Design Basics: Creating a Vibe in Outdoor Design
“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”
— William A. Foster
The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us in the architecture and design community a valuable lesson: outdoor spaces are more important than ever, and we need to reevaluate their role in commercial and residential projects. Businesses and institutions need more—and more diverse—outdoor spaces that allow people to safely gather to do collaborative work or socialize with friends and coworkers.
In early 2020, outdoor spaces in both commercial and residential settings were cobbled together to meet a short-term demand—or so we thought. It’s now clear that they are here to stay. The Charlotte Business Journal made a case for the outdoor workspace in this 2020 article. And leading commercial architecture and design firm Gensler wrote about the importance of urban rooftops in office buildings as workspaces. Just recently, the New York Times gave advice to consumers on how to upgrade their outdoor space.
All of these projects need outdoor furniture. And outdoor furniture needs fabric. Both are an investment—one that can be protected with know-how and care.
While a budget-conscious client might be tempted to skimp on high-quality fabrics, or a specification may be driven by aesthetics rather than performance, we’ve seen some pretty compelling reasons why these approaches can be costly.
Low-grade fabrics do not sustain color longevity or fabric durability under consistent exposure to the environment and chemicals (such as chlorine).
We know of a modern, glass and stainless-steel building that has a beautiful outdoor space. When the sun would hit the building, the glass acted like a magnifying glass, sending laser like sunbeams onto the upholstered outdoor furniture. The specified COM fabric couldn’t handle the heat. It melted in some area areas, and developed streaks of laser-cuts in others. All the upholstered seat cushions needed to be swapped out.
In another case, a designer specified the wrong fabric for furniture positioned next to a chlorine pool. Over time, the chlorine caused the fibers to degrade, thinning out areas that had gotten wet and eventually developing holes.
This is why we use fabrics that are as durable as they are beautiful, and that match the exceptional quality of our furniture frames such as chairs and sun loungers. It’s also why we recommend avoiding the following fabrics for outdoor applications:
To protect your customers’ investments, we always recommend specifying solution-dyed acrylic fabrics for outdoor furniture.
Solution-dyed acrylic fabrics outperform all other textiles in extreme conditions. They’re also as durable as the Grade-A teak and quality stainless steel we use in our furniture frames.
This fabric is made from specialized yarns. A liquid polymer solution is mixed with dye, then formed into fiber. The yarn like fiber is then woven into a durable fabric. The color of the fiber is already “locked in” before it’s spun into yarn to make fabric.
Most fabrics begin colorless or greige, an off-white color. The fibers are woven into yarn, and the yarn is dyed before it is woven into a fabric.
Color fastness or light fastness. Because the color isn’t applied to the surface of the fiber but is actually part of the fiber, it’s far less likely to fade with exposure to sunlight or washing. Think of the color of a radish versus the color of a carrot. When you slice the radish, the inside is white although the skin is red. When you slice a carrot, the inside and skin are both orange. Fabrics made of yarn that aren’t solution dyed will fade in time because the dye is only on the fabric’s surface. Solution-dyed acrylic is the “carrot”: the color is constant, not just on the surface.
Performance fabrics that are soft to the touch. Solution-dyed fabrics are made of acrylic, a plastic, so they’re durable and long lasting. The fibers are mold and mildew resistant, stain and water resistant, and designed to stand the test of time. Fabrics made of solution-dyed acrylic are also soft, and breathable like canvas. They are also remarkably supple, resulting in a nice hand that is perfect for outdoor upholstery.
Easy care. In addition to being mold and mildew resistant, solution-dyed acrylics are easy to clean. You can wash them with soapy water, or, in some cases, place them in a washing machine and then hang them to dry. Because mold and mildew can cling to dirt, it’s important to keep the fabric clean. Tough stains can be cleaned with a solution of 2 parts water to 1 part bleach. The fabric will maintain its strength and integrity, and you’ll be able to meet the hygienic requirements of stricter environments, such as healthcare and hospitality. (Note: some performance fabrics, unlike solution-dyed acrylic fabrics, are simply regular fabrics with a protective surface finish, which can wear off over time.)