5 minutes with co-founder Ben Kerr

Eco Outdoor co-founder Ben Kerr introduces our outdoor lifestyle business and opens up about his vision for outdoor design.

Tell us about Eco Outdoor…

We supply natural stone flooring and walling for mostly residential projects. Even though we supply a huge amount of natural stone for indoor projects, we call ourselves Eco Outdoor because our center of gravity really sits with an outdoor aesthetic [rough, raw, organic stone flooring and walling]. We also design and manufacture our own outdoor furniture. We’ve worked with architects and designers closely on many indoor and outdoor projects and realized there was a real gap in the market for simple modern pared back outdoor furniture with quality componentry that will last.

Over the past few years, we’ve also developed our own range of outdoor Belgian linens too. Outdoor fabric is really changing and we’re excited to bring all those interior style cues to outdoor fabric across both outdoor furniture upholstery and also by-the-yard direct to designers.

What’s your personal passion?

Obviously, I’m into architecture but overall I’d say that my passion is really design and texture. I kind of fell into the stone market 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 linen that has loads of imperfections and therefore, it feels really indulgent but also real.

What drives your product selection?

Eco Outdoor Showroom 325
Eco Outdoor Flagship Store in Beverly Hills, LA

We really focus on 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 color.

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 Californian 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.

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.

Outdoor Lifestyle
Macmasters Residence by Polly Harbison

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’m starting to understand that more now and I think in the next few years we’ll see a shift again in outdoor style and design.

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