By Steven V. Philips –
Outdoor furniture trends in 2011. A far cry from tubular aluminum tubing and straps or canvas and wood that folded up and pinched you in the process. Remember when we called it “summer furniture”? (Probably not you. Damn, I’m old.)
Well, it was in 1945 that my friend Michael Eber’s father pioneered in the Northeast what he called Eber’s Summer Furniture and then Eber’s Patio Shop. Naysayers snickered as Dad decided that he’d branch out from the family (since 1903) downtown traditional store to a second store on the bypass highway. Crazy idea. Some of the furniture could be left outside in all kinds of weather? Really nutso idea.
Plus what dummy would go way out there just to buy that newfangled aluminum stuff from Florida? Wrought iron that would probably rust. Or weird wicker furniture made in California? Just a fad. Wrong.
After four expansions and seeing eight competitors come and go, Eber’s 15,000 square feet of Casual Furniture is doing just fine, thank you. You see, part of his crazy idea was to sell only the best products. Then and now. For example, Woodard wrought iron, started in the Depression by three Michigan brothers in their father’s old casket factory, had the same “quality” concept. Eber brought that quality product East. Tropitone aluminum from Florida in 1954. Both companies are still shown in the store today.
Dad died in 1961. Michael’s in charge. Customers are now the grandchildren of original customers. They come back because they’ve learned that even if quality products sometimes quit, this silly merchant will try to find the part.
Crazy. Just a fad. For 108 years.
Michael’s philosophy is that his furniture (he firmly says, “casual furniture”) should be happy looking and should last. To illustrate, a seating group with a white frame and yellow seats is his favorite collection today. It says: “Outdoors, indoors, sun or shade, relax, no worry, be happy, enjoy life!”
And let me say before Michael reads this: “Casual furniture today means outside, poolside, porch and, in many cases, inside the house. Some tables, chairs and seating pieces could work very well for you and never catch a ray of sun. That is why Michael he doesn’t say “outdoor,” and insists on casual as the defining feature of his collections. Do I have to explain every little thing?
2011 frame colors? Well, sighs he: “For several years bronze, other earth colors and black have been preferred by many manufacturers. These are not very happy colors plus cushion fabrics in tan, bronze or brown add to that dour look.” Michael says: “Bring me whites, greens, yellows and blues and not just on throw pillows!”
Despite his expert pleas, neutral shades still predominate and every once in a very brave while, up pops a Chinese red or a muted verde or an unusual gray.
Materials? Casual furniture best sellers are manufactured in cast aluminum, polyethylene or faux wicker, depending on your taste. The old stand-by, wrought iron, is making a bit of a return as iron can be shaped into far more delicate and graceful shapes with a lighter look. But in the Northern market there’s the rust-phobia so, despite the manufacture’s warrantees, not much iron is at Eber’s. Note: when I worked as a designer at Woodard in the 60’s, everything we made was in wrought iron.
Fabrics? Sunbrella brand is king of the quality hill. Great colors and patterns and it has a hand like cotton, silk, linen, chenille, suede and a myriad high textural wovens. Sunbrella dries quickly if caught in a shower and resists fading. Olefins feel hard and the less costly poly fades and doesn’t hold up. Real cotton is wonderful when your butler can immediately bring it in and out whenever Your Loveliness wants to sit. I have a tiny silver bell to call mine. And one so must replace those faded, unsightly cotton cushions yearly, of course.
Fabric colors? Michael is partial to teal this year. Goes with most everything. However tans and neutrals still rule but, be aware kids, “natural” lighter colors soil more easily. This news is evidently ignored and, because it looks soooo good in the store, it sells. So if you buy “light”, keep kids, pets, and your wine drinking mother-in-law far away from it. Actually just rope off the area and let everyone sit on the ground. Or, better yet, cover with drop cloths for the “lived-in” look.
Tabletop materials? Glass is popular in the South and in California. In other parts of the country solid tops are in. Slate-like grain, level slats, flat basket weave (on quality sets drinking glasses won’t wobble as design is set to prevent that).
Price examples for an oval or rectangular 72” table with six chairs? $2,200 in poly, $2,500 in cast aluminum and $4,000 in a quality woven wicker. Average.
What’s Michael’s best advice? Spend a bit more and keep the pieces until you’re sick of them but know that quality doesn’t get sick on you. That’s 50 years of wisdom. Really a 103 years.
Poly (solid not tubes): It’s HDPE (high-density polyethylene to you linguists) plastic, Made from recycled plastic bottles but it’s heavy so it won’t blow away when your mother-in-law starts talking. Uses stainless steel connections, as on boats, so no rust. No weather condition or libation affect it. And happy, happy no-fade colors! Wash off with water. Eco-friendly and becoming a strong favorite.
Woven wicker: Look for polyethylene (synthetic) wicker over a welded aluminum frame with a powder coated color to match the wicker color. Will stay out in the weather ’til your cows come home. Cushions covered in Sunbrella fabric with a poly core, Dacron wrapped, can be caught in a shower. Just stand them up on end and let the water flow out. The tighter the weave and the more complex the design means a higher price.
Cast aluminum: Self explanatory, right?. Aluminum and it’s cast! Tricky phrasing, no? Cast into seats, backs, legs and arms and held together with stainless bolts. No rust. Highly defined details. Same cushion construction as above. Just make sure you get any water out of frames before storing in freezing climate.
Sunbrella brand fabric has evolved since 1966. A woven, breathable polymer fabric. From Glen Raven Custom Fabrics: “We took…. Sunbrella… fabrics with the look and feel of cotton to the outdoors. Market umbrellas and furniture cushions made with Sunbrella are fast drying, durable, easy to clean and beautiful.” Quote the Raven, nevermore worry.