By Mark Brock
When Eugene Freeland formed a new furniture and fabrics company in 2008, he resisted the temptation to name the company after himself. Freeland wanted a name that would help position his new company as being dedicated to creating links among many different groups – designers, architects, manufacturers, showrooms, and upscale homeowners. He wanted a name that reflected the company’s focus on outdoor performance products that could link to décor inside the home.
The result was Link Outdoor, a Dallas-based company that collaborates with global fabric and furniture manufacturing companies to bring distinctive offerings to life. Link Outdoor is a to-the-trade company, working with designers and architects through showrooms in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, Mexico, and Russia. The company has grown steadily, achieving 20% revenue increases over the past five years.
“I intentionally chose not to name the company after myself because I wanted the focus to be on our efforts to collaborate – to ‘link’ designers to solutions from our design teams, and from manufacturing resources in the U.S. and overseas,” Freeland said. “I see Link Outdoor as a platform company that takes great product design, develops the products with leading manufacturers, and sells the products through showrooms to design customers.”
From West Point Cadet to Home Décor Entrepreneur
Freeland earned a bachelor’s of science degree in aerospace engineering at West Point, and subsequently served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He went on to earn his MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, joining Coopers and Lybrand as a certified public accountant. In 1998, he joined a to-the-trade furniture and fabrics manufacturer in Dallas as CFO and COO, managing the company’s rapid growth, including four furniture and textile companies serving the design trade.
Drawing on his experiences in furniture and textiles, Freeland had a specific vision when he founded Link Outdoor. The company would design both furniture and fabrics for a comprehensive home décor concept, but would not own manufacturing assets, choosing instead to collaborate with leading global furniture and fabric companies to produce its products.
Link Outdoor would invest in design resources in-house while also partnering with other leading designers to ensure that its products would appeal to discriminating homeowners capable of investing substantial sums in outdoor living. In terms of a go-to-market strategy, the company’s furniture and fabrics would be featured in showrooms catering to designers and architects. While “outdoor” was part of the company’s name, Link Outdoor furniture and fabrics would be designed for any room, indoors or out, offering beautiful aesthetics, durability, fade resistance, and ease of cleaning.
“Our business model is focused on collaboration, understanding that we cannot do everything ourselves, so we partner with the best manufacturers, weavers, designers, showrooms, and sales partners,” Freeland said. “By doing this we can offer customers much more than we could with just our own employees. Because fabric is created for furniture, it just makes sense to us to create both to work together.”
Link Outdoor sources its products from all around the world, encompassing marble from India, plantation teak from Thailand, and performance outdoor fabrics made in the U.S. Freeland has worked with many of his manufacturing partners for 15 to 20 years, enabling him to vet their quality and service.
“Our primary furniture manufacturing partners employ 700 workers, and the fabric mills we work with have hundreds of looms and thousands of yarn options; we couldn’t offer the products we design if we had to make everything ourselves,” he said.
In terms of a design aesthetic, Freeland describes furniture and fabric from Link Outdoor as “casual, comfortable, luxurious, and contemporary, with classic inspiration and a clean aesthetic, fresh and definitely with some bold options as well.”
While Link Outdoor is soundly grounded in outdoor lifestyles, its vision includes the blurring of décor for rooms inside and outside of the home.
“The separation between indoor and outdoor living has disappeared over time and people want to live in luxury no matter the location,” he said. “Our furniture and fabrics are created with both luxury and performance in mind to inspire designers to consider outdoor areas as a continuum to the stylish interiors. I believe there is a lot of work to be done in creating products that address this lifestyle choice, and that’s our focus and our objective.”
Textile Design Director Draws on European Experiences
As the director of textile design for Link Outdoor, Greyson Kirby can draw on experiences from working in Europe where she was not only exposed to design influences but also gained insights into product development life cycles. She lived and worked in Florence, Italy, and traveled extensively throughout Europe while managing design and product development with leading home furnishings companies.
“The experience was invaluable in showing me that design is so much more than dreaming up a beautiful pattern and color,” Kirby said. “It’s about finding the innovative ground where new technologies meet artisanal practices in manufacturing. It’s about creating unique solutions that meet both the end user’s practical needs as well as creating beauty from new materials. It’s uniting the capabilities of the weavers and makers with the vision of the overall brand while delivering the highest quality to clients.”
Kirby, who studied art, architecture, and literature at the University of Virginia, was attracted to Link Outdoor by Freeland’s entrepreneurial vision for the company and an opportunity to return to her passion, which is creative design.
“I had heard of Eugene Freeland throughout my career, and I knew his company would be highly entrepreneurial and creative, yet grounded in meeting the industry’s needs,” she said. “I love being a part of a small team that carries the essence of family. We turn to each other for unique strengths, and we enjoy the process of bringing fantastic new products to market.”
