Old news: For several seasons now, the demand for an outdoor living room has challenged manufacturers to offer a greater level of style with fabrics that create a seamless transition between indoors and out.
New news: The selection of weather-resistant, outdoor fabrics has grown so far beyond tropical prints and cabana stripes they are becoming a great choice for indoor furnishings, too. Hardworking in their stain- and fade-resistance, they now boast beauty as well as brawn, allowing us and our guests to relax and actually live in the living room.
If the brand name Sunbrella stirs sweet memories of summer nights spent lounging out back it’s because it has been the household name in outdoor fabrics since the early 1980s when they expanded from awnings and marine fabrics to outdoor cushions, drapery and umbrellas. These mighty fabrics have taken families through decades of backyard get-togethers, shrugging off many a spill, smear and storm. And it’s these attributes that make outdoors fabrics compelling for interior spaces. They are easy to maintain and keep clean, making them perfect for pet-friendly, high-traffic and sundrenched rooms in your home.
Fabric trade showroom Kravet in Bethpage sells Sunbrella as well as their own Soleil collection of outdoor fabrics and showroom manager Norma Sienkiewicz has noticed a shift in what designers, and their customers, are looking for. “In today’s market, the trend is heavily leaning toward texture. Intricate textures with maximum durability are perfect for both indoor and outdoor applications. We are also seeing many bold geometrics in both cool and warm color palettes, from icy blues and greys to earthy greens.”
A big part of the trend follows the evolving range of colors and styles manufacturers offer. “The color palette has expanded in an unbelievable way to include fresh blues and greens, vibrant pinks and yellows along with satisfying neutrals,” agreed Gina Wicker, design and creative director for Sunbrella. “We started with a black and white stripe and we now have an extensive bank of colors to meet virtually any design need indoors or out.” One of the most popular Sunbrella fabrics is also a go-to fabric for sophisticated interiors: Sailcloth Salt is a basic white that allows anyone who wants a white sofa to have one, free of the worry of wear and tear.
The other driving force behind this trend is technology. When most people think of outdoor fabrics, they imagine an uninviting experience with stiff, rough or plasticky surfaces. While this might have been the case 15 years ago, today the fabrics are woven just like indoor fabrics, with finishing techniques that create softness and draping. The most recent advances enable more intricate weaving, innovative yarn constructions and advanced finishes that match the look and feel of fine interior fabrics. “Years ago we shunned fabrics with polyester, rayon or nylon,” Sienkiewicz said. “But with the technology today, we can create a polyester fabric that’s as soft as silk or an acrylic fabric as soft as cotton while still maintaining the resiliency needed to perform in the outdoor environment.”
These high performance, outdoor fabrics are solution-dyed synthetic yarns. “The dyes are added when making the yarns which allows it to penetrate the yarn completely, creating a fabric that will not fade easily,” Sienkiewicz said. “Think of the difference between a carrot and a radish, the carrot is orange all the way through while a radish is red just on the outside.”
While the fabric is coming in from the outdoors, it’s not simply repurposing material from awnings. “Fiber technology is the basis of our fabric’s performance,” Wicker said. “Our awning fabrics need to be a little more rigid and our drapery sheers need to be soft and flowing—and everything else in between. What makes each fabric different is its construction and the finish that’s applied after it’s woven. We very carefully develop fabrics suitable for their intended use so that they have the softness that’s appropriate for the applications.”
Sunbrella and Kravet have been very active filling the niche for indoor applications for some time, but they are not alone. Textile manufacturers including Schumacher with the Trina Turk collection, Robert Allen with its Modern Bungalow collection and Tommy Bahama all embody exciting advances in technology.
Furniture partners like Century Furniture, Lee Industries and CR Laine help Sunbrella make its way into family rooms across the country. “The key is not to think about Sunbrella as an outdoor fabric because it’s so much more than that today. From slubby textures that look like natural linens to plush chenilles for your most formal application…your family and friends would never guess that it could also endure the outdoor environment,” Wicker said.
Incorporating the latest outdoor fabrics into both your outdoor and indoor living rooms can be easily achieved. A selection of these fabrics is usually available at any patio furniture store and, more increasingly, at retailers who work in upholstering interior pieces. Shopping online is also an option, but always get a swatch or sample before ordering to ensure the look and feel fit the use. For those with a longer lead time, design professionals can assist with gaining full access to extensive collections at trade showrooms to customize the ultimate piece of furniture—one that only looks untouchable.