Mike Farrell takes an interesting route to the casual industry
Michael J. Knell -- Casual Living, August 1, 2007
Michael Farrell has come a long way from his first design at the age of 16 — a single-person's dining table he called a "Go Table," designed to help prevent messes when eating fast food in a car.
While growing up, Farrell's life often centered around cars — he drew them and wanted to design them when he was older. But sometimes life has a funny way of pointing you in a different direction. Little did Farrell know that he would find himself in the casual industry developing furniture for some of the biggest names in outdoor furniture.
"I took a random route to where I am now," Farrell said.
After earning "a lot of degrees in a lot of different things," from a bachelor's degree in art history at UCLA to a master's in European politics at the University of Leuven in Belgium, Farrell turned his attention to architecture at the Beaux-Arts Institute, earning an honors degree in interior architecture.
Brown Jordan, Strata collection.
Farrell's first experience with the casual industry came upon his return to California in 1998 when he was hired by Compex, an outdoor furniture manufacturer that serves mass merchants like Kmart and Sears.
"I realized pretty soon that it was not where I wanted to be in terms of my career and in terms of the level of furniture," he said.
Farrell didn't come away from the experience empty-handed. He met his wife Jane during his first business trip to Taiwan, and also met Richard Frinier, a conversation that led to Farrell's job with Brown Jordan.
"That was the best day of my life," he said.
During Farrell's seven years with BJI, he developed many collections, two of which are his favorite designs, that is, "those that have come closest to the original without too many compromises" — the Strata and Aria collections.
"I was lucky enough to work with (Richard Frinier) for several years," Farrell said. "He does very elegant work and I think they'll stand the test of time, something I hope I can accomplish."
Since January, Farrell has worked with Agio as a senior staff designer. His first collection for Agio will debut during next month's Casual Show, the cast aluminum Milan Collection, featuring a more contemporary and transitional style highlighted by the company's patent-pending suspension cushion system.
Of all the materials he has worked with, Farrell enjoys wood and woven materials the most.
"Teak wood is such a beautiful material," he said. "It's sad to say there are some environmental concerns, and it's your responsibility not to waste it, to be sure it comes from good sources. In the future, the more eco-friendly companies will probably not be working with that medium."
Farrell's inspiration comes from his extensive travels — from Indonesia and China to Italy and Prague — and also when he completely disengages from work.
"Sometimes I need to get away," he said. "But I have to see beauty around me in order to be inspired."
Also intrigued by future technology, Farrell is a frequent watcher of the Discovery Channel, keeping abreast of new materials and technology that may be utilized in the industry.
"We're coming into a new era of design in the (casual) industry," he said. "Many designers are focusing on the outdoor market, many interior manufacturers are creating products for the outdoors. There are a lot of big things happening right now. There's a lot of pressure to innovate."
When asked what advice he would give to younger designer getting into the industry, he referred back to his mentor.
"Frinier used to tell me, 'Be like bamboo.' Change is good," Farrell said.