Richard Schultz, designer who made the outdoors modern, dies at 95


Richard Schultz, the ingenious industrial designer whose furniture collections for Knoll, the design lab that streamlined American interiors, are among the classics of modern design, died Sept. 28 in Princeton, New Jersey. He was 95 years old.

He was in poor health, his son Peter said.

Rust was the catalyst for Schultz’s most enduring design: a sleek, clean-lined outdoor chair made of plastic mesh, aluminum tubing and a set of wheels.

Florence Knoll, Schultz’s boss, had taken a few metal chairs from sculptor and designer Harry Bertoia to his seaside home in Florida, and they had rusted. (Bertoia chairs are another Modernist classic, made by Knoll, which Schultz had helped form.) She asked Schultz to make something that could withstand the elements.

At that time, in the early 1960s, as Schultz wrote in “Form Follows Technique: A Design Manifesto” (2019), most outdoor furniture looked like it had been designed before the French Revolution, “with stamped metal, bouquets of flowers and leaves. It was period furniture.”

Schultz set to work creating exterior pieces without extraneous curves.

The lounge chair from the Leisure collection – as it was called and a name that made its designer wince – was an instant hit when it hit the market in 1966. The Museum of Modern Art acquired its stylish prototype for its permanent collection. More than five decades later, it’s still in production.

Writing in The New York Times in 1999, William Hamilton said he was “always as sharp to see and to sit as a summer suit.”

An older, more whimsical outdoor piece, the Schultz Petal Table, was inspired by Queen Anne’s lace, with separate teak “petals” growing from individual metal rods that come together at the base. . The smart design allows the petals to expand and contract with the elements. It too was quickly acquired by MoMA.

These two museum pieces, “the table, with its large petals, and the chair, with its drive wheels,” wrote Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at MoMA, in an email, ” Always struck me like two characters from a silhouetted 1960s cartoon, materialized in real life by an equally accurate and upbeat maker. For an Italian design enthusiast, this was “America” ​​at its best. “

By the early 1990s, Schultz had been on his own for decades, selling his designs to various furniture companies, including Knoll, when he began working with cardboard and then sheet metal, punching holes in the material to simulate the Speckled shadow of sunlight piercing through leaves and cutting the pieces into simple shapes to make chairs and sofas for a collection he called Topiary.

“I wanted to design a chair that looked like a shrub cut to look like a chair,” Schultz said. “I am fascinated by the way the sunlight passes through the leaves of the shrubs. This piece of furniture acts as a filter of light, disappearing into nature. Sometimes the pattern looks like flowers. Covered in dew. It looks alive.”

However, the major manufacturers of outdoor furniture found this work too strange to buy, said Peter Schultz, so he encouraged his father to do it himself. He did it, with the help of Peter, an architect. Knoll had abandoned the Leisure collection in the 1980s, and father and son were producing it as well. The company gave Schultz the license and the molds it was made from, and he quickly renamed it the 1966 Collection. In 2012, Knoll purchased the collection.

Moses Richard Schultz was born September 22, 1926 in Lafayette, Indiana. Her father, Bernard, owned a chain of local clothing stores; his mother, Mary (Howard) Schultz, was a housewife. As a child, Richard made steam engines in the family basement, and his mother thought he should be an engineer. As it turned out, math wasn’t his strongest subject, so he dropped out of Iowa State University and enlisted in the Navy, where he worked as a radio operator.

After his military service, he entered the Institute of Design in Chicago, a school of industrial design founded by a former professor of the Bauhaus, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, in other words the new American Bauhaus, that is to say dedicated to promoting good design in everyday objects.

After graduating in 1950, he spent the summer drawing in Europe. He showed up at Knoll’s New York office, walk-in, and was hired locally by Florence Knoll based on his sketches.

His future wife, Trudy Busch, worked in the planning department, and they got married in 1953. As his son Peter recalled, Schultz wasn’t much of an office guy, so Knoll sent him to Pennsylvania, where the Knoll factory was, to work with Bertoia.

Schultz marveled at Bertoia’s process of designing from the materials he worked with, rather than making a sketch or a model. To create what would become the Diamond Chair, Bertoia fashioned a rough platform to sit on, then carved wireframe shapes around it, refining as he went. It was Schultz’s job to help him operate the chair. (They used the rubber shock absorber gaskets found in car engines, for example, to anchor the seat to the chair frame.)

“” Form follows technique” is more of a guiding idea than “form follows function, “” Schulz wrote in his book, noting the Bauhaus principle. “If comfort is a given, then what controls form is the choice of materials and technique.


In 1972, Knoll laid off its designers; it was much cheaper, the company realized, paying royalties instead of salaries. Schultz bought tools with his severance package and opened a design studio on his property, 49 acres of farmland in Bally, Pennsylvania.

There, his family lived on a farm outfitted with Schultz’s prototypes, reused bits and pieces from Knoll’s development studio, and furniture he made himself. Shades were made from accordion-folded drawing paper or Japanese rice paper lanterns.

Money was tight and Trudy Schultz went to work as a waiter at a local restaurant. The Schultzes couldn’t afford new tires, so the family car, a Morris Minor, was prone to punctures. “There was a time when I wished I had an ordinary father who was an executive and drove a Cadillac,” said Peter, Schultz’s son.

In 1978, family fortunes improved when Schultz designed an upholstered office chair called Paradigm, which was bought by a Michigan furniture company.

In addition to his son Peter, Schultz is survived by two other sons, Steven and David, and four grandchildren. Trudy Schultz died in 2016. Their daughter, Monica Fadding, died in 2006.

Schultz has often said that he and his colleagues at Knoll don’t design to meet the demands of a market. They did what interested them, and they had a boss who encouraged their explorations. “Good design is good business,” Florence Knoll told them.

“There was no market for such designs,” Schultz wrote in his design manifesto. “There was no style that architects and designers tried to fit into. But, in modern times at least, there was something in the air: a zeitgeist that existed and could be felt. by those who were working at the time. There was great optimism. We lived in the present and we invented it as we went. “

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