Richard Schultz has been in the vanguard of outdoor furniture-makers for decades, with innovative and enduring designs often inspired by nature. Best known for his award-winning 1966 Collection of chaise lounges, chairs and tables for Florence Knoll's interior design and manufacturing house, Schultz pioneered the way people live outdoors.
At 82, he continues to produce new products, as well as his iconic 1966 Collection, under the guise of Richard Schultz Design Inc. (richardschultz.com). Schultz founded the Pennsylvania-based company in 1992 with Peter Schultz, the eldest of his four children.We spoke by phone recently with the 50-year-old architect during his two-hour commute from the company's factory to his apartment in New York.
"Many people look at [the colors of the Wing collection] and go, 'Wow! Those are bright colors to use outside.' Well, those colors came from nature. Those aren't colors we invented. For instance, the green came from an apple off a tree by the house."
At what point did you decide to start a company with your father?
I've always enjoyed looking at furniture with my father. I remember he'd do sketches and then as quickly as he could, he'd turn a sketch into a quarter-scale model made out of whatever materials were available and then photograph it against a background. If you didn't have any reference, you couldn't tell that it was a scale model.
At one point, we were discussing his models of Topiary furniture. I thought we should work on a full-size mockup, which we did, and then we showed it to a number of furniture companies that made outdoor furniture. They had no idea what to make of this strange piece of furniture full of holes. It looked like a sieve.
So, I said to my father, "This is it."
Was the focus on outdoor furniture from the get go?
Yes, and I think it's very appropriate we work on outdoor furniture because I grew up in a house out in the country, far from everything. The closest neighbor lived within a mile or so of the house, and there were a lot of nice lawns and layers of trees in between. My parents would sit in the yard in the evening and have cocktails, and we always had furniture in the garden.
What was it like growing up around great design?
It was a wonderful, creative environment. My father had a shop next to the house. I'd always go in there, too. We always had projects going. But in addition to that, there were all my parents' furniture-designer friends who came around, like Harry Bertoia, who lived around the corner.
Didn't your father get his start with Harry Bertoia at Knoll?
Harry was working in L.A. with (designers Charles and Ray) Eames when Florence Knoll convinced him to move east and work with her on developing some new products. So, my father's first job at Knoll was to work with Harry. For my father, who was right out of school, that was an impressive thing to do because the process was so innovative. They had no pre-conception of what the new line might look like. Harry just took his welding torch and some wire and started bending it, and he wound up making these pieces that are really quite beautiful and now considered classic. At the time it was quite revolutionary.
Your father is also known for being innovative.
My father has always been able to find an innovative aspect to all of his work. That heralds our design philosophy, which is not to repeat what somebody else has done and tweak it a little bit, but to try to do something that in its effort is innovative and new.
My father in his '66 Collection designed a chair, which was really one of the first on the market with fabric stretched tightly across it as a sling. In addition, he exploited a technique using casting and extrusion-respectively, solid and hollow aluminum sections- attached together. So, if you look at all the '66 furniture, all the horizontals-which look very wide, like the edge of the table and the edge of the chaise-those are all extrusions.
The castings are the legs, so it looks like he's drawn something with an italic pen.
Years later, what allowed us to make the Topiary product was the advent of a computer- controlled punch press. The newest chair, which we call Wing, is done using a water jet to cut the metal.
Wing is such a bright, colorful collection.
It's interesting because many people look at those colors and go, "Wow! Those are bright colors to use outside." Well, those colors came from nature. Those aren't colors we invented. For instance, the green came from an apple off a tree by the house.
Are you at work on anything new?
Based on the armless dining chair, we're doing an armless bar-height chair and also an armless counter-height chair. We found that a lot of people want to sit at tables that are higher than normal because perhaps they can see over the railing, or it's easier to get in and out of chairs.
One of the problems is that my father keeps making more and more designs. We can't make the furniture as quickly as he comes up with ideas. So, everyday we get a little more behind because it takes a lot of time to work through all the processes and figure out how to make the furniture.
At least you're not short on ideas.
It's true that for us we'll never run out of ideas. We'll run out of money or time first.