According to Kirby, textile design at Link Outdoor is continually evolving to meet the needs of designers, architects, and upscale homeowners.
“Link Outdoor is going through an incredible transition right now,” she said. “What began as primarily outdoor textiles with simple, geometric designs and bold, bright patterns has also seen great success with heavier textures, subtle colorations, and innovative weave structures. One thing I learned quickly upon joining the Link team is that the clean, crisp essence of white is a common theme within collections and can be used in any setting from traditional to contemporary.”
Link Outdoor textile collections cover virtually every fabric need, encompassing solids, stripes, textures, patterns, sheers, and trims, all designed to offer a broad range of complementary design opportunities, inside and out.
“The collections can be used in any setting from traditional to contemporary, and the way the individual colors connect throughout palettes creates a flexible system that designers can draw on again and again for each client,” Kirby said.
Design influences for these fabrics are many, all directed at creating what Kirby describes as a “modern, clean aesthetic ... an invigorating pop of color that coincides beautifully with the rich textures ... playful and sophisticated all at once.”
“My approach to designing new fabrics always begins with inspiration from both the natural world and trends I see happening in the ‘now’ moment of our culture,” she said. “I love to spend an afternoon browsing through a giant stack of magazines from all industries and noticing the common threads. It’s easy to see trends that form the basis of a color story, ranging from paint and leather colors in the luxury automotive industry, to tones highlighted in makeup on Parisian runways.”
As part of the fabric design process, Kirby collaborates closely with production teams at the various textile mills that produce her designs, allowing her to leverage the latest in specialty yarn creation and fabric constructions. A close working relationship with the Link Outdoor furniture design team is also essential in new fabric creations.
“Knowing what Marc (Kurlander, director of Furniture Design) is working on gives me inspiration for textiles that might complement the curve of a sofa or call out the unique finish color with a weave combination that I might not have thought about before,” she said. “The only challenge – which is one I love – is working far enough in advance that we align our timelines to launch in unison. That makes it even more fun because we get to brainstorm and daydream together about possibilities. The collections are created with a sort of fluidity that can only come from the sharing those initial ideas.”
Fabric and Furniture Design Merge at Link Outdoor
Marc Kurlander, director of Furniture Design for Link Outdoor, is intent on creating an entire home aesthetic that comes together within an environment focused on the creation of both furniture and fabrics.
“A sofa or lounge chair is not complete without the fabric,” said Kurlander, an award winning furniture designer for both residential and commercial markets. “My furniture designs become complete because, at Link, we have the ability to select the best fabrics to complement each furniture collection. Knowing what Greyson (Kirby, Link’s director of Textile Design) is working on inspires me to blur the lines between indoors and outdoors. With so many advances in textiles and materials, outdoors can be as sophisticated, beautiful, and stylish as everyone has come to expect from inside the home.”
Kurlander earned his bachelor of fine arts in industrial design from Columbia College Chicago and has been active in the fields of furniture, interior and industrial design. For several years, he partnered with numerous Chicago-based design studios working closely with manufacturers to move design concepts through each stage to completion. He collaborated with Eugene Freeland for a number of years before joining Link Outdoor as director of Design for Furniture.
Link Outdoor’s furniture collections are expansive, encompassing dining and lounge chairs, ottomans, sofas, sectionals, chaises, daybeds, bars and counters, dining, cocktail, side and drink tables, along with accessories.
“My design approach starts with my interest in certain materials and the unique approaches to manufacturing,” Kurlander said. “I also consider natural materials and the ways in which they can be paired with one another to complement the effortless harmony of outdoor surroundings.
“I find inspiration in travel, experiencing different cultures and how different cultures have slightly different approaches to the design of everyday objects. From air vents in the floor of a miniature chapel in Ireland to traditional Japanese joinery, it’s the shape of those things that are frequently overlooked. This moves me to create pieces with the same quiet beauty.
“What I love most about my work is creating new collections that complement Link’s ever evolving style,” Kurlander said. “It’s been so rewarding to see how Link has grown as a company and to see how our style has changed over the years. We have a great team and culture at Link that allows everyone to evolve and grow right along with our company’s growth and successes.”
Showrooms Provide Market Link for Link Outdoor
Link Outdoor’s go-to-market strategy is based on partnering with leading showrooms internationally that feature the company’s furniture and fabrics, and it’s Scott Lang’s responsibility to assist these showrooms with merchandising, training, and outreach to designers and architects. It’s a job that regularly keeps Lang on the road and in the air.
“Eugene (Freeland) and I had known each other for many years, and when this position became available I was attracted by the design freshness of their furniture and fabrics,” said Lang, Link Outdoor’s director of Sales. “I was also attracted by the culture of a young and growing company with a family-like atmosphere.”
