What to Look for in Outdoor Furniture Fabrics
Soft, colorful and extremely durable, today’s outdoor fabrics bring the comfort of indoors to your patio.
The past year has changed the way we look at our backyards. Travel restrictions, work-from-home policies and social distancing have brought about a renewed interest in turning our dwellings into personal retreats, and we want our outdoor spaces to be just as beautiful and serviceable as our indoor areas.
From sleek, modern grays to country florals to playful patterns, fabrics have become an important element in exterior settings. We take a look at the new technologies and designs that are bringing the quality and style of the indoors outside.
Not so long ago, outdoor textiles offered little in the way of luxury. “Performance fabrics, as they’re called, have definitely transitioned away from the plasticky materials of the past,” notes Haynes King, product and customer service manager for Outdura.
Prior to this invention of solution dying in the 1950s, yarn was dyed after it was woven. The core of the fiber remained white, and the color would eventually fade. Solution-dyed textiles are colored before the yarn is created. A liquid acrylic solution is mixed with the dye and then formed into a fiber, so the pigment is an integral part of each thread, making the resulting fabric soft, color-fast and water-resistant.
Washability is an important characteristic for performance fabrics, as homeowners seek materials that can withstand being bleached without losing color or degrading. Water resistance is another big selling point, but achieving that requirement often results in the use of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs. These chemicals are used to make the coatings that resist liquids and stains, and while posing no risks when touched, they can be released into the environment during manufacturing and disposal of products containing them. InsideOut Performance Fabrics uses a plant-based liquid repellant, while Sunbrella released a fluorine-free line, Assure, in 2020.
“We’re seeing preferences toward neutrals with pops of color,” says Greg Voorhis, executive design director for Sunbrella. “Texture-wise, patterns that reflect dimension through intricate weaving processes will continue to gain popularity as people look to add depth and visual interest to their outdoor spaces.”
Sunbrella’s newest collection, Balance, fuses modern and classic elements with functionality and comfort. Fresh stripes and classic toiles in saturated citrus hues are accompanied by soft chenilles and boucles in a palette of earthy neutrals, including rich taupes and clays, lush greens and hazy blues. “These fabrics look beautiful when layered and also work well on their own,” says Greg Voorhis, executive design director for Sunbrella. “They would even complement the natural desert hues that surround so many Arizona homes.”
Holly Hunt’s line of Great Outdoors performance fabrics and trims is crafted with 100% solution-dyed custom yarns that are bleach-cleanable and mildew- and fade-resistant. The Nippon Collection offers a range of soft neutrals, pale grays and deep blues inspired by the landscapes of Japan. Nubby tweeds, linenlike weaves and jacquards add visual interest to the muted color palette.
Neutrals remain a strong seller for Outdura, although the company has seen a shift in focus from soft ivories and off-whites to crisp bright whites and from cooler to warmer grays. “Because neutrals are dominating, consumers are looking to texture for added interest,” notes King. “Our most popular introductions are incorporating a unique weave or proprietary yarn, such as our boucle or marl, which allows for greater depth and feel than a plain weave solid.”
Once nothing more than workhorse cloth, outdoor textiles not only meet the demands of weather tolerance but also chicness. With luxe naps, elegant weaves and sophisticated color and pattern choices, it’s now hard to differentiate high-performance from conventional fabrics.