29
May

Eco Outdoor

Curators I Collaborators I Creators

Starting from a landscaping perspective – Eco Outdoor have broadened their product range – infiltrating interiors, producing furniture and expanding their distinctive aesthetic. There is an enthusiasm and passion evident in the ethos of the Eco Outdoor team that is refreshing and goes beyond pure commercialism. We recently caught up with owner Ben Kerr to talk more about their inspiration, design aesthetic and the future of Eco Outdoor. Why did you start Eco Outdoor? I had just finished my first role in a furniture business and had helped to facilitate the sale of that to a much larger furniture company and I was looking for a change. My brother ran a successful landscape design and construct business (The Garden Company) in Melbourne and I joined him. It soon became clear that there was a real gap in the market for interesting good quality landscape products and so my brother and I, and interestingly enough, two other brothers we had met through the industry (Rick Eckersley the landscape designer and his brother Ross Eckersley) started Eco Outdoor. How has the business evolved? We initially called the business Eco Concepts but later down the track renamed ourselves Eco Outdoor as we became more clear that we really wanted to focus on outdoor products (natural stone flooring and walling), and even though we supply a large amount of indoor projects, we really provide an outdoor type aesthetic (rough, raw, organic stone flooring or walling). We also used to sell imported European furniture but in the last 5 years we’ve started designing and manufacturing our own furniture because we think that people are looking for good quality furniture but they’re not willing to pay huge prices based solely on brand. So we source all our own quality componentry – French Battyline mesh, high quality teak, stainless steel and Italian compact laminates and we try to offer well designed product at much more accessible prices. We’ve also been working with our own outdoor fabric ranges and this year we’re launching our own outdoor belgian linen range across furniture and bean bags etc, as well as napery, linen bags and cut-to-length. This is a new area for us but one that we’ve been working on with several fabric mills over the past few years. We’re really excited about extending into this outdoor fabric market. What is your passion? Obviously I’m into architecture and in fact at the moment, I’m in California indulging my passion for 50s and 60s architecture (in between work of course!). But overall I’d say that my passion is really design and texture. I kind of fell into stone but this aesthetic we have is very much a reflection of the kind of aesthetic that appeals to me and you can even see this in the fabrics we’re producing. The linens are luxurious but I’m still going for slubby style linens that has loads of imperfections and therefore, feel really indulgent but real. How would you describe the Eco Outdoor aesthetic? We only work with natural products and we’re obsessive about finding products that offer a sense of character and imperfection. Often in the early days our staff would be worried about clients who had ordered stone flooring and were expecting something to be completely uniform and perfect, and when it arrived, it would have a little variation and movement in colour. It would have the inherent natural characteristics of the stone within it and I’d have to say to people “This is not just okay, this is actually what we’re looking for. This is the beauty of natural stone. We don’t just accept these ‘imperfections’, they’re the point! We celebrate them!”. So rough, organic, natural style product with all these “imperfections”, these beautiful natural flaws that add depth and character. That’s really what we’re about. What do you think are important design considerations for outdoor furniture, particularly for the Australian climate? The obvious answer here is durability but beyond that, I think we’re coming to an age where people are looking for furniture that complements both the outdoor space but also the adjacent home. I think people used to think about outdoor furniture as being distinct from the home and it was a “setting” that was kept on the patio that was really hardy and could withstand the weather. With the introduction especially of better quality outdoor fabrics and especially outdoor linens, what we’re trying to encourage is for people to rethink the outdoor space as something which can be softer, more luxurious and has many more of the indoor ‘style cues’ than perhaps it did before. And with clever drainage in cushioning and quick dry foams etc, the kinds of furniture that we’re creating for the outdoor market is really akin to the sort of stuff you might see indoors in a coastal home. In fact, I have three small people in my house and we’re considering putting some outdoor sofas with outdoor fabric in our place because they’re just a bit hardier and they wear really well for the life stage we’re at! What is your vision for the future of outdoor design? You know how people have always thought about outdoors as an extension of the indoor space? People talk about ‘flowing from indoors to out’ or a seamless transition…. I think there can be a tendency for people to believe that they should think about (and style) their outdoor space just as they would their indoor space with loads of stuff and I’m not such a big proponent of that. I still think the major aspects which create and structure the outdoor space are the landscape, the planting and the natural shape of the space. We look for furniture, fabrics and products that enhance that without overwhelming it, remember we’re still outdoors, so your most beautiful addition is still the sun or a gentle shade. I feel like we’ve swung from what was maybe a more disconnected outdoor space in the early years to almost recreating our house outdoors with huge scale kitchens, dining areas and styling. I’m really excited about this subtle shift back towards a more natural outdoor space that starts with the landscape design and slowly adds a little touch here and there to create living spaces or spaces for being. I think outdoor living spaces are not the same as your indoor living spaces because the way we live outside is different. But in their own way, they can be delightful. I think I’m starting to understand that now and I think in the next few years we’ll see a shift again in outdoor style and design. Photography courtesy of Eco Outdoor & Nicholas Watt