When it comes to impeccably crafted designer furniture, Sarasota may be the new Milan. That’s the goal of industrial designer Jan Gross and marine accessories manufacturer G.G. Schmitt, who are beginning to create a stir in the international design community with their curvy new collection of seating called the Orion Group.
We previewed the line during a private presentation for Chuck Albright, AIA, a senior associate with Gensler, the largest architectural firm on the planet, with 3,000 employees in major cities in the U.S. and abroad. “This is where furniture is going,” Albright told us. “Our clients are challenging us to find product lines that can span design from residential to commercial, from condos to restaurants and hotels. In design and structural integrity, this furniture can—and that’s why it’s unique.”
The furniture—lounge chairs with ottomans, tables, bar chairs, dining chairs and a sculptural chaise lounge—are produced by Lancaster, Penn.- headquartered G.G. Schmitt in its 80,000-square-foot Sarasota plant, and made to the same exacting standards as the company’s marine products. Clearly contemporary, but with a strong emphasis on neoclassical lines, the pieces reference classical sculpture, with curvilinear rather than straight lines. Latigo leather forms the backs of the Orion seating; upholstery is done in vegetable-tanned European leather. The Honduran mahogany arm caps and 316 stainless steel are the same high-quality materials specified for furniture on the world’s most luxurious yachts. Tables are made from stainless steel and flat polished glass.
“When Ron Schmitt, president of G. G. Schmitt, contacted me, he had decided it was time to diversify,” Gross recalls. “My assignment was to evaluate their capabilities from an industrial design standpoint to see what else they could make. It was immediately evident that with the craftsmanship required for their high-end, expensive marine products, they could build high-end, world-class furniture.”
Working with the Sarasota plant’s master craftsman, Michael Blizzard, Gross set out to show the world that good design doesn’t have to come from Europe. “Designers and companies there win awards, but no one buys the stuff. It’s faddish, and that’s why it gets old so quickly,” Gross explains. “We wanted to do something that might one day become an icon like Le Corbusier’s lounge chair or Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair.
“There haven’t been any new icons for years, and I would like to be the one who hits on the secret,” Gross confides. To do that, he says, the pillars of innovation—design, engineering and craftsmanship—have to all line up “just like Orion’s belt—the most recognizable stars in the constellation.” The stars seem to be lining up for the new furniture (which will retail from $3,500 to $12,000), as they did to bring Gross and G.G. Schmitt together, he says. “It’s bizarre that I found these guys and they found me in Sarasota, and that we’re already attracting designers and architects who can shop in Milan or anywhere else in the world.”