Cold winter days and early sunsets call for an extra dose of escapism and tropical vibes that make us visualise the summer bliss. Last week, in my previous post, I focused on botanical trends influencing bathroom and wellness design, so now I would like to take a closer look at outdoor furniture inspired by exotic plants and vintage gardens. More precisely, at Aquiloni, a capsule collection created by Italian outdoor space designer Derek Castiglioni, whose Instagram feed fills me with serious garden envy. If you’re obsessed with plants and stylish design as much as I am, read on. 

A set of chairs and a table from the Aquiloni collection by Derek Castiglioni
Greenhouse vibes: Aquiloni collection by Derek Castiglioni Photo: Maria Teresa Furnari

Not that long ago The New York Times published a long article on the plantfluencers, a shorthand for plant influencers who can be credited for the recent revival of interest in gardening, horticulture and oversized houseplants among the millennial set. This newfound enthusiasm for the so-called urban jungle has led us to admire vertical gardens (just think about the Bosco Verticale skyscraper towering over the centre of Milan), attend floral workshops and revel in the thought of dining out in a greenhouse. A threat of an impending climate change has made us cherish greenery and look for new ways to include it in our surroundings. And how has it affected a current approach to outdoor design? Can it go beyond the clichés of the urban jungle that we’re used to see on the Internet?

Derek Castiglioni
A green angle with an Aquiloni chair and modular table Photo: Maria Teresa Furnari

Terraces and gardens, now viewed as curated extensions to interiors, need furniture with an individual stamp and the ‘wow’ factor that comes with original design. More designers respond to this need by daring to be different and coming up with unconventional ideas that can add a modern touch to a garden or a conservatory. This is the case of Derek Castiglioni, who in his debut foray into furniture design aims at creating a refined product that can enhance both the indoor and outdoor environments. However, this experience wouldn’t have come to life without the right amount of storytelling. Nowadays it all comes down to effective communication, building a compelling visual narrative around your products. A visual story that will directly appeal to your clients’ emotions and, in a sense, immerse them in the universe of your brand and its core values. Judging from his social media presence alone, Derek Castiglioni understands the concept of design storytelling like few others in his field. So first, let’s have a look at his visual language. 

Derek Castiglioni
A lush living wall designed by Derek Castiglioni. His projects include collaborations with Stella McCartney, Dimore Gallery in Milan and Art Basel in Miami.

Browsing through his Instagram gallery it’s easy to spot references to dreamy destinations that nourish his taste and creative process. Memories from faraway excursions in Asia, weekends spent on the shores of Italian lakes, snaps from art exhibitions and sophisticated interiors of European capitals are all featured alongside his own green projects and tagged with the branded hashtag #FollowMyGreenAdventures. One particular location, the Orto Botanico di Brera, a small botanical garden secluded behind the walls in the heart of Milan’s historic neighbourhood, has always reminded me of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel ‘The Secret Garden’ that I read as a child. 

Before switching to designing outdoor spaces, Derek Castiglioni studied architecture in Milan. Then he joined his family’s landscape design company, which continues to offer innovative solutions for the Italian market, including systems for rooftop gardens and living walls. But his architectural training is still evident in the way he approaches his projects and his latest collection illustrates this quality in more than one way. Unlike many plantfluencers exploring the urban jungle trend on Instagram, he doesn’t overly rely on bohemian references. Aquiloni strikes the middle ground between the vintage-inspired and contemporary aesthetics. There’s a structure and purity of lines that points to mid-century Californian architecture, while a soft colour palette evokes the image of 1950s Palm Springs. Still, all this inspiration has been processed through a contemporary lens. Can you guess the meaning behind the name? 

The word ‘aquiloni’ in Italian translates into kites and the collection appears to be as lightweight, adaptable and joyful as objects that originated its name. Triangular modules of sofas and tables promise flexibility and can be customised according to individual needs. Moreover, their feet can be adjusted to match the non-coplanar garden surfaces, which means no more wobbly tables. Plant aficionados are also in for a treat thanks to an exotic Licuala palm pattern printed on artisanal fabrics. Licuala used to be a plant of choice for picturesque early 20th-century gardens. 

Aquiloni modular sofa

There’s no doubt that with this collection Derek Castiglioni has created bespoke aesthetic for the high-end, affluent consumer, but hopefully his example will encourage others to take more interest in the environment and outdoor design. And who knows if Licuala becomes the next ‘It’ plant? Just make sure that you keep an eye on his future green adventures. 

Keywords for Derek Castiglioni’s Aquiloni collection:

  • 1950s modernism adapted to contemporary taste
  • Soft colour palette 
  • Exotic plants and greenhouses
  • Modular elements