Why outdoor furniture is a natural fit for indoors too

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 May, 2015, 6:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

When designers say, "Bring the outdoors in" they're usually referring to plants. But while leafy greens are one way to freshen up a room, they're not the only possibility.

Indoor-outdoor furniture isn't often recommended to people who live in flats, probably because few apartments have an outdoor space. But perhaps it should be. Transitional pieces that can take a beating and work in a variety of spaces are often exactly what urbanites need. "It's like clothing," says Nancy Colbert, who works for US company Design Partners. "When you invest in it, you expect it to weather a few moves."

And thanks to improved technology, durable materials such as polypropylene or Sunbrella are no longer stiff and waxy. Natural materials such as reclaimed wood have seen a renaissance, and materials such as sea grass and wicker, which were long taboo indoors, are welcome under the right circumstances.

That's great news for people who live in flats because these materials are nothing if not versatile.

Mark Jupiter, a furniture designer in Brooklyn, New York, who specialises in working with wood, encourages homeowners to embrace natural materials indoors. "They make a home feel less stuffy," he says. "My whole business is based on modern interpretations of that raw, natural look."

A wooden bench, for example, is one piece that comes in handy almost anywhere you stick it. Slide it up next to the foot of a bed or the back of a sofa to use as a makeshift table, or by an entryway as a catch-all piece for bags. Storage benches can be used to keep boots, hats and gloves out of sight.

"Reclaimed wood has been big for a few years now, the newer trend is to mix it with metals, marbles, things that add dimension and surprise," says April Force Pardoe, of AFP Interiors in the US state of Maryland. "It's like nothing is one material any more."

The one material Pardoe is not sure about using indoors is wicker. There are two camps on wicker, she says, and she sides with those who think it can look too traditional, and thus out of place in a flat. She steers clients toward the thick, woven variety. "It's unexpected, but warm," she says. Another way to keep the look modern is to look for wicker pieces in clean, stylish silhouettes.

Speaking of unexpected, one of Pardoe's handiest design items for spicing up an interior is a garden stool. The traditional ones - often shaped like plump barrel drums, lacquer-finished with little cut-outs - are rather country-chic, and almost conjure up a grandmother's home. But garden stools actually hail from ancient China, where they were fashioned out of tree stumps. Today, they're a go-to accent piece for designers who want to add a heavy dose of colour and texture to a stale room, and, what's more, they're highly functional.

"They're the opposite of frivolous," says Jonathan Yaraghi, the creative director of Safavieh, a US furniture store based in New York that offers modern interpretations on the traditional piece such as metallic finishes; the Gold Glazed Ceramic Elephant Stool is one of its most popular options. "They can be used almost anywhere as a table or extra seat, and they're a high-impact design piece. And what I mean by that is they're a little piece that packs a lot of style," he says.

In Yaraghi's apartment, he uses a stool in his bathroom as a surface for towels or toiletries, and slides it under the pedestal sink when he's not using it so it's still visible. He uses another as an end table in his living room, and nudges it under a console table when he needs to make space.

Pardoe is also on the garden-stool bandwagon. "I can't resist them," she says. "They're like throw pillows, but more functional.

The Washington Post