When I started thinking in writing an article on new trend in “exteriorismo”*, my first thought was “will anyone know what it is “exteriorismo”? When we started using this word, some time ago in Arboretum, half serious half joking, we actually did not hear it before.
Since I started, I have collaborated with architects and interior designers that asked me what could they do with the terraces, backyards or roof terraces in their projects. They didn’t know how to solve those spots. They didn’t know about plants, products or materials mostly used to successfully set the outdoor spaces. Was then when we pointed out that, in the same way they could define themselves as interior designers (“interioristas” in Spanish), we were then the exterior designers (or exterioristas): the specialist designers for outdoor spaces.
The dictionary of the “Spanish Royal Academy” does not include the word “exteriorismo”. As you would expect, it defines “interiorismo” (interior designer) as the “art of conditioning and decorating the interior spaces of the architecture”. Consequently I don’t see it as a hard job to get a rough idea of the meaning of the word “exteriorismo”.
Personally, “exteriorismo” is something more, is to design with all the consequences and outdoor space. Bring to live big and small urban spaces without forgetting that they are a part of whole in the building. Conceive these spaces as an essential part of the whole picture, to enjoy many of the hours that people stay inside the house. Because the in and out concepts are not exclusives, but they must live in harmony. For that reason is essential to look after them at the same level. “Exteriorismo” means achieving that the attention of the house turns around the terrace or garden, and vice versa, so they blend together in harmony without breakups.
Once the word “exteriorismo” is clear I should focus now on the trends.
At the first moment I thought in talking about good or bad trends but finally I decided that was a bit pretentious to set what is good or bad. I will talk then about what is in and out, or what is coming up or down in “exteriorismo”. Or being more specific, what would I like to come up or down.
First thing I find positive, obviously, is the appreciation in value of our work. Nowadays, where the living space is an honest luxury, the clients, privates, hotels, architects or interior designers, understand that the outdoor spaces can’t resign themselves to harbour only a dinning area in summer and a shade spot. They know these areas must become in pleasant areas to gather, relaxation, isolation and intimacy in suggestive spaces for reading, have fun or chatting with friend and family. They must be as important as their principal room in the house, and be fitted with those criteria within the restrictions of an outdoor space. They must become truly “chill out” areas, used more often than normal. And obviously, this is something good for the “exteriorismo”.

Linked to this, or a simple consequence, the market has turned around offering new outdoor products in last few years. These days the most world wide known designers are working with the more important manufacturers to create all sort of outdoor furniture and complements. Names like Philippe Starck, Patricia Urquiola, Karim Rashid, Jean Marie Massaud, Javier Mariscal and many others sign outdoor collections. The supply has increased exponentially during recent years. But not only restricted to tables, chairs or sofas today the offer is completed with lamps, fireplaces, kitchens, fridges, curtains, sunshades and even wine cellars to resist being open to the elements.
But there is also a bad side that worries me specially. What is, in my opinion, out or should be a downward trend in “exteriorismo”? The denaturation of the outdoor spaces. The request of reducing maintenance and cares in the outdoor spaces, the trend of reproducing outside what it works inside, the taste for the clean and shinny makes us lose a part of what an outdoor space essence should be. Precisely, we decorate the exteriors to be able to enjoy the sun, the shade, the air, and the smells… We should not and we must not design a terrace with composite decking, rattan furniture, plastic planters, artificial lawn and plants. And even if it sounds like a joke, I had many demands on that sense. I am not against these materials, far from being. In some cases are a truly progress in the industry that give us more tools to improve our designs, but we have to use them moderation and discerning. We can’t and we must not refuse natural plants. We can and we should prescribe the most adapted species, those hardy autochthon varieties but never reject them. As Beth Figueres (beloved Catalan landscape architect, but sadly passed away) used to say “vegetation is a modern tool; is not a stuffing but n eloquent language”. The vegetation connects us with nature. In an urban set of asphalt, concrete and glass the plants are essential. But the plants grow up and we have to water them, prune them, look after them, pamper them… and the plants renew their leaves and bloom, … and they “make a mess”. The clients ask us for non maintenance plants, without irrigation, evergreens, almost better if they don’t flower or have no fragrance (we can always use air freshener…). And thanks God that does not exist. A similar thing happens with timber, tropical or autochthon, and the composite decking or WPC. It shouldn’t be an issue in using tropical decking if they are certificated. WPC timber is not strictly synthetic as approximately 70% of their composition comes from recycled timber. The issue here is another one. All materials can be great if they are used correctly. If we prefer to use WPC timber in a garden or plastic planters, we should compensate it with a beautiful planting design.

Many years ago, I was visiting a furniture manufacturer in Holland and I noticed that there were some wooden tables being stocked outside. I obviously asked the MD of the company about them and his answer was that those tables were being prepared to send to UK. They wouldn’t conceive the idea of using a brand new table in their porches and gardens. The tables would stay there until the timber had the right silver matt colour and then cleaned and shipped to UK. This is culture about garden.
A few months ago, we changed the plythene planters of a terrace that were all scratched and faded. We could not explain what happened. Later we found out that the client had been cleaning and brushing them at least once a week. The terrace or the garden doesn’t have to be a hospital bathroom. There’s no need for all to be clean, spotless or sterilized. They don’t have to have perfect details, you can see the nails and the natural cracks of the timber. There will be leaves and flowers on the floor. That is what plants do: produce flowers and leaves, and change depending on the season. We shouldn’t reject the seasonal planting even if we have to replace them every season.
The outdoor spaces must be dynamic and above all, alive.