MARQUETTE, Mich.—Northern Michigan University’s human-centered design program partnered with longtime Menominee manufacturer Lloyd Flanders to develop concepts for contemporary woven furniture that might appeal to younger consumers. Students gained valuable experience working for a real-world client and tempering their creativity with the constraints of available materials, production methods and labor costs. Company officials appreciated the fresh perspective and imaginative uses for the trademark wicker material that is weaved on the original 1917 Lloyd Loom and hand-stretched over frames of aluminum tubing.
Students presented their final designs at the company this month. They received constructive feedback on aesthetic value, practicality and manufacturing potential. Lloyd Flanders will select three to fine tune for its display at the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in Chicago. The pieces may also be shown at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City.
“This project allowed them to move outside the comfort zone of their campus studio,” said Peter Pless, NMU art and design professor. “They had to create not just stylized objects, but pieces that incorporated functionality, human behavior and ergonomics. To draw a design is one thing. To do computer modeling of a design is another. When you add the unique requirements of mass production versus a custom piece and working on a client’s terms instead of their own, it challenges their sensibilities. I’m very pleased with the results.”
Lloyd Flanders CEO Dudley Flanders said the company launched an aggressive program to develop “contemporary, smaller-scale, urban/hip-looking” furniture targeting younger professionals.
“We were eager to see how college students would approach design using our materials and we hope to broaden their interest in manufacturing,” he said. “We were thrilled to work with NMU because we consider ourselves very much a part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and appreciate the opportunity to foster that U.P. spirit. The progression from their early designs to functional and potentially marketable products was incredible.”
Early this semester, NMU students took a factory tour to witness the production of woven furniture from start to finish.
“It begins with inch-wide paper that is twisted and rolled onto large spools,” said student Matt Steinmetz of Grosse Pointe Park, Mich. “The paper is fed through the loom and comes out as patterned wicker 39.5 inches wide that can be stretched over the frame of a chair, couch or table. They make the cushions in-house, too. It helped to see how it all comes together so we could factor the process into our designs. We also had to factor cost, which is new for us.”
Each student received a kit of materials to become familiar with woven wicker’s capabilities and limitations. Two Lloyd Flanders research and development veterans visited campus to offer constructive critiques of preliminary concepts and turned the students’ drawings into prototypes for workshops held at the Menominee facility.
Lloyd Flanders furniture can be found on the Truman balcony at the White House and at the vice president’s home in Washington, D.C. The company is in the midst of creating new seats for Mackinac Island horse-drawn carriages.
“We are the only loom champion in the industry,” added Flanders. “There are hundreds of imitators who produce vinyl wicker. We do that, too, but the loom products manufactured in Menominee have a more natural look and feel. We have a long tradition of using durable materials to produce unique, high-quality products. We’re just trying to expand our consumer base toward the younger generation.”