Celerie Kemble on outdoor design
August 1, 2016,
With projects in some of the most posh locales around the country, designer Celerie Kemble knows how a designer’s touch can transform an outdoor space.
And following the trend of designers partnering with casual furnishings and accessories producers, Kemble parlayed her design expertise to an outdoor line for Lane Venture.
CL: When did the trend of high-end designers partnering with furniture companies begin?
CK: I don’t know that this is necessarily a new trend. I think there have been lots of designers doing this with different companies. I think it’s been happening since the ‘70s; if you look at Larry Laslow’s line, into the ‘90s with Harbor Bay and 2000s with (Thomas) O’Brien. I think there have been a lot of people who have been brought to the interior design world with their knowledge of verified, high-end customers and the lifestyles they are helping to shape through their aesthetic perspective. I think it’s a longstanding tradition now of bringing those people into the furniture manufacturing world and collaborating to bring more of those elements to the larger market. I think that there’s a pretty deep history of designers working with companies like Lane Venture, Century, Baker. It always feels new because the looks they are bringing are new or kind of windows into what’s coming.
CL: Where is this trend happening? Is it mostly happening in affluent areas?
CK: I think it’s taking the world of antique purchasing and custom furniture design that the top tier designers do for their clients, at a very high end, and bringing some of those design sensibilities to a broader distribution and larger marketplace. My line of outdoor furniture for Lane venture has a greater fashion aspect. It’s much more feminine and not what I would call atypical brown furniture. It’s the embodiment of perspective that might be new in the marketplace.
CL: How did your partnership with Lane Venture come about?
CK: I’ve been working in and around High Point for many years, helping with showroom designs and helping my mother when she had an indoor line with Lane Venture. I did a small indoor capsule collection with them before they stopped making indoor furniture. Then I went on to do an indoor collection of case goods, upholstery, accessories and lighting with Henredon (Lane Venture’s sister company). When it became a point of discussion as to why I’m not doing outdoor, the first company I wanted to do it with was Lane Venture because I had a great relationship with their design team. I have huge respect for their capabilities. I think they were sweet in coming to me because they know we work well and communicate easily.
CL: Is working in outdoor a whole different animal, or do you find it similar to designing for indoor?
CK: It is different because the endurance standards are way beyond what I’m familiar with in indoor furniture construction. It has to be able to withstand sun, rain, wind – it has to be much more engineered and use equipment that’s much more technical than what I’ve been working with. I don’t produce much aluminum furniture in the indoor world, and I don’t have to worry about my furniture being blown off balconies. I don’t have to worry about wind shear and sand ruining my paint finishes. The technological specifications are way more intense. When I work with the production team at Lane Venture, I’m dealing with engineers who are very knowledgeable and experienced, so it does not have to be an area of expertise for me. That’s what’s great about the partnership – they know what they are doing. And, especially in outdoors, you want the right partners.
CL: Were there new things you needed to learn when you entered the outdoor market?
CK: There are all sorts of hazards that you don’t think of. Like, how many hours is it going to take for a cushion to dry after it rains? Well, when do you want to go outside? You want to go outside when the sun breaks and the rain has stopped and if you go sit on a cushion you’re going to get a big wet bum unless the cushions drain properly out of the bottom and are made of material that lets water move and doesn’t trap it. And how do you handle mold and bird poop – these are the hazards of the outdoor world. Falling berries. It’s a different world of abuse and rugged needs and different practicalities. I’ve learned so much.
CL: Do you plan to develop your own line with other furniture companies in the future?
CK: Yes, I am expanding my licensing. I really enjoy the process. It feels like a very constructive outlet for the knowledge I gain by working with private clients because each job I do is only once, for one individual and one house. It rarely lives beyond that world. To get to bring the ideas and creativity to a broader market - it’s so fun. It’s fulfilling in a different way than with a private client. I like working in the business aspect. It’s a refreshing and enlightening experience with a manufacturer with the distributors and the marketing people. It’s a great opportunity.
CL: Where do you think the trend of these partnerships is going? Are more companies going to start regularly partnering with higher-end designers?
CK: I think there are certain kinds of companies that are set for that and others that are researching price points or just have different business goals. I think it will continue, and I think it will probably continue at the same pace. I think it’s a business right now that’s been coming through some difficult times and is starting to bloom again, but I don’t see a lot of turnover. The investment in each licensing partner is pretty huge on the side of the manufacturer. It takes a long time to get a new collection to the market and a long time to distribute or market it. I don’t think anybody who is watching this, and thinking that there’s a new ice cream flavor developed every other week, watches those come to fruition. I think it’s a much more thoughtful and long-legged process. There are few manufacturers that have become really good at building and understanding those relationships. I think the world of American high-end furniture manufacturing and distribution has changed a lot in the last couple of years and right now people are pretty deep in the way business has been done and is being done. I think there are changes in distribution. But I don’t really see a lot of designers being thrown into the market place like confetti as how it’s going to work out.
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