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The line between our living rooms and our lawns is disappearing. As more furniture makers move into the outdoor market, styles traditionally associated with interiors are finding their way outside.
“Absolutely this is a trend,” says Bobby Dekeyser, founder and chairman of Dedon, a German furniture company that started in the outdoor market with a proprietary plastic fibre it developed more than 30 years ago. “We have seen a major change in the past couple of years, which has been the emergence of more and more premium indoor furniture brands moving into the outdoor segment.”
Dedon’s plastic fibre ensures furniture can withstand tough weather without much maintenance. But for its Philippe Starck-designed Rayn collection, the company developed a new textile weave made of a cotton fabric ribbon and treated for “weather-ability”, allowing it to endure the outdoor climate but also translate well to interior environments.
Upholstered pieces that have an all-weather twin are increasingly popular. Last year, B&B Italia introduced an outdoor version of Naoto Fukasawa’s 2008 Papilio chair, whose winged shape is designed to let users relax while using mobile devices. Made with woven anthracite-coloured polyethylene, the piece and its ottoman retain their original form but with a lighter appearance that is suited for an outdoor living room.
Luca Nichetto’s deckchairs for De Padova have moulded plastic and metal bases, giving them a slender frame with the strength required for exterior use. Teak seats make the chairs patio-friendly.
Tom Dixon’s Y chair, prompted by the designer’s desire to create a heavy-duty seat with an ergonomically designed shape, has a steel sled base suitable for some outdoor uses. And Toronto-based Avenue Road is also banking on the appeal of versatile furniture, recently introducing the Outdoor 1 table from Belgian designer Marlieke Van Rossum. Made of durable oak, the table could work just as well on a patio as in a casual dining room.
But versatility is not the only reason people are gravitating toward these styles. Outdoor furniture’s bright colours, woven patterns and casual forms conjure up images of relaxation, and companies are selling this lifestyle.
Outdoor spaces have always been places to experiment with colour and texture, but now that same vibrancy is desirable inside. More and more people want to evoke the easy-going atmosphere of a patio in the rest of the house. Pieces need not be weatherproof to have the right look. German designer Sebastian Herkner’s recent work – both his Unam lounge chair for Very Wood By Gervasoni and his fishing-net inspired Banjooli chair for Moroso – illustrates a renewed interest in re-interpreting weaving techniques and forms associated with patio furniture.
Similarly, Lucidi Pevere’s Raphia chair for Casamania is a modern twist on traditional cane seating. Though the chair would be ill-suited for outdoor use, it nevertheless conveys a connection to natural materials and lightweight silhouettes desirable in today’s modern, glass-walled living spaces. The young Italian company, founded by Paolo Lucidi and Luca Pevere in 2006, is also making its designs work outdoors. Its Poncho armchair for Living Divani takes its cue from the world of fashion with weatherproof cushions and contrast stitching in a durable Kevlar yarn. Berlin design studio Osko+Deichmann’s Straw chair series of kinked tubular steel seating for Swedish brand Bla Station can go outside, while an upholstered indoor cousin named Superkink is just as colourful.
Some companies are taking the dream of indoor-outdoor living rooms even further with new material innovations. Established in 1994, Paola Lenti has long made furniture with traditional crocheting techniques combined with high-tech yarns, and recently introduced Shaderplug, a modular shading structure that acts as a sort of semi-permanent tent. On the theme of portability, the company also launched Juni, a rocking chair and pouf designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune, and Please, a couch designed by Francesco Rota. Both appear to be solid upholstered pieces, but their open-weave, corded fabric covers conceal an inflatable centre.
Spanish company Expormim, which started out exporting wicker furniture in the 1970s, is also experimenting with high-tech fabrics. Its Käbu outdoor collection by Javier Pastor uses a weather-resistant “3D Mesh” specially formulated for the company; the fabric stretches over a metal frame, creating a lightweight wrap that has the appearance of plush upholstery.
Hoping to appeal to loyal interior furnishing customers, established companies are pulling designs from their archives for new outdoor collections as well. Herman Miller has revived the Eames Aluminum Group first designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1958 as an indoor-outdoor collection. Those pieces soon moved exclusively indoors, perhaps because of issues relating to durability. But, reworked with today’s weatherproof materials and finishes, the chairs are taking their place on the patio again.
Mal, a young Eindhoven-based company founded by Bob Copray and Niels Wildenberg, has also reworked a classic, reimagining the moulded wood and leather Eames lounge chair in plastic; the original design’s leather buttons have been replaced with drainage holes to prevent water from collecting in the seat.
Reworking vintage styles for outdoor use is increasingly popular in California. Laura Haskell and Andrew Stoneman identified a desire for mid-century-style furniture with a contemporary twist when they founded Costa Mesa-based Haskell in 2010. “So many homes here experienced their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, so you see a strong sensitivity to maintaining the history of these structures and keeping true to their original design concepts,” says Stoneman. Although the indoor-outdoor lifestyle found its foothold here, “it’s important to make it current,” says Haskell.