Ordinarily, HOK Product Design products start as an idea and eventually make their way to a manufacturer. For interior designer Paul Smead’s Horizon lounge chair, sofa and table series, the process was just the opposite: the manufacturer found him.
Horizon is part of Cumberland’s Designers Speak series, which features pieces by hand-picked designers from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Miami, Dallas and Houston. The designs are divided by U.S. region – East Coast, West Coast, Southeast and Southwest.
In designing the Horizon grouping, Smead drew on his experiences working in various cities across the Southwest United States.
“Because they chose designers by region, they wanted to have something that influences us regionally,” Smead said. “For me, it was the very open spaces we see in the Southwest – the long horizon, hence the name.”
Smead explained that Cumberland’s design brief called for lounge pieces, rather than side chairs or other pieces. Cumberland is respected as one of the premier manufacturers of lounge seating and tables in the U.S.
“The chair and sofas have a low, wide arm, emphasizing the horizontal or the horizon,” Smead said. “There’s a detail on the back, a welt that runs along the back that lines up with the front seat cushion.” The Horizon series currently offers a chair, two-seat sofa and three-seat sofa, with coordinating tables due to be released just prior to Neocon. His mission for the series came from real-life client feedback.
“A big influence on the pieces was feedback I’ve heard so often from clients that they liked certain pieces aesthetically, but they felt they were too small or they just weren’t very comfortable,” Smead said. “So, scale and comfort were two important drivers for the series.”
“What one may think looks good may not necessarily feel good,” he continued. “It’s very personal when it comes to furniture.”
Among Smead’s goals was to create a series that was usable, timeless and simple.
“First and foremost, it needed to be comfortable. In many ways, the hope is this product line can act as a chameleon and work in a variety of spaces,” Smead said. “These pieces were designed to fit within an entire environment and not overwhelm it. It’s a holistic approach to design.”
Working through the design process, Smead began with a series of rough sketches that Mike McKeown and Babak Aliabadi later helped him convert into renderings. He also researched furniture images and created real-life mockups to test different proportions.
“I also researched to make sure the collection wasn’t similar to other products,” Smead said. “The challenge is that there are many lounge pieces available in the market and you have to know what truly makes a product look distinctive – in this case, the interaction of the arm with the seat and the back. The tables are distinctive because the structure and legs are minimal and the top becomes the most important element in the design.”
The Cumberland project was not Smead’s first foray into product design.
“I’ve designed furniture for others in the past,” Smead said. “When I was with HOK in Dallas in the ‘90s, I was the senior designer on the Exxon World Headquarters and designed modifications to the Geiger furniture system, seating for Martin Brattrud and a table line for Smed. I’ve been fortunate to design custom furniture on many of the projects I’ve worked on throughout my career including Chevron, WPP and KPMG .”
As for the Horizon line, Smead’s design pays homage to the Southwest while transcending comfort and beauty.
“My own belief is that I want to design something that is timeless and classic,” Smead said. “The ultimate in sustainability, in my mind, is something that lasts through trends and styles, because it continues to work well and is both comfortable and beautiful.”
Learn more about the Horizon series.