Richard Frinier | Designing the Outdoors

Richard Frinier is one of the best known designers of luxury outdoor furniture working today. The recipient of more than 70 awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Casual Furnishings Association, he has set the standard for innovation and discriminating style in outdoor living. His designs grace private homes and luxury resorts and hotels throughout the world as well as royal palaces and even the Vatican. I discovered Frinier when there was a flurry of press this year announcing a new collection. As I started to research his career, I was astonished by his overwhelming creative output.

Designer, Richard Frinier

Frinier started his professional career with Brown Jordan where he spent 20 years, graduating from a staff designer to Chief Creative Officer and lead designer. His very first design for Brown Jordan in 1982, the Quantum, below, named for his quantum leap into the casual furniture industry, is still a classic 28 years later. It received the IDSA (Industrial Designers Society of America) Design Excellence Award, the ASID (American Society of Interior Deisgners) Design Excellence Award and a ROSCOE Commendation (Resources Council) Recognition. Nice start!

photo courtesy brown jordan

As a young man, Frinier spent much of his time traveling, often on motorcycle, and credits these journeys with influencing his work to this day. Most industry experts credit Frinier with elevating the once stodgy outdoor furniture industry and infusing it with a vitality and freshness that he says is in large part inspired by his travels. Take for example his Daydream daybed that he designed for Dedon. He describes it thus. “It was sort of an Arabian fantasy with the contour of the bed designed as if it were a carpet floating on air.” The Robb Report magazine named this one of the best designs at large over the past 30 years.

Not only is Frinier’s work prolific but his range is incredible. From the classic Florentine chair he designed for Brown Jordan in 1987

photo courtesy of brown jordan

or these traditional designs from the Richard Frinier Collection for Century Furniture: the Andalusia Royal Canopy Chaise Lounges

photo courtesy: century furniture

and the Kyoto Collection

Photo courtesy: Century Furniture

to the iconic Fusion collection for Brown Jordan in 1999. (The Fusion is completely handwoven using a clean polyethylene weaving fiber called resinweave. The collection remains in the Brown Jordan line today and is one of the company’s most popular and best selling designs.)

photo courtesy of brown jordan

to the Nxt and Vu pieces, designed in 2000 as a reference to bringing “a view of what’s next” for the new Millineum to the outdoor furniture industry. (Nxt won a design excellence award from the International Casual Furnishings Association for best use of materials and was also featured in a unique art exhibit at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State called “Mood River: An International Exhibition examining the impact of design on contemporary life).

Nxt chair. photo courtesty of brown jordan
vu chair. photo courtesy of brown jordan

to the futuristic Orbit for Dedon, with its retractable canopy, his work is clean, elegant and architectonic.

Since 2002, Frinier, and his wife and partner Catherine, have headed their own international design consultancy where they license partnerships with brands such as Sunbrella fabrics, Brown Jordan, Century Furniture, Dedon and Currey & Company.

As I mentioned, I learned about Frinier when he made industry news earlier this year by announcing a renewed collaboration with Brown Jordan. The Richard Frinier Collection for Brown Jordan, presented recently at Maison et Objet in Paris, encompasses three distinct lines – the Still Collection below (shown with and without cushions)

still collection, photo courtesy of brown jordan
photo courtesy of brown jordan

the Drift Collection

and Cloud Nine

photo courtesy of brown jordan

Richard was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding his remarkable career and upcoming collection.

Q: I know you are frequently inspired by your travels and other cultures. What in particular was the inspiration for the new collection?

RF: The inspiration for my newcollection with Brown Jordan was travel-inspired, but it was about traveling inward not outward. In circling back to work with Brown Jordan, I thought about how much has changed in the world and how fast change is happening. So, I asked myself, “What would happen if you had the time to slow down and be still . . . and allowed your mind to drift . . . wouldn’t that feel like you were on cloud nine?”  This was the inspiration for my new designs with Brown Jordan called, Still, Driftand Cloud Nine. The color palettes are calming, too, with frame finishes named Pure (off-white), Shade (soft gray) and Breeze (a subtle blue-green).

Q: Do you think your work has changed over the years, and if so, how?

RF: Yes, most definitely. While I believe my work is evolutionary, I can look back and see the various periods of my work. For example, when I first began designing for Brown Jordan my designs were contemporary for their day.  From the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s I turned to the classics, my “renaissance period.”  At the end of the Millennium, my interest was focused on,  “What’s next and modern?” For the past eight years my collections for other companies have ranged from classical and travel-inspired to modern and material-inspired.  And, now, for my encore collaboration at Brown Jordan, I am picking up where I left off and once again exploring what’s next.

Q: How have developments in technology and the advent of new materials affected your work?

RF: I am inspired by old and new materials and how to use them in new ways. Even though I am a member of The Material Connexion, a library of advanced and innovative materials and processes, in the end there are only a handful of materials that work in the extreme conditions of being left “outside.”  And, while there are huge advancements in technology, the furniture industry remains an arts and craft business.  Whether it’s wood, metal, or fiber, it’s still primarily hand made.

Q: What is your most important consideration when designing a new collection?

RF: While I like to think of myself as an artist, my career is design.  The important difference is that my work has to appeal to a lot of people. It has to be durable, weather resistant, comfortable, and it has to make an emotional connection that says, “Take me home with you.”

Q: After so many collections (and awards), how do you continue to challenge yourself professionally?

RF: This is my life and my passion, but it doesn’t come so easily. I have to work at it. The details are incredibly interesting and important to me. The desire to get it right and have my design make an emotional connection with people is what challenges me and inspires my work.

I’d like to thank both Richard and Catherine Frinier for their invaluable assistance on this piece. Not only were they both accommodating and helpful but warm and gracious as well. I salute Richard as a legend in his industry and wish them the best of luck with their beautiful new collection,

10 thoughts on “Richard Frinier | Designing the Outdoors

  1. Richard is one of the best ever–superbly talented, prodigiously hard working, and nice to boot. what a rare combination! I’m so glad to have had a chance to catch up with his work, and with Catherine too. Thanks so much! and where were you when I was at House & Garden! This is great! (PS Loved Mark Cross too, it was the epitome of chic when I was in college….I still can’t understand how it went out of business when others, of far less style, are still here….) d

    • Dominique – Thank you! And can’t tell you how lovely richard and catherine were to work with. You and I must be the same age because I used to love stopping by mark cross when I was in the city on college vacation.

  2. We have the Brown Jordan woven pieces, I had no idea who designed them. They have held up extremely well in the hot Texas sun & are extremely comfortable & easy to maintain. Thanks for this, Q.


    • splenderosa – Richard’s designs are classic and comfortable – you’ll probably have them for a long time!

  3. Thank you so much for this lovely story and for the wonderful comments. It is our pleasure and privilege to be the subject of one of your many distinguished scribes! All best, Catherine and Richard

  4. Richard Frinier is a genius! His designs are all hand-made and some of the most beautiful works of art to grace the outdoor furniture space. I absolutely loved seeing this. Wishing Catherine and Richard all the best.

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