The Milan-based designer of lush outdoor spaces wants us all to slow down, tutto pronto.

Derek Castiglioni with his residential design project RP Cave Riccardo Pozzoli

Among the rising trends of 2020—grandmillennial style, backdrop-inspired Zoom calls, and a Flame Scarlet palette to name a few—a particular element of both commercial and residential projects received a fortuitous boost: landscape design. Not only has COVID Summer increased consumers’ appetites for outdoor recreation, at the same time a growing healthcare movement encourages medical professionals to prescribe “NatureRx” as the cure to many ailments. While more people seek green and botanical environments for relaxation, mind and body restoration, or to just plain reconnect with the planet, this is music to the ears of Derek Castiglioni, who has made a career from the benefits of the great outdoors, including the art of bringing Mother Nature inside.

Born into a family horticulture business that is known in northern Italy for leading eco-influenced rooftop projects, Castiglioni studied architecture at Politecnico University in Milan and furthered his education in urban design at the University of Western Australia. By aligning his passion for curated, living landscapes with the work of global architecture and design studios, Castiglioni has attracted the likes of Campari, Dolce & Gabbana, Kohler, Santoni, and Stella McCartney in addition to a range of private clients. He most recently launched a furniture collection that adds artful dwelling to his flora and fauna habitats. From temporary installations to permanent spaces, Castiglioni creates an enticing oasis that is often as minimalist as it is abundant.

Designful reached out to Castiglioni to find out how his approach has changed, if at all, as hoteliers, retailers, restaurateurs, and residents progressively emphasize an al fresco lifestyle. He is deeply thoughtful about his role in the overall wellbeing of society and is especially excited by greater opportunities to promote sustainability.

To view Castiglioni’s work, including the KOHLER® Real Rain® exhibits at Museo Bagatti Valsecchi and SoHo House Miami Beach, visit and follow @derekcastiglioni.

Giax Tower, Milan. Photo courtesy of Derek Castiglioni
Giax Tower, Milan. Photo courtesy of Derek Castiglioni

What changes in the design world have you noticed over the last five months?

The advent of COVID changed the design not so much for how it should be, but rather for how it should be communicated. It has been digitized much more than it already was and to a scope that reaches the customer wherever he or she is. This, I think, is an added value, but I also think that it should not be considered the only frontier for the future. Design is emotion and experience, and I am sure that we will return to this as soon as possible, even if with an important dose of digital.

How did your work change over the last five months?

COVID's experience, rather than to work, served me to reflect. It was an opportunity to analyze my course and focus on the next goals. For example, I really appreciated the commitment of several fashion brands that have decided to improve themselves by not submitting to conventions or commonplaces and to be free from "supply and demand" dynamics by offering collections only when there is real need to communicate, and not so much for a market need. I think this can increase the quality of the products, their life span in the market, ultimately making the customer appreciate the object better. The same vision is applicable to the world of design. My line of furniture has always embraced this philosophy, and even more today, I think it is the right thing to do.

Paula Cademartori, Milan Fashion Week 2017. Photo courtesy of Derek Castiglioni.
Paula Cademartori, Milan Fashion Week 2017. Photo courtesy of Derek Castiglioni.

What do you view as positive outcomes in design as a result of the year’s pandemic?

I think that we will go towards a greater concreteness of objects and environments, but above all, we will try to have a greater focus on what will bring us back to a dimension closer to nature.

Specifically, as it relates to outdoor spaces, how do you see design evolving to accommodate a more cautious consumer?

I think that more than a real evolution, there is an increase in the need to be able to live more in contact with nature, and that perhaps a greater awareness of the wellbeing that nature can give us has taken place. I think this will lead our cities to be greener.  Green will increasingly play an important role also in the real estate market. Our houses will become more green and yes, green will become increasingly important also from a technical point of view—just think that plants can be used as air purifiers, as insulation for buildings and purifiers of black water, preserving ecosystems and our beloved land.

Derek Castiglioni for Stella McCartney. Photo courtesy of Derek Castiglioni.
Derek Castiglioni for Stella McCartney. Photo courtesy of Derek Castiglioni.

What are some specific landscape design elements that you have created or adopted moving forward for a post-COVID world?

As previously anticipated, I am more attentive to some types of green that in addition to the aesthetic aspect bring benefits and improvements to our life. As an example, all types of green roofs and their benefits: the retention of fine dust, the insulation of buildings, and the slowing down of water are some these benefits. But not only that, I also have a strong sensitivity towards the very choice of plants. I prefer those that feed and maintain important ecosystems for the planet, that bring into the city bees, butterflies, and all the fundamental characters for the life of our planet.

Derek Castiglioni for Kohler, Milan Design Week 2017. Image courtesy of Kohler.
Derek Castiglioni for Kohler, Milan Design Week 2017. Image courtesy of Kohler.

Do you think people at home, at work, or in travel will be looking more toward outdoor spaces than indoor? Do you think they will be more comfortable doing "indoor" things outside?

I think yes. I think this is due a bit to the duress of these past months confined in the house and the natural consequence of needing to escape from one’s internal space. But it is also due to the high-profile scenarios we have witnessed where nature has regained its own health, and this has opened our eyes to how important it is to reconcile with the planet.

Milan is known for attracting and producing talent. Do you personally feel forced to innovate now, more than ever before?

I am sure that Milan and design will be able to face this challenge and successfully overcome it. As far as I'm concerned, fortunately, I am not living through this with anxiety or with the conviction of having to run for innovation. I think it is very important to maintain a certain serenity, because serenity stimulates creativity, and I think is very important above all to create when you have something to say and not so much run after an imaginary clock and its "tick- tock." In many respects, my creations differ from the traditional image of outdoor furniture, and perhaps for this reason, they could already be considered innovative in several aspects.

What are some specific trends or requests that you are seeing from clients now?

I can say that rather than specific requests, there is a significant increase in customers, precisely for what has been said about the need to approach nature. As for plants, there is an increasing tendency to want horticultural plants, from which to be able to benefit from the fruits. For design, on the other hand, conceiving the exterior as an interior and therefore, like indoors, objects and furnishings increase more and more.

What is the type of project now that is a dream project for Derek Castiglioni?

My real dream, at this moment, would be to be able to design a botanical garden in Milan, reusing an existing, abandoned building, giving it a new life and a new use. A bit like the concept of the High Line in New York. I really believe in reuse. I think that today must be the new way of building.

Have your guiding design principles changed?

I don't think I have changed my guidelines, which are HISTORY, in the sense that everything I do must have a meaning, a search, something to tell. ECO-SUSTAINABILITY OR WELLBEING an eye towards us and our world, and finally, EMOTION, because what I do must excite me. My principles certainly have not changed, but they certainly have become more present and important.


Campari Headquarters, Milan. Photo courtesy of Derek Castiglioni.
Campari Headquarters, Milan. Photo courtesy of Derek Castiglioni.