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Cinde W. Ingram

Michael Burridge

Michael BurridgeMichael Burridge's designs for the Wrangler Home Collection drew strong response from retailers as it debuted in Carter Grandle's expanded showroom at last month's premarket.

"I think it's the consumer who will really make this fly," Ruth G. Carter said. She encouraged dealers to make commitments to the lines, which she described as both comfortable and significant in depth of product for both dining and deep seating.

Development of the outdoor furnishings lines began over a year ago when Burridge and Carter had extensive conversations with George Weldon, director of licensing for VF Jeanswear, Wrangler parent company. Weldon said Burridge recognized immediately what the Wrangler brand should look like.

"The fact that he captured the essence of where and what Wrangler could mean in outdoor on his first attempt" was what made Burridge's designs fit the brand, Weldon said. "He really understood the Wrangler consumer and was able to capture that American spirit with the Coming Home Collection, where harkening back to the outdoor picnic table was something a lot of baby boomers would relate to from their childhood and also it was a totally fresh idea for the outdoor market."

 The Barrington dining chair won a 2003 Design Excellence Award for cast metal.

 The Barrington dining chair won a 2003 Design Excellence Award for cast metal.

 An original design rendering for Wrangler

 An original design rendering for Wrangler's outdoor lines by Carter Grandle.

The second collection, geared to a slightly younger target-age consumer, is called Series 47. Carter said the name dates to 1947 when Wrangler blue jeans hit the market.

Although Burridge designed the furniture pieces approved by Wrangler last year, he was not involved with production, which was overseen by Scott Coogan, Carter Grandle vice president, design.

Burridge began designing more than 20 years ago after earning his masters of art in industrial design from Stanford University and his bachelor of science in industrial design from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he was one of five U.S. design students selected to participate in the General Motors Design Program.

After a broad career designing everything from hybrid cars to emergency medication dispensers for elderly and impaired people, Burridge designed catalogs for Casual Living Worldwide, Shae Designs and Samsonite, which were then owned by Dale Boles.

Burridge's entry into the casual furniture industry led to lasting friendships with Richard and Catherine Frinier. "They, frankly, have been my mentors," Burridge said.

About four years ago, he met Carter and found her to be a perfect influence as he turned his attention to designing outdoor furniture. He likes to create furniture that is design forward or a step ahead so he found Carter's sense of style helpful.

"My motivation comes from guessing where the market's going to go," Burridge said. "Moving it forward takes some vision by the client, meaning say Carter Grandle or Ruth, to go along with me. Very few companies that I've been associated with are quite as focused as she is. The decision-makers in this market at point of purchase are women and yet most of the decision-makers in furniture companies are men. It's really important to have female input as early as possible in evaluating a design."

The Barrington dining chair Burridge designed for Carter Grandle won the cast metal category in the 2003 Design Excellence Awards. He also won a best new product award last year from the American Society of Interior Designers.

"I love the idea of designing products that aren't so much just outdoor products," he said. "I'm trying to move that market indoors or indoor/outdoor for the primary purpose of increasing the season for all of these companies. I'd like to minimize the distinction between indoor/outdoor. And I think that's a design challenge."

Other challenges he sees in moving the industry forward include using materials in the best way and designing for reasonable manufacturing processes. "I love the capabilities of aluminum, being able to make it do almost anything you want regarding casting," he said. "I love wicker and loom, the natural feel of it. And I would love to design with the goal of bringing more manufacturing back to this country." Burridge reflected on his joy at seeing Carter Grandle's plant in full production in Saratoga, Fla.

Design ideas come to him often as he's just waking up so he keeps paper on his bedside table.

"I literally leap up sometimes in the middle of the night to jot down a quick sketch of something. Many ideas evolve in the process of sitting there doing them, they can get better in second and third iterations. But the most delicious thing in my life is, wherever those ideas come from in a flash, to get them sketched as quickly as possible."

In addition to Frinier, Burridge finds inspiration in visits to European museums, in the designs of Charles Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, an architect who also designed furniture.

Burridge also gets inspiration at times from watching old movies and observing furniture styles of past decades. "Back in the '30s, for example, I think they were a little freer with their creativity," he said. "When you consider a lot of the design in this country now has gone to retro, for everything from cars to toasters, it would make sense for us to look back at the good stuff we've done before."

When asked what Burridge knows now that he wishes he had known earlier in his career, he said, "to relax and just do it, let the designs come and let the client react or not." As a result, he finds he's more productive.

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