The New Outdoor Design Trend? Believe It or Not: Brutalism
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The New Outdoor Design Trend? Believe It or Not: Brutalism

What’s behind the revival—and how to pull it off without turning your backyard retreat into a totalitarian bunker.

Fri, Jul 22, 2022 11:51amGrey Clock 2 min

CALL IT FLINTSTONES CHIC: On balconies and in backyards, hulking stone chairs and chunky concrete tables are making their weighty presence known. The look, though not actually prehistoric, is one with a past. Brutalism, the modern-design movement more typically associated with no-frills 1960s and 1970s public buildings than patio furniture, has long been an aesthetic critics love to hate. So why, after years of trim minimalism, are designers embracing the monolithic look for outdoors?

“People want unusual, sculptural pieces that have an edge and patina,” explained New York designer Amy Lau. Brutalist designs tick those boxes. Cameos in high-profile Instagram feeds like Gwyneth Paltrow’s haven’t hurt, either: Recent snaps of the lifestyle guru’s new Montecito home show what appear to be vintage “pod chairs” by Brutalist designer Willy Guhl looming trendily around an equally chunky fire pit. (Snag your own pair on 1stDibs for a rather brutal $21,293)

The post-apocalyptic style, named for the French term, “béton brut” (meaning “raw concrete”), might seem at odds with gentle plant forms, but fans say that juxtaposition is exactly what makes it work. “[Outdoors] the bold, elemental shapes of Brutalist furniture create a sense of dynamic contrast and edge,” said Kelly Wearstler, a Los Angeles designer whose work is heavily influenced by Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, midcentury masters who ushered in the Brutalist movement.

Take for example, the Boletto Chair from Cassius Castings, a Santa Monica, Calif., studio specializing in made-to-order concrete pieces. With its angular shape, drab colour and textureless surface, it sets off verdant green spaces with satisfyingly bratty dissonance. A Corten steel chiminea from Terrain also upends gentility with a straight-from-the-steel-mill look—though its saffron patina and columnar, tree-trunk shape evoke more natural forms.

Brutalist patio furniture can also be just plain practical. As Ms. Lau explained, concrete—one of Brutalism’s signature mediums—does particularly well outdoors. “It’s sturdy, and you don’t have to cover it for winter.”

For those worried Brutalist furniture will make their terrace look more like a totalitarian bunker than a posh retreat, Gaithersburg, Md., designer Shoshanna Shapiro points out that many new designs—like Boxhill’s lightweight and surprisingly elegant swooping Lucio loungers—are more approachable than their 1960s-era counterparts. Another way to temper the severity of Brutalist elements: Use them sparingly, or combine them with more delicate wood or rattan pieces.

“We’re seeing more sophisticated versions with slimmer, gentler curves and richer colours,” Ms. Shapiro explained. One of her favourite examples of this new iteration is the monumental, modular Spolia planter from Opiary. “It blends biophilic design and Brutalism in a modern, minimalist way.”

Neo-Brutalist designer James De Wulf also marries the organic and the industrial with his new bronze and concrete Exo dining table. While he’s best known for his hulking half-ton pieces, the craftsman’s recent work skews subtler. “I’m letting the shapes be organic rather than following the rigidity of circles and straight lines,” he explained.

“Some clients shy away from [Brutalist pieces] thinking they’ll be cold and uncomfortable,” said Seattle designer Anna Popov, who says she’s recently been crushing on a sensuous line of sealed concrete furniture from Sunpan. “But the truth is that it’s form, not material, that determines comfort,” she said. “A well-designed chair, in any material, can be the most comfortable one you’ve ever sat in.”

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: July 21, 2022


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Mortgage holders should brace themselves for more pain as the Reserve Bank of Australia board prepares to meet tomorrow for the first time this year.

Most economists and the major banks are predicting a rise of 25 basis points will be announced, although the Commonwealth Bank suggests that the RBA may take the unusual step of a 40 basis point rise to bring the interest rate up to a more conventional 3.5 percent. This would allow the RBA to step back from further rate rises for the next few months as it assesses the impact of tightening monetary policy on the economy.

The decision by the RBA board to make consecutive rate rises since April last year is an attempt to wrestle inflation down to a more manageable 3 or 4 percent. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the inflation rate rose to 7.8 percent over the December quarter, the highest it has been since 1990, reflected in higher prices for food, fuel and construction.

Higher interest rates have coincided with falling home values, which Ray White chief economist Nerida Conisbee says are down 6.1 percent in capital cities since peaking in March 2022. The pain has been greatest in Sydney, where prices have dropped 10.8 percent since February last year. Melbourne and Canberra recorded similar, albeit smaller falls, while capitals like Adelaide, which saw property prices fall 1.8 percent, are less affected.

Although prices may continue to decline, Ms Conisbee (below) said there are signs the pace is slowing and that inflation has peaked.

“December inflation came in at 7.8 per cent with construction, travel and electricity costs being the biggest drivers. It is likely that we are now at peak,” Ms Conisbee said. 

“Many of the drivers of high prices are starting to be resolved. Shipping costs are now down almost 90 per cent from their October 2021 peak (as measured by the Baltic Dry Index), while crude oil prices have almost halved from March 2022. China is back open and international migration has started up again. 

“Even construction costs look like they are close to plateau. Importantly, US inflation has pulled back from its peak of 9.1 per cent in June to 6.5 per cent in December, with many of the drivers of inflation in this country similar to Australia.”

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