April 23, 2011 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
When it comes to identifying innovative designs and tracking emerging trends for outdoor spaces, Anne Robert of The Outdoor Stylist is in the know. Combing the world for the latest concepts and products, she showcases her finds while her marketing consultancy assists brands in decoding and navigating the global outdoor market. Anne also shares her discoveries as a guest online contributor at Garden Design Magazine and Design Milk.
The Outdoor Stylist, according to Robert, aims to offer readers a frame of reference for what is “out there” and, offering e-catalog links and price points, enough data about the designs so readers can explore further on their own.
Urban Gardens interviewed Ms. Robert for some insight about her inspirations, visions, and ideas about current trends:
What is your background? What brought you to the “outdoor design” arena?
My mother and grand-parents were interior designers so I guess I was programmed from the start! I started my career in advertising (Saatchi & Saatchi, TBWA/, MEC) and had a great time. However, you can’t escape your genes. The turning point was when I bought an apartment and found I had to go through zillions of sites to find any thing I liked. I decided to combine my appetite for all things design with my previous career.
Tell us a bit about your marketing consultancy. What do you do for clients?
We are hands on entrepreneurial consultants and provide two main services: marketing and communication, and trends analysis we help clients get a fresh perspective on the market in terms of product designs. Having spent 17 years with the largest advertising and communications groups, I have a network of very senior consultants, experts in luxury and lifestyle marketing both at local and international level. A key strength is that they all run businesses of their own so they know what it is to manage in real life (ie., not with mega corporation budgets). We are not airy-fairy but very hands-on partners for our clients.
Clients come to us either to have us act as an outsourced marketing department to whom they delegate specific programs (brand positioning, PR, Internet marketing etc.,) or they have a short-term need and hand over a project. Others need a sparring partner and a coach to help them on a ad hoc basis.
As the market grows, many brands are at a point in their development where international expansion needs to be organized. Their marketing needs to adapt. We help with that too.
What are some things of particular interest to urban dwellers these days?
Time for urban escapism. I must be the only person pleased with the rise of fuel prices. And for an embarrassingly selfish reason! Since I started exploring the designs now available to city dwellers owning outdoor spaces, I have realised a key trend now will be for Urban Escapism: to have a sense of leaving the city by simply stepping out.
Outdoor showers, climbing walls, plug and cook outdoor kitchens, mp3-equipped outdoor heaters… so many designs now give us a sense of joy and freedom that mirrors what one finds on a distant mini break.
How well do you feel the “big box” stores are responding to these consumer interests? Any, in particular, that you feel are doing a good job of this?
Not well is the short answer. On a positive note I will say that Home Depot, Band Q, or Ikea have occasionally got a few nice pieces up there in terms of design value for the price.
I would love to meet the heads of departments of major stores and encourage them to think different on a whole. They are lagging behind in terms of style, and much more importantly, they are missing the point of the outdoor design revolution. This is not just about cool chairs and sofas. It is not a new outdoor room in the limited sense. It is about using outdoor spaces as multi-purpose and multi-targeted outdoor spaces. One single area needs to be a kitchen, a wet space, a play room, a lounge, a dining area, a gym, a work place etc…Parents, kids, teens, grand parents need to use the space. Without being rude, many outdoor sofas are so low, any one past forty would dread sitting in them!
People now work outdoors. Premium brands like Gloster and Ego Paris have coffee tables that pop up so you can comfortably work on a laptop.
Finally, I like the Caprice from 21St Living: it is a brilliant multi purpose design: planter, light and sculpture:
Any companies that you feel are really influencing the outdoor design market?
We are witnessing the birth of the ultra contemporary segment. In each segment of the market you have influencers: pots and planters, furniture, heating, etc. As far as core outdoor designs go, I think Vondom, the Spanish brand, is a key influencer as it has opened up the ultra contemporary segment. This appeals to edgy designers–younger and up and coming groups–and draws them to invest in the outdoors.
What are some of your favorite new products and why?
I love so many things it is very hard to choose. I will therefore go for what readers have expressed most surprise and enthusiasm for:
• The ultra compact outdoor kitchen by Stanek, below.
• The Hopper table by Extremis with its removable top, below. This design has probably appealed to so many because it has a “je ne sais quoi” of traditional design. Who did not sit on such a bench table combo as a child!
• The Caprice by 21st Living, below. A simple example of creativity applied to an outdoor staple. The design is also a brilliant example of the new multi-tasking designs now available. It is all at once a pot, a light, and a sculpture.
Are there any up and coming designers you feel are worth paying attention to?
Oh there are too many to list them all!
What do you see as the big trends for 2111?
People are increasingly staying at home as we know. So to get a sense of jazzing up their summers, many people are including bars, which are not budget breakers and add so much fun. One good example is The Garden Party from Qui Est Paul:
Anything else you would like Urban Gardens readers to know about?
Urban Gardens is a great source of inspiration for me!
The feeling is certainly mutual! Thank you Anne!