Brand Spotlight: Frövi
Founded in 1976, Frövi have an inherent insight into British culture, while influenced by the ingenuity of Scandinavian style. With in-house design and manufacturing, their team have the tools and freedom to create innovative and unique products.
We talked to David King, R&D Design Manager at Frövi, about an exciting new product they are bringing to market, his design inspiration and plans for the future.
Tell us about your design background and how that led you to becoming a furniture designer?
I trained in product design and marketing at Southampton University. From there I got my first job for a furniture practice in High Wycombe, starting as a low-level draughtsman and working my way up to a senior design role. Then, about 3 ½ years ago, I met Frovi’s Sales Director, Roy, at 100% design. I was looking around the stand, got talking to him and found out they were on the hunt for designers and planning to change the direction of the company. They wanted to bring all their design and manufacturing in-house, a big strategic direction change. I could see at the time that it was a big ask coming from a company that did all the manufacturing but not the design. It excited me to be hands on with the manufacturing. That’s the direction the company has taken from that day.
How challenging was the role?
On day one my design director said “I want 24 products from you this year” — which was a daunting task. We achieved 26! We haven’t looked back since. It’s been a case of completely adapting our portfolio, changing to our own designs. By 2020 our aim is to have 95% our own design — there’s always going to be something that we can’t do.
At the beginning it was just myself and my style, but subsequently we’ve taken on two new designers. A senior product designer joined from the retail side, bringing a different influence. Our other designer came from skate parks which was completely out there! He had never designed furniture but has a massive eye for detail. So, we’ve got a real raft of talent in the team.
What is the perception of Frövi in the market since you made the change to design?
We’re still catching up, but I think the nice thing is that we’re hearing comments like ‘wow you’ve changed!’ and ‘a completely different brand!’. We have to keep being creative and innovative or we will get left behind. There’s fierce competition and it’s easy to see the brands that are standing still or getting stuck, against the ones that are moving forward.
Is there any designer that you are inspired by?
There’s two that I’m interested in. Layer Design owner Benjamin Hubert and the stuff he does is incredible. It’s so well thought out with so much detail, and he also highlights sustainability. One of his new product ranges has chairs and screening all out of recycled military parachutes. It’s really cutting-edge stuff.
There’s also quite a fun instagrammer that I follow. In fact, the whole design team follows him. His name is Nicholas Baker @nickpbaker. Some of his stuff is very out there, he uses Instagram to show his flair and he’s inspirational.
How do you inspire your team?
I always try and get our team to think a bit outside the box. If you play it too safe you never come up with that ‘wow’ concept. It’s easier to start out very ‘blue sky’ and then bring it down and include those great benefits and features for your customer. It’s less effective to shoehorn in the great features and benefits to a mediocre design.
Is it important to you that Frövi manufacture in the UK?
Manufacturing in the UK is hugely important. Being hands-on you’re able to create more thought-out, beautiful, creative products. We’ve just opened our new factory — we were at capacity — so we’ve now moved to bigger premises. We have a whole R&D centre dedicated to developing all our products.
You are about to launch ‘The Colony’, what was the inspiration and what was your design process?
We’d seen the success of the Relic Cloud and how everyone had bought into that. I sat down with the team and said ‘right, we need another concept’. I didn’t need a fully finished, polished, product but a concept that challenges people’s perceptions of the workspace and what you can do with it. We have our creative sessions where the team sit down with no laptops, no phones, just pens and papers. Booths are strong products for us right now so we looked at how we could come up with something similar, but different, a booth which can have eight to ten people in it. We wanted to make it bigger and make it enclosed, but not fully enclosed. We challenged ourselves with a whole heap of questions until we came up with the idea of creating a ‘vessel’ for our products. This ‘vessel’ will hold all our other products, creating areas and zones. Initially we came up with 30 – 40 different concepts, but the key thing was that everything interlinked. We had to make sure we used the right material because it is a cantilever and as you can remove panels, we needed a strong solid framework. We refined and refined to get to the one we’re at now, and we’re still refining.
How do you describe the concept of ‘The Colony’?
It’s whatever you want it to be. We came up with the idea of themes for each of these areas. Using existing product, we created a journey through the showroom. The botanical theme, the bohemian version- which is a relaxed space, the more corporate space for meetings, and the library. We just tried to highlight in a very small space how many different styles and zones and areas you can create. We wanted to ‘colonise the office’, taking back space from the open plan.
If you could choose to put it anywhere where would you put it?
I’d love to be able to see it in a large open atrium area. I think it would look fantastic at a lower level, looking down and seeing the product as it was intended to be, which is these linking colonies with different workspaces and areas.
What other plans do you have for Frövi?
We are learning to be well-certified, so that we can create products that are well-aligned. It would be lovely to see us get to that level and then have our products included in a ‘well certified’ building. I think there are only 7 certified in the UK at the moment. Furniture can contribute to the building being well aligned and if we design thinking about the sustainability and the ‘well’ aspect of it then that’s a benefit to everyone. We’re looking at the pollutants and the ‘off gassing’ of products. We want to make our customers aware that if they are working on a project of this kind, we can offer a portfolio of products and guide on fabric choices to achieve certification. Sustainability has become so important and anything in development is being looked at from that aspect. The team are very passionate about it.
What trends in workspace design do you think we’ll see coming through in the next year or so?
We’ve gone open plan and we will go back slightly, not to cellular offices, but this whole zoning thing will be huge. We need a little bit of space now but in a new way. Also, there’s a lighter feel to the office, not just in colours — there’s a lot of muted tones coming back through, but there’s a lightness and elegance to products. There’s also a trend that we like in the office which was picked up on WGSN which is called ‘inflated forms’ which is big bulbous soft-looking, comfortable furniture. These are the two things we are actively looking at in-house.
Which three words best describe Frövi?
Thoughtful, beautiful and creative.