First RIT Metaproject winner takes the lead on celebrity's new furniture collection

May 23, 2017

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Thumbnail for First RIT Metaproject winner takes the lead on celebrity's new furniture collection

By Aaron Garland

Photos by Clint Blowers

Dating back to winning the first Metaproject in 2010-11, RIT industrial design alumnus Dan Fritz (2011) has made an impact and found success in the furniture design field.

The latest feather to Fritz’ cap was being a project lead in the development of a newly released furniture collection of a well-known figure — former NFL linebacker and current actor Terry Crews. The “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star joined forces with Fritz’ employer, Bernhardt Design, to craft items that were unveiled and presented at this year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair, which began Sunday and will run until Wednesday (May 24) at the Javits Center in New York City.

There were signs during Fritz’ RIT days that pointed to him possessing the potential to land an assignment of this esteem. Most notably, claiming first place in Metaproject 01. Pictured is Fritz in his senior year at RIT.

Metaproject is an annual studio course run by RIT industrial design program chair Josh Owen that matches industry partners with students, who design new products that are shown at the ICFF in NYC every spring. The student projects are judged by a panel that looks for creations that best address a given year’s theme.

So perhaps it’s not a huge surprise that Fritz had a prominent role in the recent high-profile collaboration that led to the launch of Crews' collection for Bernhardt. Fritz, a product designer at Bernhardt, was the project lead for Crews’ brand-new Ibis sofa, Float tables and Aire bench. 

As the pilot, Fritz was responsible for the engineering, sourcing and meeting of deadlines.

Fellow Bernhardt product designer Derek Schwenkbeck, who, too, is an RIT industrial design alumnus (2003), also had a hand in the new Crews items that were just revealed in New York. Schwenkbeck was the lead on the Lily Pad chair and took care of its upholstery and seat, according to Fritz, who developed the piece of furniture's base.

Due to the noteworthy, celebrity nature of the Crews-Bernhardt partnership, major details relating to the collaboration were concealed from the public and even those working closely on the project. In fact, Fritz said he and the rest of the in-house Bernhardt designers didn’t even know who they were helping to develop the products for until “many months” into the venture.

According to Fritz, Bernhardt president Jerry Helling would review prototypes with Crews’ team. Then, the discussed changes and feedback would be communicated to the Bernhardt designers by Helling, said Fritz.

“There was zero interaction between (Crews’ group) and us,” Fritz said. “… Jerry wanted to keep the designers’ names under wraps.”

As far as Fritz could tell, though, the Crews team appreciated the work done by Bernhardt’s designers.

“Whenever Jerry would come back from a design review on Terry’s products, there was always enthusiasm in the response,” Fritz said. “There was very little tweaking between initial concept to final product.”

Fritz said he began on the first Crews item in September, and the additional work followed.

Fritz’ involvement — and deftness — in furniture design can be traced back to Metaproject 01.

For the inaugural Metaproject, students were asked to produce seating prototypes that befitted Wilsonart International’s laminate surfacing materials.

Fritz’ design, “The Trance,” a lounge-type chair that allows its users to take a break from life and restore focus and creativity, took first place. Fritz’ goal was to generate a seat that could provide a respite to the usually hectic lives people lead by giving them a comfortable space that “evokes the feelings of meditation,” according to the Metaproject site.

“The Trance” is pictured on the right.

Fritz gained a passion while completing the project. He said the reason he is in furniture design today is because it was the topic of Metaproject 01.