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The Great Outdoors: Landscape Forms Interview

We speak to Landscape Forms’ vice president of design and marketing, Kirt Martin, and director of strategic initiatives Rick Utting about how this Michigan-based site furniture manufacturer stays at the top of its game. 

[caption id="attachment_43104" align="alignnone" width="546"]Arne09_original Developed with design partners Santa & Cole, the 'Arne' lighting series Landscape Forms combines classic modernist design with 21st century LED technology[/caption]

Landscape Forms is a medium-sized American site furniture manufacturer with an international outlook. Founded in 1969 by landscape architect John Chipman, the company works with an impressive roster of design talent from across the globe – Yves Behar, BMW Group DesignworksUSA and Santa & Cole to name just a few - but still proudly produces all of its furniture in its Kalamazoo, Michigan factory, where it employs just over 400 staff. “We manufacture almost everything here,” says Landscape Forms’ vice president of design and marketing, Kirt Martin. “We can fabricate metal, finish it, we have a wood shop, we process the high performance concrete here. Its amazing for us to walk into our own plant and see people making our designs right in front of us.”

[caption id="attachment_43107" align="alignnone" width="546"]fuseproject-multiplicity-street-furniture-designboom05 Created and developed in partnership with celebrated design innovators Yves Behar and fuseproject, the 'MultipliCITY' collection comprises six flat-pack furniture designs[/caption]

Now 45 years old and busier than ever, the company maintains that the three cornerstones of its success are design, culture and craft. “Our previous president was a landscape architect and our current president is an architect, so the company has always been design-led,’ explains Martin. ‘Design is the single most important filter for every decision, even above profit margin.’ It’s a formula that seems to be working for the southwest Michigan firm who are over three times bigger than their nearest competitors with a consistent, year-on-year growth averaging more than 10% since its inception.

[caption id="attachment_43110" align="alignnone" width="546"]home_35-Collection-Head Created in collaboration with frog, the design powerhouse renowned for the first Apple computer, '35' includes nine elements from bike racks to lighting, all designed for social outdoor spaces[/caption]

The firm has been particularly astute when it comes to selecting design partners, seeking out the best possible people at home and abroad to work on each of its projects. “At times it’s expensive and it’s not always easy but we believe that it yields great results, ” says Martin, who oversees the launch of at least 12 products every year.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="546"]LF_Olithas-Terrace_original_1 Designed by Landscape Forms' Efrain E. Velez, the concrete 'Olithas' table and bench system won a 2013 Red Dot Award[/caption]

An exciting development in the company’s history came two years ago with its purchase of Meld USA- a high performance concrete manufacturer located in Raleigh North Carolina. The introduction came through one of Landscape Forms’ in-house designers who was familiar with the brand and its MeldStone™ material, which, originally designed to be used for bridge building, can be molded into impossibly-thin cross sections that are extremely strong and durable.

[caption id="attachment_43111" align="alignnone" width="546"]LF_Olithas-Bench_original The slim fluted cast concrete top and seat of  'Olitas' is supported by a geometric tubular steel base[/caption]

“What Landscape Forms was able to bring to the table was a new market, and enough development resources to perfect the strength of the material and the molding techniques,” says Rick Utting, Landscape Forms’ director of strategic initiatives. “And what Meld USA brought was a real appreciation and understanding of using that material to craft high quality furniture pieces.”

[caption id="attachment_43115" align="alignnone" width="546"]Strata-Collection Jess Sorrel's concrete 'Strata' benches have strong horizontal planes and large flat surfaces with an angularity that makes them come alive[/caption]

The ultra high performance concrete is created in a Finnish-built mixer – the first of its kind in the United States – before being injection molded into a hi-tech mold with a special abrasion-resistant coating. “We choose to inject rather than pour because we’re trying to prevent the trapped air and bubbles,” explains Utting, “and we’ve perfected the process.”

[caption id="attachment_43114" align="alignnone" width="546"]Strata_image1 The bench seat is thick at the center, progressively thinner as it expands toward the edges[/caption]

The collaboration has born two collections thus far; Strata, an elegant set of benches and tables with San Francisco-based designer Jess Sorel and the Red Dot Award-winning Olithas table and bench, which was designed in-house – a third collection is slated for launch later this year. Having enjoyed much success in the Gulf States – “the salt air is so hard on metal furniture and the sun is quite harsh on wood furniture, so they love concrete,” Utting tells us – the collections, both less than two-years-old, can already be found gracing the employee lunchroom at Facebook in California, at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport and South Florida University. “The nice thing about the collections is that they are really cost-competitive,” says Utting. “The ingredients of concrete are readily available worldwide and so they’re not only great design products but affordable ones too.”

[caption id="attachment_43119" align="alignnone" width="546"]Strata-20_original-2 Part of the 'Strata' line, these six-sided tables help to define seating relationships, break up space, and can be used to create seating islands[/caption]

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Posted February 18th, 2015 by Editor

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