Richard Schultz, the ingenious industrial designer whose furniture collections for Knoll, the design lab that streamlined American interiors, is one of the classics of modern design, who died Sept. 28 in Princeton, NJ. He was 95 years old.
He was in poor health, his son Peter said.
Rust was the catalyst for Mr. Schultz’s most enduring design: a sleek, clean-lined outdoor chair crafted from plastic mesh, aluminum tubing, and a pair of wheels.
Florence Knoll, Mr 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 Mr. Schultz had helped form.) She asked Mr. Schultz to make something that could withstand the elements.
At that time, in the early 1960s, as Mr. Schultz wrote in “Form Follows Technique: A Design Manifesto” (2019), most outdoor furniture looked like it had been designed before the Revolution. French, “with stamped metal, bouquets of flowers and leaves. It was period furniture.
Mr. Schultz set to work creating exterior pieces without extraneous curves.
The lounge chair from the Leisure collection, as it was called – 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 L. Hamilton said he was “always as sharp to see and sit as a summer suit.”
An older, more whimsical outdoor piece, Mr. Schultz’s 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 driving wheels,” wrote Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at MoMA, in an email, ” Always struck me like two figures of a silhouetted silhouette. Comic book from the 1960s, 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, Mr. Schultz had been on his own for decades, selling his designs to various furniture companies, including Knoll, when he started working with cardboard and then sheet metal, drilling holes in the material to simulate the dappled shade of sunlight. piercing leaves and cutting 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,” Mr. 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 in nature. Sometimes the pattern looks like flowers. Covered with dew, it seems 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 also produced it. The company gave Mr. 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 married in 1953. As her son Peter remembers, Mr. Schultz was not much of an office guy, and so Ms. Knoll has it. sent to Pennsylvania. , where the Knoll factory was located, to work with Harry Bertoia.
Mr. Schultz marveled at Mr. Bertoia’s process of designing from the materials he was working with, rather than making a sketch or a model. To create what would become the Diamond Chair, Mr. Bertoia fashioned a rough platform to sit on, then carved wire shapes around it, refining as it went. It was Mr. 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 central idea than ‘form follows function’,” wrote Schulz, 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. Mr. Schultz purchased 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 Mr. Schultz’s prototypes, reused pieces and parts 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 Ms Schultz went to work as a waitress 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 would have liked to have an ordinary father who was an executive and drove a Cadillac,” said Peter Schultz.
In 1978, family fortunes increased when Mr. Schultz designed an upholstered office chair called Paradigm and it was bought out by a Michigan furniture company.
In addition to his son Peter, Mr. Schultz is survived by two other sons, Steven and David, and four grandchildren. Ms Schultz died in 2016. Their daughter, Monica Fadding, died in 2006.
Mr. Schultz has often said that he and his colleagues at Knoll do not 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,” Ms. Knoll told them.
“There was no market for such designs,” Schultz wrote in his design manifesto. “There was no style that architects and designers were trying 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 working at the time. There was great optimism. We lived in the present and we invented it as we went along.