Richard Schultz is a furniture designer known for his influence on outdoor furniture from the 1950s to today. Through both Knoll and his own brand, Richard Schultz Designs, Richard created some of the most impactful outdoor furniture pieces of both the modern and postmodern design periods. Richard was trained in both mechanical engineering and design at Iowa State University and later the Illinois Institute of Technology (where Mies Van Der Rohe was so influential). After school, Schultz joined Knoll in 1951 to work under Harry Bertoia and assist in developing the wire collection. After gaining experience at the Knoll company, he was given the opportunity to design pieces of his own, often working closely with Florence Knoll or "Shu" as she was known. We had the chance to discuss this topic with Richard's son Peter and saw early sketches of Richard's with annotations and critiques written on them by Florence. By 1960, the outdoor Petal Table was introduced, which used a cast aluminum base in tandem with weather-resilient redwood petals on the top. By the mid 1960s, Florence Knoll had moved to Florida and was not pleased with how rusty steel outdoor furniture would become in that climate. Richard responded with the 1966 Collection. This series, Schultz's most iconic, is constructed from sculptural cast aluminum components, which are powder coated for further resilience to the elements. The seating pieces use a pressure fitted connection to attach slings, which use a synthetic mesh and outdoor belting leather-like material, reinforced with a metal bar for strength. The tables use porcelain-coated steel top with a vibrant array of colors often used.
By 1972, Richard Schultz left Knoll and was able to eventually negotiate taking the rights of his designs with him. By 1992, Richard Schultz Designs (his independent brand run alongside his son Peter) had reintroduced the 1966 collection after undergoing further development. Between 1992 and the 2012, Richard Schultz Designs prototyped and developed a number of novel outdoor pieces, including the 2002 Collection and Topiary series (1997). What remained consistent in the designs was an unrelenting attention to how the pieces were engineered and and the brave experimental nature with metal fabrication techniques that are not typically seen in furniture design. Richard's engineering background and Peter's experience as an architect are certainly reflected in the Richard Schultz Designs pieces.
We have had the opportunity to work with and restore countless pieces of Furniture by Richard Schultz, including numerous variants of the 1966 Collection, petal tables, and over three dozen prototypes, which were acquired directly from Peter Schultz. In collecting works by Richard Schultz, buyers should be aware of the longevity of some parts versus others. The cast aluminum frames are generally resilient, though the finish tends to flake off over the years. The finishes can be easily stripped and re-coated for decades of use again. Slings and redwood tops, however, depend on age and condition. Early redwood tops can often split and oxidize if used heavily outdoors. If the petals are intact, they can be sanded and refinished, sometimes requiring additional adhesive if splitting has begun. With the mesh slings, these are the most difficult to salvage. If there are holes or tears, the slings will likely need to be re-done and they are quite costly. Feel free to reach out to us if you need guidance on restoring pieces like this. The last topic to note is that pieces from the 1966 Collection by Knoll and later pieces produced by Richard Schultz Designs have slightly different seat and table heights, with later pieces being slightly taller. Mesh connections also vary slightly for some of the armchairs. Keep this in mind if acquiring multiple pieces for a set.