Out into the garden in spring – back into the house in fall
von Nina Reetzke | May 24, 2011

It was not so long ago that outdoor clothing suddenly became part of everyday life. Large sections of the population, among them ordinary pedestrians, cyclists and office commuters, mutated into high-tech outdoor freaks from one day to the next. Well, as regards their clothing at least. In addition to the newly kitted-out customers, manufacturers such as Jack Wolfskin and The North Face have profited from this development, which is still continuing today. They have been enjoying double-digit growth rates thanks to their high-price textile goods. Such profound changes to our everyday culture do not go unnoticed by style critics and fashion experts for long. In newspapers and magazines, they lead passionate discussions about whether such functional clothing is presentable or not. "Nobody climbs at their desk", read one headline of German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung", and "Tagesspiegel", a daily published in Berlin, once featured an article headlined, "The sophisticated savage in the city". As every design aficionado knows, fashion trends point at developments that also lie ahead in other product areas, such as furniture design. This leads us to the question of all questions: Will we soon be living in outdoor living rooms?

Linking the interior and exterior is one of the key themes of modern architecture. However, in recent times efforts have gone beyond simply fitting living rooms with a large glass façade, building a terrace and decorating the house with sculpture-like stones. The restrained "green" activists of today are experimenting with the relationship between interior furnishings, urbanity and nature in a seemingly simple and playful manner which, at the same time, shows a high degree of symbolism: In large cities fallow land is turned into farms (Prinzessinnengärten in Berlin), building façades appear as vertical gardens (Musée du Quai Branly in Paris), space-saving greenhouses are built indoors (Omega Garden), apiaries are installed on balconies (Berliner Imkerverband, a beekeeper association in Berlin), furniture is made from potato starch (Jerszy Seymour), fruit lollipops have pits (Marti Guixé), graffiti consists of moss (Anna Garforth), and plants are given the status of vintage objects (Vintage Plant Shop).

Wild animals, too – such a happy coincidence! – are appearing more frequently in our lives again. The following is on the Website of the Senate Department for Urban Development in Berlin: "For several years, wild animals have been increasingly appearing in the residential areas of Berlin, a city with vast swaths of forest. It seems in particular boars and foxes have proliferated in recent years." Under the heading "Nature + Green", the ingenuous city-dweller can find comprehensive information on how to deal with boars, foxes, beach martens, raccoons and rabbits (German only). It states, for example, that hunting in "pacified areas" such as residential developments is only permitted with special permission, and provided that "shooting poses zero risk to humans". (This sounds like some good material for a Crime Scene episode entitled "Big City Poaching".)

All these developments also impact on furniture design. Of course, the Milan Furniture Fair could not do without the category of "Outdoor furniture". For many manufacturers, however, it was not only the suitability of their products for outdoor use that was important, but also, and to a far greater degree, meeting the requirements of indoor and outdoor use in equal measure, i.e., homeliness and weather resistance. Cassina now also offers the LC classics by Corbusier / Jeanneret / Perriand in a weatherproof polyester material; the modular system "Mu" by Toan Nguyen for Dedon includes armchairs, sofas, stools, daybeds and side tables; "Bob" by Hella Jongerius for Kettal is intended to be a contemporary interpretation of the quintessential outdoor lounge chair; Patricia Urquiola's lounger "Biknit" for Moroso brings grandma's knitting stitch to the garden; Magis now offers a plastic version of the armchair "Poltrona di Proust" by Alessandro Mendini, which features water drainage holes; and for the development of the cantilever chair "Waver" by Vitra, Konstantin Grcic studied sports equipment used for windsurfing and paragliding. The product text for the armchair "Passio" and the sofa "Resille" by Philippe Nigro for Ligne Roset describes the status quo perfectly: "Influenced by the importance of ecological issues and our need for nature, more and more furniture is overcoming the boundaries between inside and outside ... The difference between a winter garden and a real living room in the garden is no longer as clear as it used to be: the interior and exterior are fusing. New furniture ... developed by designers and manufactured with high-quality materials, is putting on a show ..."

That said, "outdoor" can have many meanings when it comes to furniture. There are no established standards for the furnishing of balconies, terraces, gardens, patios, summer kitchens or pool areas. Thus every manufacturer is free to determine the criteria for its own products. Will the piece of furniture be taken outside in the morning and back inside again in the evening? Will it be outside from spring until fall – or even all year round? How robust does it need to be? How much sun can it take? What happens when it rains? Are the surfaces easy to clean? How resistant are the materials to germs and pests? Is it also suitable for use at the water's edge?

Let's have a look just at the cushions: For a long time we have had to put non-weatherproof cushions on chairs and loungers made of wood, metal or plastic and then take them in again after use. Thanks to an increasing variety of synthetic fibers, we now have improved possibilities for cushions and covers that are resistant to wind and weather, but still look homely. Essentially, there are two possibilities here: Either the covers consist of textiles with a waterproof coating and have sealed seams, which means that water cannot get inside the cushion from the start, or the structure of the covers and cushions promotes the circulation of water and air so that cushions that have become wet can quickly dry again. Since the 1960s, the American company Sunbrella, for instance, has specialized in textiles that lend themselves to use outdoors and on ships. And, with the support of German engineers, the Indonesian company Quick Dry Foam launched fast-drying cushions on the market some years ago.

It is early summer, the sun is shining, flowers are blooming, children are playing in the garden, Popsicles and soda taste that much better again – and some unfortunate people are suffering from hay fever. We pack our winter clothes away in the drawers under the bed and the summer clothes come out. Our minds are already busy with furnishing and decorating the balcony, terrace or garden. Wouldn't it be nice to have some furniture there we can use in the living room in the winter, too?

Outdoor furniture at Stylepark

Rural idyll in the middle of the city, photo: Marco Clausen
With Wellington boots and pointed cap on the summit, photo: Fjällräven
View of the Omega Garden “Basil”
“The Big Bang” by Anna Garforth
Display window of the Vintage Plant Shop in Stockholm
Installation textiles by Sunbrella, photo: Sunbrella® Fabrics, Keith Sirchio
Driade showroom in Milan, photo: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark
“Sticks Curved” by Stefan Kaiser and Hsu-Li Teo for Extremis, photo: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark
“LC Outdoor” at Cassina, photo: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark
Urban gardening at Prinzessinnengärten in Berlin, photo: Marco Clausen
Head to toe in functional clothing, photo: Fredrik Lewander, Fjällräven
Instant coffee from the Thermos, photo: Fjällräven
Prototype of the space-saving Omega Garden rotary system “Carousel”
“The Big Bang” at a W-Projekt exhibition
Green façade of Musée du Quai Branly in Paris
Outdoor cushions, photo: Sunbrella® Fabrics, Keith Sirchio
“Pavo Real” by Patricia Urquiola for Driade, photo: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark
“Landscape Sofa” by Lievore Altherr Molina for Andreu World, photo: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark