An angular woven sofa and coffee table set dominates an outdoor tableau. A meditating stone Buddha statue sits in a corner, while water quietly washes down a wall. Acting in counterpoint is a lounge chair called the Wave Chaise. “It’s ergonomically perfect,” says Andrew Bockner of Andrew Richard Designs. “When designing this piece, honestly, the only thing I had in my mind was a woman’s body. I wanted a piece that was sexy and curvy.”
This is Bockner’s Thai sanctuary, just one vignette in his 12,000-square-foot retail space in an industrial area at the corner of Adelaide and Parliament in Toronto. His pieces are known for both their aesthetics and durability, and Silhouette, one of his recent collections, was recognized by Designlines magazine as one of the top 100 design products at last year’s IDS11 Interior Design Show during the Toronto International Design Festival.
Bockner co-founded Andrew Richard Designs with his brother, Richard, 10 years ago, after leaving his job as a litigation lawyer at a Toronto firm. “I would sit in meeting after meeting thinking, ‘Oh my God, this guy is bullshitting me so he can sit at home for the next two years,’ ” he says. “I had to get out and do something.” So he took a three-month trip to Southeast Asia, and after he returned, he began to transfer the tranquil and peaceful feeling inspired by the Buddhist culture into outdoor furniture design.
Bockner wasn’t new to the outdoor furniture business. His family owned Cana-Foam Products, a manufacturer and distributor of cushions, umbrellas, and outdoor furnishings and accessories. As a child, Bockner used to play in the stacks of foam, and by the time he was a teenager, he was working at trade show booths.
A couple of months after returning from his trip—armed with drawings and a few prototypes—Bockner took a small basement booth at the International Hotel, Motel, and Restaurant Show in New York. There wasn’t much in the booth, but a chair called the Metro—clean lines with stainless steel appointments on the bottom, at a time when fan-back, old-style wicker and cast-iron were the rage—caught the eye of Bockner’s first client. He landed a contract for three hotels in Tahiti, making club chairs, trundle beds, dining chairs, tables, and chaise longues. “That’s when I developed the Tranquility Bed, which has probably been my signature piece. It’s still here 10 years later, and people love it,” he says.
Andrew Richard Designs offers the gamut of outdoor-entertaining furniture including clean-lined dining chairs and tables, modular sectionals and sofas, daybeds, cushion boxes, and even umbrellas. Some smaller pieces are specifically made for condo balconies. Most mix teak and stainless steel, or teak and Solartex, a special weave Bockner created, combining PVC and high-density polyethylene (HDP).
“A lot of the weaves in the industry, they’re either made with HDP only, or PVC, which is vinyl. I find the vinyl too soft, and I find the HDP too brittle, and that’s exactly how it ends up responding,” says Bockner. “So I ran small fibre strands of PVC through the weave. It makes it malleable, but it also makes it really strong and tough.” The Solartex combination results in a more durable weave that can survive extreme temperatures. After some time spent perfecting the wicker-looking Solartex, Bockner collaborated with interior designer and TV personality Sarah Richardson on a collection of outdoor furnishings.
“I see [my collections] as more of a lifestyle play, rather than ‘Here’s a piece of furniture,’ ” he says. “I’m trying to sell a concept, and an idea, and a lifestyle, as well as the piece of furniture to go along with it.” Bockner is in charge of design for the luxe Andrew Richard Designs, while his brother runs the mass merchandise and independent retail side of the business under the brand Leisure Design, which operates in two large facilities in the east end of the city.
“I don’t have a design background, but I just—I guess I just got it. I have an idea of how people like to live, how they like to enjoy their leisure time,” says Bockner. “I take my inspiration from my background, my past, my travels, and most importantly, my staff and my clientele. I learn something from them every single day, and hopefully they learn something from me, too.”