.”

Advice to retailers - 2016

“The most successful retailers I know,” concludes Richard Frinier, “work tirelessly to identify, invite, welcome, inspire, cultivate and nurture a strong base and following of loyal customers who spread the gospel about their stores to their families, friends and colleagues. Most successful retailers that I know have:
  • Beautiful stores in prime locations.
  • Well trained and accomplished sales staff and superior customer service.
  • Excellent product selection, services and in-store programs and events. 
  • Well designed and functional web sites. 
  • Informative and interesting blogs and/or newsletters. 
  • Social media pages which inspire and inform.
  • Creative events for the design trade including Continuing Education Unit-authorized presentations for designers.
  • A strong sense of community and charity. 

Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at editor@furninfo.com.

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