Autumn’s most compelling designs celebrate the natural beauty—and breathtaking resilience—of raw materials.
Looking for a way to get back to nature without pitching a tent? This fall’s most sought-after styles are at your service. Though nature-inspired palettes and silhouettes have been trending since the pandemic began—think soothing sage greens and free-flowing curves—the latest designs take that sentiment a step further, embracing the great outdoors in its wildest, most impetuous forms.
Furnishings and home accessories crafted from raw, organic materials aren’t just eco-friendly. They also provide designers with a toolbox of touchable textures, amorphous shapes and rich earth tones that everyone from minimalists to maximalists can appreciate. “Raw materials are the great equalizer in design,” says Houston-based architect and designer Benjamin Johnston. “Whether it’s steel, wood or stone, the applications are seemingly endless.”
That penchant for sleek, monolithic forms also recalls the roots of brutalism, a movement that emerged in the 1950s in response to the postwar need for low-cost, utilitarian housing—one that favored bare materials and simple construction over the decorative elements of the previous era’s intricate art deco architectural leanings. “Brutalism highlights the actual materials used for building, such as concrete, brick and steel,” says Johnston. “What started out as a need for simplicity in urban reconstruction became avant-garde in the hands of maverick architects who applied these materials in exciting new ways.”
Once disruptive innovators, these Brutalist pioneers—including Marcel Breuer, Paul Rudolph, Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe—are now household names that continue to influence some of today’s biggest design-world players. “My practice has been deeply inspired by these luminaries,” says designer Kelly Wearstler, whose latest product line, Morro, features an array of raw materials such as limestone, shearling and solid oak. “Furniture that is composed of a single element in a brutalist form brings its texture, shape and color to the forefront, both embracing the organic and conveying the hand of the maker.”
In the current marketplace, these sentiments are gaining serious momentum in product design. The formerly obscure field of biomimicry, for example, which imitates systems in nature to create truly sustainable designs, has officially entered the mainstream via plant-based items ranging from lighting made of mushrooms to sofas and chairs upholstered in apple leather. “It’s the lack of adornment that allows the natural qualities of these materials to shine through,” says Johnston.
The pure aesthetic appeal of these designs lies in their authentic, naturally occurring motifs. “Nature, in general, is unpredictable and unique in its manifestation,” says Hagit Pincovici, an artisan based in Milan and New York who recently launched a sculptural line of furniture, mirrors and objets d’art with organic cast bronze forms in collaboration with Wearstler. “Marble, for example, is an expression of a geological phenomenon, and raw mate-rials such as tree husks and palm seeds are a capsule of life itself. In a way, they capture a moment in time, a moment of growth and, in some cases, decay.”
Designers are reimagining such materials in all sorts of extraordinary new ways. “It’s instinctive for me to draw inspiration from nature,” says Wearstler. “My latest collections embrace the existing beauty of various stones, metals and woods while challenging preconceptions about how they should be used.”
Given today’s atmosphere of economic and ecological uncertainty, it’s no surprise that an appreciation for sustainable, pared-down materials is making a comeback. “The more striking aspects of brutalism are back in vogue, particularly as advanced building technology has enabled architects to stretch the bounds of its materials even further,” says Johnston. “The new era of brutalism celebrates the resilience of nature and architecture’s impact on the world.”
Hompage image: Kelly Wearstler’s home, furnished with her brutalism-inspired designs:
the travertine Stacked planter, Grid in Tobacco, Colina stool in Bulle Boucle Pumice and bronze-and-alabaster Melange table lamp, as well as the Desert sculpture designed with Hagit Pincovici | Courtesy of The Ingalls