In New York City, private outdoor space comes at a premium. Hosting a rooftop barbecue usually requires permission from a surly landlord, and fire escapes, which often date back to the early 20th century, provide support that’s rickety at best. To enjoy the sunshine, most New Yorkers head to public parks, meaning few (except, of course, the ultra-wealthy) are in the market for outdoor furniture.
According to Kin & Company co-founders Kira de Paola and Joe Vidich, this product category addresses a niche many New Yorkers tend to overlook: “Outdoor furniture brings us closer to and becomes part of the landscape around us.” To kick off NYCxDesign, the annual citywide design festival, the duo is thinking outside the trade-show booth—and challenging their peers to follow suit. They enlisted fellow Brooklyn designer Asa Pingree to co-curate a group exhibition, called “Inside/Out,” that puts a playful spin on outdoor furniture typologies. Each participant, as de Paola describes, had been itching to experiment in the category, but hadn’t yet found the right opportunity. Kismet!
“Inside/Out” presents an array of ambitious, thoroughly experimental pieces that reflect the community’s innate curiosities and creative moxie—these aren’t your standard tables and benches in Central Park. Joseph Algieri crafted a joy-sparking sculpture called Pollen in Process (he jokingly calls it Hairy Bertoia) that cleverly combines papier-mâché and piano wire while leaving little to the imagination. Robert Sukrachand, on the other hand, reveals two stately terrazzo benches inspired by the ones he observed throughout Thailand. Each piece adorns The William Vale’s elevated garden, a covert oasis-like gem whose hilly expanse gives each piece ample space to assert itself—as well as provide an ideal gathering place. (The opening night party had 600 RSVPs.) We catch Vidich, de Paola, and Pingree at the occasion, where they chat about how it all came together.
First off, thank you for giving everyone a reason to go outside. How did this show come to fruition?
Kin & Company: The Female Design Council connected us with The William Vale, an NYCxDesign partner looking to activate its space. When we saw Vale Park, it was an “a-ha!” moment. We had wanted to develop an outdoor furniture collection, so we pitched them a group exhibition of all outdoor work. Fortunately, they were excited about the idea! We then decided to bring Asa into the mix. Our partnership with The William Vale has been great—they’ve been really supportive and have given us so much creative freedom.
In your eyes, how is outdoor furniture overlooked within New York and its independent design sphere?
KC: Most New Yorkers are indoor creatures—we spend our time either in our homes or offices. The few moments we spend outside tend to be moving from one shelter to another. Perhaps the outdoor market feels overlooked simply because in so many parts of the country with robust design communities, we tend to not eat, read, sleep, or work outside. But outdoor furniture satisfies a unique niche in how we program space—we use it when lounging in a park, relaxing by a pool, or contemplating a garden. We wanted to develop outdoor work for a while, and we found that many designers on our roster were thinking the same thing but were waiting for the right opportunity!
Asa Pingree: When I launched my fiberglass collection, the response was often “can this go outside?” But the question often sounded more like a desperate plea. There’s a real hunger for fresh ideas in outdoor furniture. As a design community, we work to build a clientele that expects something new and original, so why wouldn’t they expect the same for outdoor? It’s overlooked because independent design is made up of small operations that need to prioritize where we can create the most value. Outdoor is often perceived as cruder. Of course, the outdoor market is huge and hungry, and while it rarely feels bespoke, there’s no reason why eye candy should stop at the sliding glass door.
Have you previously experimented with outdoor furniture?
KC: We’ve been experimenting with outdoor furniture for a while. Metal is our primary material, so many of our designs can easily translate to the outdoors by changing a patina to a powder coat. It always seemed like a natural progression. Clients often ask if our pieces can be used outside because they’re looking to make their outdoor spaces a little more dynamic. Our newest Thin Check Chaise and Thin Check Table, in collaboration with Dusen Dusen, uses one of her latest patterns, Checks of Checks, to create a custom perforation that playfully casts shadows across the ground.
AP: Definitely. I grew up in the boat-building industry and boats are like floating furniture. The shapes I’ve been focusing on brought me back to the materials of boat building for structural reasons with a nice byproduct being weather resistance.
Tell me more about the brief. Aside from each piece being suitable for the outdoors, what sort of work did you request?
KC: We requested work that pushes conventional boundaries of outdoor furniture. We wanted each participant to bring the same quality as their indoor work. And everyone delivered on that! Each piece, in my eyes, looks equally at home indoors or out.
AP: Without a doubt, this lineup is ambitious and thoroughly contemporary. The design response to our prompt was strong, but also speaks to the space itself. The William Vale’s elevated garden is playful public space with a strong architectural element. The furniture will be enjoyed by design aficionados and lunch-break sunbathers alike—much like in a real backyard.
What did “Inside/Out” teach you about curation?
KC: We’ve curated smaller shows, but this has definitely been our largest undertaking. Looking outside our own practice is one of our top priorities—we really thrive on collaboration. We’re huge fans of the work of our peers, so it was great to create something with all of them. But we also learned that producing a show at a large space during NYCxDesign is no small feat!
AP: Agreed. Fostering the camaraderie that comes so naturally to the makers of New York is the impetus and the takeaway. When you curate fellow designers, they know it’s not your first priority as a small business owner but more importantly that we have the same motivation, to put the work first. You feel more appreciated.
It’s a busy time of year. What else are you working on?
KC: We’re showing three new pieces at Next Level, which opens May 18, and continuing our collaboration with Dusen Dusen to study perforations in metal. Its density lets us create a vast array of intricate patterns, patinas, and colors onto the surface while its inherent ductility lets it fold much like fabric! We’re also developing lighting based on our Cascade Mobile—pairing the geometric shapes with glowing, iridescent orbs.
AP: A series of small portable structures that I started developing this spring. It was only a matter of time before I tried turning my furniture back into boats.
“Inside/Out” will display at The William Vale, 111 N 12th St, Brooklyn, until May 22.