In 1981, Frinier went to work for Brown Jordan. Designer emeritus Hall Bradley, known for his skill with rattan and metal, returned to mentor the new hire and pass the Brown Jordan baton. Says Frinier: "He taught me to stay true to the brand but to challenge the status quo, to carry the torch but show leadership."
As a link between the company's past and its future, Frinier introduced his first line, Quantum, in 1982. Influenced by Schultz's 1966 collection for Knoll, Frinier designed the armchair ($415) as one sleek frame of flat extruded-aluminum tubing but with three seat options--straps, mesh or cushions. Quantum went on to become a contemporary classic and, like several of his older designs, the 13-piece collection remains in the company catalog.
"Hopefully," Frinier says, "it will find its way into a museum someday."
Early on, Frinier's interest in photography prompted him to take charge of Brown Jordan's advertising and marketing campaigns. Working with graphic designers like Jane Kobayashi of 5D Studio in Malibu, he not only designed the furniture but shaped the way it was promoted to the public. The result was beautiful locations and slick brochures.
"Richard allowed us to reinvent the Brown Jordan look every year with each new line instead of sticking with the brand identity," Kobayashi says. "He was very good at pushing people further." Frinier had a keen sense of timing as well. In 1986, when everyone else was churning out contemporary pieces, he broke from the pack with the wrought-iron Florentine and Venetian collections. They marked a return to the use of a material Brown Jordan had abandoned in the 1950s.
Rampant construction of Mediterranean-style housing across the Southland sent Frinier searching for inspiration in the details of historic European buildings. "I knew people were going to need to furnish all those places," he says, "and it would be good for me to design something to complement that architecture." Frinier, who furnished his own patio with Venetian, later phased out the wrought iron and offered both designs in aluminum with textured and antiqued finishes to simulate Old World ironwork.
In other cases, Frinier adapted his designs to available production facilities, as he did with the Mission line in 1989. To capitalize on an Indonesian factory already making ready-to-assemble indoor furniture for Europe, he conceived a line of outdoor furniture that could be built of local teak and shipped back to America for assembly here.
By the early 1990s, Frinier was experimenting with a new weather-resistant extruded-resin cord that could be handled like wicker. He first saw the material, now known as Hularo, at a trade show in Europe, but it was woven on a less-durable rattan frame. Frinier improved on the concept by making an aluminum frame, then wrapped it in the cord in three different ways to produce three distinct lines of woven furniture. One of them, Eastlake, is still sold today.
Last year, Frinier ventured out in yet another new direction--stainless steel. An homage to the mid-20th century aesthetic of architects like Mies van der Rohe and Eileen Gray, the Vu and Nxt collections gave him a chance to work with a luxe material that hadn't been applied to outdoor furniture. Bold as they are, however, these lines--particularly the Nxt armchair ($1,670)--remain consistent with the Brown Jordan look.
"Richard's designs were always leading-edge and trendsetting. Without a doubt, he won more Design Excellence Awards than any other single designer," says Joseph P. Logan, executive director of the Summer & Casual Furniture Manufacturers Assn., which hands out the equivalent of the Oscars for the outdoor-furniture trade.
Even today, Frinier insists there are still frontiers to be explored. Textured fabrics such as sateens and chenilles are one area. Special-effect paints that, like pearlescent automotive paints, change color depending on the light are another.
But he'll have to be content with Brown Jordan's next lineup. Due out in spring 2003, it's his last and most prolific--six collections in all. Right now, Frinier, a workaholic once noted for working weekends and holidays, has slowed down to consider life after Brown Jordan.
"Who knows?" he says. "Thirty years later, maybe I'll design that line of lighting after all."