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A year ago, Matt Coultrip had a big title that he had earned over the last couple of decades. He was senior director of global store design for Abercrombie & Fitch, a job that took him from Shanghai to Paris to all places in between as the company expanded internationally, opening stores around the globe.
Central Ohio is lucky, in an aesthetic sense, that talented designers come from all over to work in the local fashion industry. But, as corporate retail so often evolves, especially during the pandemic, there was a management reorganization at Abercrombie & Fitch.
In March, Coultrip’s position was cut. Grounded in Columbus due to COVID during the previous year, he found some free time to do landscape design. So, in March he quickly launched his own small business, Coultrip Design and Consulting. “It gave me the opportunity to try something new,” he says.
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“My focus is exteriors,” says Coultrip. “That doesn’t just include plants but also hardscapes like patios, pergolas, decks, fences, etc. I enjoy extending clients’ living spaces to the outside.”
One job quickly led to the next. Thanks to about 20 clients in his very first year, Coultrip’s business is off to a roaring start. For a guy who has spent much time in recent years traveling internationally, he now seems to be showing up in a lot of Central Ohio backyards. “It’s all been by word of mouth,” he says of the fast growth.
Hailing from a small town in Illinois, Coultrip started with Abercrombie & Fitch as a visual designer one week after he graduated from Monmouth College, a small liberal arts school in southwestern Illinois not far from the Iowa border. It has been quite a journey with the local retailer, and Coultrip enjoyed it.
He believes his corporate experience helped him quickly launch his own business. Not only does he bring his own aesthetic skills to each landscape job, he puts together a team of people to do the work while he serves as project manager. “After 19 years in corporate, I can manage people very well,” he says. By the end of his first summer in the business, he was still working on the branding for his company’s website. Such is the life of an entrepreneur—everything depends on input from the founder. Today, his work can be spotted on Instagram and in the portfolio of his company’s website.
We caught up with him just after he’d taken a red-eye from Los Angeles. Yes, he said, he would consider another corporate job if the situation were right. “It would have to be the right kind of role,” he quickly adds.
How do you apply your corporate skills to your own business?
My corporate career has taught me how to manage projects and people, to be a confident leader and to also have direct communication with others. During my career, I managed a wide range of projects that taught me how to problem-solve and be a solution-based individual, which I apply in my everyday life. These skills allow me to be relatable to my clients, quickly building trust and growing a relationship that allows us to work well together.
As a designer, how would you describe your aesthetic?
Personally, my style is modern/farmhouse. I like clean lines but also like a traditional farmhouse style that is comfortable and warm. As I meet new clients, I like to gain an understanding of their style so we can merge the two together to create something amazing.
What was your best day as senior global design director at A&F?
The days when I promoted people. There is a proud moment when you can award someone for their hard work and help them achieve their career goals.
How do you compare that with your best day as an entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur, I truly get to change people’s lives but in a different way. I give them a yard they love, an outdoor space to enjoy or a solution to a problem they could never seem to conquer. That is part of a homeowner’s goals, to fall in love with the place they live, and I help them do that.
What are the latest design trends that you’re currently loving?
During this pandemic, homeowners are really making the most of their outdoor spaces, and it’s exciting to see this come to life. I’m loving how creative people have really become, regardless of the space they have to work with. The outdoors have truly become an extension of our indoor spaces, and I don’t think that will end.
That said, what are your best recommendations for cozying-up outdoor spaces for the colder months ahead?
First of all, fire. No matter the type of fire feature you have, the warm glow of a fire not only keeps you warm, but the nostalgia of relaxing by a fire brings a calm, soothing feel to an individual. I also recommend blankets and pillows that can be used outdoors. Curling up in a blanket is such a cozy, secure feeling that it’s important to have options for blankets that you can take outdoors. There are no longer rules to follow, and whatever suits your lifestyle should be what inspires you.
This story is from the November 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.