Michael J. Knell -- Casual Living, August 1, 2008
|Taking indoor looks outside|
Known in the home furnishings industry for his avant-garde designs, Pride Sasser now has taken his eclectic indoor styles outside.
“For us, the outdoors is just a natural extension,” Sasser said.
He listed areas of the world where people are enjoying outdoor living areas, including the United States, Europe, Middle East, South and Central America. “Five years ago, it was the outdoor kitchen. Now it has metamorphosed into all kinds of things to do outside. Our customers don’t just live inside, and they were saying why don’t you produce something that has this styling or feeling or your unique look for us to put outdoors?”
Retail buyers saw the first of his indoor/outdoor products at the High Point Market in April. At earlier markets, dealers had to be invited inside his showroom. This product expansion forced him to show outdoor product in the hallway, where it attracted interest from casual furniture retailers and furniture dealers who saw potential in adding his designs.
“It was fantastic because basically every high-end player who has an outdoor division in their retail stores has ordered it,” Sasser said. “We’re looking at shipping in early fall for the Southern climes, and we’ve got a whole line of outdoor accessories we didn’t even show.”
Casual furniture retailers can expect to see more outdoor Pride Sasser designs as he completes product testing in Europe. “I feel very confident we’re going to go through that with flying colors so we’ll be going into a warranty for the product,” Sasser said. “The nice reward is when somebody comes up and says, 'That’s really beautiful. I’d like to put that in my store or my home.’ What nicer compliment can you get?”
Sasser’s father was a Bernhardt sales rep, and his grandfather and uncle were involved with Knob Creek Furniture in Morganton, N.C., before it was sold to Ethan Allen in the early 1980s. He had no plan to follow their career paths. But after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a degree in sculptural arts, Sasser joined the design department of Masco, at the time a holding company for furniture manufacturers including Henredon, Drexel Heritage, Maitland Smith and Universal.
In his late 20s, Sasser moved to the Philippines to work with Paul Maitland Smith at the Maitland Smith manufacturing plant. A decade later, Sasser opened his own design firm in Cebu. He continues to design for Maitland Smith, and to design and produce for other high-end furniture companies such as Henredon, EJ Victor and Century. Sasser’s factory is located near those that make furniture for Rausch and Dedon.
In recent years, Sasser was struck by the sameness he saw in outdoor furniture designs.
“It was all very linear and straight -- not what I call fluid, curvy and sensual,” Sasser said. “I thought it would be nice if we could get the curves and softness of indoor to translate into outdoor. I took my shapes and styling for my indoor products and started looking at the science of materials and what can be transformed.”
Sasser looked for inspiration beyond the outdoor furniture industry. He considered materials used in boats, architecture, skyscrapers, heavy equipment and oil rigs.
“There’s a whole industry out there that specializes in how to make things not corrode,” he said. “That technology is there, you just have to work through it and figure out how to apply it to what we do, which is more decorative, visual and tactile. We’re taking the sophisticated, high-end look we do inside for the discriminating customer and translating it for outside.”
During more than two years of research, Sasser learned how to mold, cast and finish the high-tech lightweight concretes used in the building industry, while he experimented with upgrading acrylic polymers and other industrial coatings used by the marine industry to withstand salt air and weather extremes. He considered new materials to reproduce classic sculptural shapes for outdoor use. For instance, he used steel electroformed in zinc to make updated versions of antique lead pieces now considered environmentally insensitive. He’s designing more chairs with outdoor foam and Sunbrella fabric.
For inspiration through the years, Sasser has built a massive reference library of period pieces ranging widely from 1500 to 1950. He’s also a self-described antique hunter.
“I study the past; I take forms, shapes and scaling and try to translate that to our day,” he said. “People have seen those things for so many years that subconsciously their minds are comfortable with the scale, the size or the silhouette of that leg, the thinness, the taper. For me, that’s where it all comes from.”
For outdoors, the period pieces Sasser turned to for inspiration were English garden and French Provence, which were originally carved in stone, cast in iron, cast in lead or wrought iron. “Having that as a reference point and having our design of indoor blended together with new ways to interpret materials is what gave us that little twist,” Sasser said. “That’s what I think has pushed the Go button so hard for me. It’s nice to have real reference in your background because it gives pieces a sense of history and feels familiar, but it’s new and today.”
In addition to conquering new materials and finishes, Sasser finds it challenging to limit and decide his direction. “That’s usually guided by our consumer,” he said.