The threshold has shifted – and not just metaphorically. The border between outside and in is becoming more and more tenuous. Nature comes indoors and indoors projects outwards. Drawing rooms are beginning to look like winter gardens full of plants whose daylight filters through glass skyscraper walls, crystal diaphragms betwixt out and in. Patios and terraces are furnished like drawing rooms with padded upholstery in the new textiles that withstand rain and UV rays. Paola Lenti, for example, has come up with two exclusive products to cover her chairs, “Rope” and “Aquatech”. The former is woven by hand or machine in modified polyolefinic yarn. The latter derives from a polyamidic thread that is processed to take on the appearance and consistency of natural straw.
There is growing hybridisation of categories. Garden furniture adorns kitchens and living rooms making all the gadgets and hardware look a touch weather-beaten; and out go the armchairs onto the terrace dressed in a floral pattern.
Greenery is snaking up façades (Musée des Arts premiers, quai Branly), clothing the walls of drawing rooms (Patrick Blanc’s vegetable walls). Woods have undergone an upwards shift (Boeri partners’ design for the Milan Isola district), trees poke from the top of buildings (Gaetano Pesce). Banished from the forests, flattened to make road networks or cornfields destined for biofuel, the plants are returning to town. They climb the walls and trail indoors: not potted, but as a new wall cladding - a living skin to dress and tend like the frailest epidermis that grows and ages akin to a body’s. Hence the mushrooming proposals for outdoor furniture which is no longer just destined for out of doors.
A growing number of firms are going in for this kind of multi-use product. The whole sector is burgeoning. Some are converting to outdoor furniture, away from their original calling, like Alias who presented three collections at the Milan Furniture Salon 2007, signed by Alberto Meda, James Irvine and Alfredo Häberli. Others are broadening their range, like B&B who have added Patricia Urquiola’s Canasta series to the classic Richard Schultz collection.
Significantly, again, the French biannual fair Maison&Objet with their eye as usual on emerging trends devoted a whole pavilion to outdoor furnishing in September 2007. The specialist firms are upgrading their image by calling on the design stars. Thus Emu have invited Jean-Marie Massaud and Christophe Pillet to propose some new designs; Roda have turned to Rodolfo Dordoni. Dedon, in their turn, have put their artistic management in the hands of Jean-Marie Massaud, herald of the close relationship with nature. One recalls his Luxlab installation at the 1999 Satellite Salon in Milan, where he teamed up with Thierry Gaugain and Patrick Jouin: one shelving green meadow, one glimpse of lake, one blazing fireplace – a clear metaphor for a new form of luxury living involving direct contact with nature, even indoors with a carpet/lawn.
Pointers to the new approach to outdoor furnishing are to be found in the output of Serralunga, Plustcollection and Teracrea. Much might here be said of how design is managing to invent not just new forms but new categories of commodity, changing the destiny of companies and giving rise to new forms of enterprise.
Serralunga from Biella whose business is rotational casting started out as textile spindle manufacturers. Flower pots in imitation terracotta were a stop-gap for slack moments in the clothing cycle. The idea of inviting designers to devise plastic plant pots was a breakthrough. Witness Paolo Rizzato and Denis Santachiara’s first efforts: garden vases but also for indoors, brightly coloured like handy containers.
Then came oversize, outdoor furnishings that made a splash on the urban landscape: plants or no plants, the designer name itself spelt decoration. The company changed tack and went on to invent new kinds of hybrid: suitable indoors or out, inspired by nature but ideal in the home, like Arik Levy’s shining stones. On the strength of this, the rotational molding firm of Plustcollection decided to go in for its own collection of large plant pots enlisting a team of young Italian designers. The article is no longer a gamble but a hallowed classic of outdoor décor. They took off at Verona’s Abitare il Tempo 2006 with a shiny, garish pop series.
Teracrea, for their part, sprang from an idea of Mauro Canfori’s to
inject new life into the terracotta vase via a team of well-known international designers.
Their catalogue contains Fernando and Humberto Campana’s labyrinth, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s high-back and Sebastian Bergne’s balcony. Designer flower pots are no longer an exception promoted by those catering for an élite. The large turnover firms have cottoned on to the change of direction: designer vases are heading beyond the garden, becoming a metaphor for an upgrade of lifestyle. A yen to live on the borderline between outside and in, to combine the cosy nest with the freedom of the great outdoors. The cotto specialists Deroma, for example, have commissioned Diego Grandi, the materials and surfaces expert, to re-design some of his collections.
If outdoor furniture production is booming and diversifying, nature is also being inveigled into the home. Many of the latest generation design projects express this trend: take the floral arabesques printed in metal, felt, paper and recently copper by Tord Boontje, for use as wall décor, lampshades or curtains, or Ilaria Marelli’s branch-shaped coloured perspex clothes hangers for Coincasadesign. The explosion of flower motifs on textiles, wallpaper, wooden inlay, metal etchings or sublimation on glass can be read as an attempt to turn indoors into the ideal pleasure garden that restores the soul and is hymned by Sheik Nefzaoui in his sixteenth-century “Perfumed Garden”. Art trends are going floral, as if to confirm the pattern. Witness the success enjoyed by Japanese floral artist Makoto Azuma with his floating plant shows at the Miyake store in New York’s Tribeca and the Fondation Cartier in Paris. These ephemeral creations, tailored to the client, use rooted plants (rather than flowers, in the main) which the artist then sets free a fortnight or so later. No more “dead” pictures on the wall, but living works of becoming, whereby an interior is animated with the sense of seasonal change afforded by a garden.