Lang has been in the interior design business for more than 28 years with broad experience in showroom sales, management, and manufacturing. His career has included executive management positions with some of the nation’s leading showrooms. Lang attributes Link Outdoor’s double-digit growth to many factors.
“It begins with the design aesthetic and product quality and continues with our great showroom partners,” he said. “We have a strong design team, and by offering a broad collection of furniture and textiles we make it easier for interior designers and architects to specify our products. We benefit from how our furniture and fabrics are ideal for luxurious settings both outside and in.”
With an international perspective, Lang reports that performance fabrics are seen as a great value throughout the world.
“Wherever I travel, whether Los Angles, London, or Dubai, consumers are more value conscious today in their home décor selections,” he said. “When you have a white sofa that you can clean with bleach, that’s a great value and people see that. It’s not just about the price, but about value combined with the look and feel that can be achieved today with solution-dyed fabrics.”
Two of the leading showroom companies that Lang works with are Thomas Lavin showrooms in California, and Culp Associates showrooms in Texas.
Over the years the Thomas Lavin showroom in the Pacific Design Center has grown to 17,000 sq. ft. To better serve its clientele in Orange County, San Diego, and the desert communities, Lavin opened a second showroom at the Laguna Design Center in 2014. Thomas Lavin has featured furniture and fabrics from Link Outdoor for the past eight years.
“Gene (Eugene Freeland) and his team are passionate about outdoor lifestyles, including furniture, textiles, rugs, lighting – the gamut,” Lavin said. “Gene is smart, has his finger on the pulse, and is collaborating with talented people to bring the best products to the marketplace. Link Outdoor has a vision supported by outstanding service and always with a sense of humor; they are in constant R&D.”
Link Outdoor is a leading brand for the Thomas Lavin showrooms, which describes the Link Outdoor collections on the website in these terms:
“Link Outdoor designs and manufactures furniture and fabric collections that inspire designers to consider the outdoors as a continuum to their stylish interiors. Link is defined by its versatile designs, casual sophistication, and youthful modernism inspired by classical forms. Link’s collections offer unparalleled comfort, elegant proportions, bespoke craftsmanship, and timeless designs for all tastes from casual contemporary to sophisticated transitional designs.”
Lavin reports that Link Outdoor fabrics and furniture are increasingly popular with his showroom clientele.
“We have had consistent growth year over year (with Link Outdoor),” he said. “Link is ambitious and is entering categories thoughtfully and powerfully. Their (brand) name is very strong for a younger company, and together, Link and Thomas Lavin have the same vision and goals.”
The Culp Associates showroom in the Dallas Design Center has also experienced success in featuring Link Outdoor fabrics and furniture. Interior designer Walter Lee Culp launched the Culp Associates showroom in Dallas in 1972 and a second showroom in 1974 in the Decorative Center of Houston. Culp Associates began featuring Link Outdoor products in late 2016.
Cammie Marrs, president of Culp Associates, says that designers enjoy a broad range of opportunities in working with Link Outdoor fabrics and furniture.
“The (Link Outdoor fabric) collection has something for every design aesthetic, including an extensive color range and a wide variety of textures and plains, all suitable for indoor/outdoor use,” Marrs said. “Their entire textile collection coordinates beautifully within itself, and you can design an entire area within their collection. Whether opting for a pattern or solid texture, you can feel confident in knowing the colors will blend perfectly.”
Marrs finds equally diverse opportunities in working with Link Outdoor furniture.
“From a furniture perspective, their varied styles and materials allow the designer a wide selection for exterior projects, depending on climate, design style, and overall budget,” she said. “With their headquarters being based in Dallas, we have the ability to meet a customer at Link’s facility to show a piece of furniture we may not have on our floor, or allow a client to tour and see the process of their furniture being manufactured on site.
“Link is very competitive in pricing, quality, and style,” Marrs continued. “Their stock levels are amazing, and Link’s attention to detail is also exquisite. Every memo packet (of fabric samples) is packaged beautifully, wrapped complete with bow and box. Their branding reinforces the luxury of their fabrics.”
The blurring of interior and outdoor design is also a trend that Marrs is seeing in Dallas that fits with the Link Outdoor vision.
“The ability to utilize their collection for both indoor and outdoor use is a real strength,” she said. “More and more designers are now using luxury performance textiles indoors due to their durability and ease of cleaning. This is especially true for busy households with children and pets. Simply put, the Link Outdoor collection is elegant yet livable.”
Link Outdoor currently features 10 furniture collections that encompass a broad range of design opportunities both inside and outside of the home. A broad array of Link Outdoor fabrics ranging from solids and patterns to stripes, textures, and sheers results in a total home approach.