It's sad to say, but Lynda Chesser and Bill Schacht don't have style. Nope. No signature style and no fancy design philosophy to guide them either.
So why is their furniture winning awards and wowing manufacturers, designers and end-users alike? Because they have a truly intelligent approach to design that results in products that look great and do the job.
This approach is an almost natural by-product of their individual personalities and talents. Chesser is an interior designer. Schacht is an industrial designer. Chesser sees the big picture. Schacht sees the details. Chesser understands form. Schacht understands function. As partners in the Grand Rapids, MI, furniture design firm of Chesser Schacht Design (CSD), they have learned to strike a balance between their own . . . well, let's call it yin and yang. In doing so, they create furniture that balances beauty and technology, manufacturability and creativity, risk and assurance.
Ultimately, this husband-and-wife team approach every project as yet another chance to improve on what's already out there. Sometimes there's a design problem to solve; other times a void in the market needs to be filled. Whatever the impetus, Chesser and Schacht know that when a company hires them, they are expected to design furniture that will deliver increased sales to their client and better products to the market for end-users. And that's why it's not just about any one style.
Chesser Schacht's own promotional literature summarizes their perspective with a simple statement: "A great design may begin with a single idea. But it doesn't become a great design solution until it integrates many." In other words, numerous criteria must be considered: aesthetics, of course, but also purpose, practicality, cost, convenience, flexibility and durability and on and on. Essentially, it all boils down to the age-old battle of form versus function. However, for Chesser and Schacht, there is no reason for battle when form and function can be designed to get along together perfectly fine.
" Designers almost grow up knowing that form follows function," says Chesser. "But as Bill and I developed our own understanding of design, we found that form is equal in value to function. Neither one needs to be sacrificed for the other. It is always a challenge to find the right balance between form and function, but we don't stop working until we've got it.
" There are times when our clients don't agree with us. Some can't justify the value of design. They feel more comfortable if a product speaks to function first. But we try to push the aesthetics, because that is how an end-user initially connects with any piece of furniture."
Very often the balance between form and function is struck when function is hidden. For example, technology—including power, data and assembly—can be concealed behind the architectural façade of casegoods. According to Schacht, this concealment is simply a matter of integrating technology in a way that isn't obvious. What isn't so simple is ending up with a design that satisfies Chesser the interior designer and Schacht the industrial designer.
" It's not always a pretty process," Schacht admits with a hearty laugh. "It can be quite ugly. We're different people with different mindsets. Usually our differences result in that balance we're looking for, but sometimes . . . "
" Sometimes," continues Chesser, also laughing and finishing where Schacht left off, "it ends with one of us saying, 'We're doing it this way and I don't want to hear another word about it.' Then the other usually concedes. But most of the time, we are extremely collaborative and we always have respect for one another's talents."
While the foundation of Chesser's and Schacht's designs may come from their contrasting personalities, the inspiration comes from all of the criteria required in the workplace today. A keen awareness of these criteria—flexibility, mobility,
aesthetics, integrated technology, etc.—drives their solution-based designs. That and perhaps a little bit of "designer's instinct" thrown into the formula as well. Yet even this instinct is based on knowledge. Having talked to numerous and varied manufacturers over the years, Chesser and Schacht have a bank of knowledge that can stand up to just about any focus group—and sometimes does. Although selling a client on an idea requires more reason than just the feeling that "we know it will work," Chesser and Schacht have the advantage of truly knowing what will work both in terms of design and details. Call it instinct, or as Chesser puts it, "the culmination of a lot of experience."
Both Chesser and Schacht hail from Orlando, FL. Chesser attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, where she earned a B.A. in interior design. Schacht ventured out of state to the Philadelphia College of Art, earning a degree in industrial design. Both returned to Orlando for work and met at a design firm there. Together they were transferred to New York City, where, after a few years, they began moonlighting as furniture designers. Their first job was with Grand Rapids, MI-based Mueller Furniture Co. The project was not yet completed when Haworth purchased Mueller. Haworth took a look at what they were designing and told them to keep on going; Chesser and Schacht have been designing for Haworth ever since.
As business from the big furniture manufacturers increased, the couple decided to make what they then thought would be a temporary move to Grand Rapids in order to be closer to their clients. Some 13 years later, they realize that temporary is a relative term.
"We enjoy being close to our clients," says Schacht. "It allows us to be that much more involved with them, and the design process goes much more smoothly. I also think clients appreciate having a dedicated resource close by."
Over the years, Chesser and Schacht steadily added more clients and more projects, but they never had the desire to run a big firm. Today, in addition to themselves, they employ three assistant designers and a part-time office manager. Staying small, they say, allows them to give each project a high level of attention, and they can still be involved in the details of a job.
