New York Spaces

Vol 3 No. 2


Campaign Trail

Richard Wrightman offers a modern take on a British furniture classic. After a childhood split between two continents and an early career spent shifting among different fields, Richard Wrightman has finally found his home: He has carved a niche in the world of contemporary home furnishings - and perhaps the only one who is surprised is the craftsman himself.

"I never anticipated falling in love with the actual making of things," says the 43 year old, whose diverse resume includes stints designing women's clothing, Italian shoes and lamps.

These days, Wrightman often labors into the nights and weekends at his Long Island City studio to keep up with the demand for his updated collection of British campaign furniture - lightweight, collapsible pieces designed for travel. His inspiration comes from a beloved memory.

"My father had an original British officer's chair from the turn of the century," Wrightman says. "For me these pieces are romantic and reminiscent of long voyages and expeditions."

The collection, which is hand-built of solid walnut with English bridle leather strapping and stainless-steel hardware is utterly urban while remaining true to its 19 th century European roots.

Who would guess that nine years ago Wrightman had "virtually no skill" working with wood? What he did possess was a sophisticated design sensibility and a desire to create something completely his own.

Born in Los Angeles, Wrightman spent his early years shuttling between his American father, a military officer stationed in Europe, and his Danish mother, who lived in Copenhagen and summered in Greece.

"Living in so many different places, I became intrigued by the aesthetical contrasts between different cultures," he explains.

Wrightman launched is first career in Los Angeles as a women's clothing designer in the late 1980s.  He accepted a position as a shoe designer with an Italian manufacturer which brought him to New York in the early 1990s.   My original intention was to go to Italy and to work in a factory, but it never happened because I fell in love with New York." He experimented next with an interior designer.

In 1996, Wrightman finally got the opportunity to obtain hands-on manufacturing experience when he accepted what he thought would be a six-month assignment at an architectural fabrication firm. He stayed on for four years, learning every aspect of constructing one-off architectural elements and prototypes for architects and designers.  

"I found I loved being on my feet, working with my hands, appreciating the intelligence of making things - it changed my whole view of design," he says.

Newly equipped with these practical skills, Wrightman opened his own furniture workshop in 2000. Today his 20-piece collection includes, a folding screen, console, coffee tables, beds and chairs. And all are designed to be taken apart at a moment's notice.    Each piece is made to order with lead times of 12-14 weeks. Prices range from $1,500 for a chair to $9000.00 for a canopy bed.

The collection has gained admirers all over the world. Last spring a London-based design firm ordered a large number of tables and chairs, which were picked up from his studio and air-freighted to the Middle East. It wasn't until later that Wrightman found out the identity of the mysterious recipient - and his lipped are sealed.