Along with building their client list, Chesser and Schacht have concomitantly developed a highly-honed process of design documentation and technology. Although a design may begin as a pencil sketch on paper, it quickly moves to the computer where the couple works with their design staff to explore an idea from every angle, both aesthetic and technological. Doing so not only helps them achieve that balance of form and function they demand, but it also provides an opportunity to make corrections sooner rather than later.
"With the latest computer technology, we can completely visualize and analyze a design," explains Schacht. "Say we're designing a work station, for example. We use the computer to explode the design and get a thorough understanding of our design solution well before we present to a client. This way, we can pinpoint problems early in the process, which makes the computer invaluable to us."
So much so, in fact, that the couple finds they use good ol' pencil and paper less and less. Their latest product line for Jofco—Collective Space, which will be introduced at NeoCon in June—went from a quick, freehand pencil drawing straight to computerized 3D design.
"Collective Space is a customer-driven product solution," says Chesser. "We were working on a product brief for Jofco when an end-user client requested a specific product. The client needed to move executives from private offices to an open plan. Consequently, they were looking for a product that would be more palatable to execs."
Jofco's end-user client preferred to have wood in an open plan design because executives would be using the workspaces. Yet Chesser and Schacht knew that wood components weren't the only important elements; wire management would be critical as well. Therefore, they felt the best approach would be an off-modular wall or "spine" that provides power and data. All of the components that build off the spine can slide and connect at any point, thereby giving each executive the flexibility to personalize his or her own space. Furthermore, to create a more engaging office environment, not only wood, but a mix of materials were utilized including paint, metal accents, frosted glass and lighting features. Collective Space was designed in various footprint sizes for even greater flexibility in what Chesser calls "a unique architecture of casegoods."
Not that unique architecture is anything new for CSD. Last year at NeoCon, its Origin line—the studio's executive office design for Nucraft Furniture Co.—won both a Best of NeoCon gold award for systems furniture and the best of competition award. What makes Origin unique is its tech wall and beam. Rather than crawling under a console to access a power or data source, a pivoting door in the tech wall opens to reveal those sources. Power and data run from the wall to a work surface in an integrated fashion using a metal beam.
"The beam is like a super highway for cables and wires," Chesser explains. "It extends underneath the desk and attaches to the tech wall. That way, power and data can travel along the beam to any point on the desk."
This integration of technology was maintained among all four of the most popular footprints: L-shape, side tech wall; U-shape, side tech wall; U-shape, back tech wall; and freestanding desk, back tech wall. Thus, the beam proved to be an invaluable asset to the design.
Origin also provides a console area that offers either a niche as a simple solution for organizing; a docking station for laptop, cell phone or PDA connection; or a combination of both docking and storage space with optional leather appointments. Thus, the system has the capacity to operate at different levels of function and concurrently be extremely adaptable to individual work styles. Of course, Origin makes a striking aesthetic statement with its elegant combination of wood, metal and glass.
What pleased CSD the most about their creation for Nucraft—aside from the awards admittedly—was being able to integrate everyday user function and technology.
"Origin was 18 months in development and when we started on the project, we didn't realize how innovative it was," says Chesser. "The design process was one of constant exploring, editing and refining. We ended up with something that solves work and technology problems in offices today, yet provides forward-thinking ideas for a long life."
CSD is about to transfer their innovative spirit in office furniture design to the home market. The design duo have created their first residential line for Hekman, a Grand Rapids-based manufacturer of furniture for the home. The line will be introduced at High Point in the fall of this year.
To reach 30- and 40-year-old consumers, Hekman envisioned a furniture line with clean, contemporary styling, but definite references to the past. So, Chesser and Schacht decided to approach the project from a simple viewpoint: What furniture would look good in their own home? The couple pulled ideas from some of their favorite furniture styles and even from the work they had done while living in New York. Thus, the furniture features the clean lines of Shaker, the jewelry-like details of Art Deco and the graceful curves of Biedermeier. There are some 30 pieces in the collection, including furniture for the living room, dining room and bedroom.
Another relatively new venture for CSD is the endeavor of providing clients with all-encompassing design. For instance, for Jofco, the studio has not only designed Collective Space, but also the company's new Chicago showroom that speaks to its new direction.
"We created a new architectural interior to showcase Jofco's new product as well as its new corporate identity," Chesser says. "Although a lot of companies are lying low during the current economic downturn, Jofco has decided to use this time to pursue a new direction and update its image. From furniture to showroom to literature, Jofco wants to demonstrate that it represents good design. For us, Jofco is a perfect example of how we are trying to spread our vision of good design to clients.
" It's not about any one thing," she adds. "Everything must be considered within a greater context."
Which is why Chesser and Schacht approach each project with a unique set of lenses—lenses that view form and function with 20/20 vision.
Chesser Schacht Design
4095 Embassy Dr. S.E.
Grand Rapids, MI 49546
fax: (616) 956-3457