Summery design meets advanced technology in a new generation of outdoor fabrics. Colourful and pleasing to the touch, used in cushions, chairs, sofas and even rugs, these materials soften the hard surfaces of urban gardens, drab patios and city courtyards.
Heather McCann, creative director of London outdoor furniture specialist Indian Ocean — stocked in Harrods and with showrooms in Balham and Hampstead — calls it a “fabric revolution”, and adds: “We are doing fully upholstered furniture as sleek for out as in.”
The new fabrics are typically synthetic yet they aren’t shiny, they have a natural texture and they feel good, with a coating to resist rain, dirt and stains. And they won’t fade — even coping with chlorine by a pool.
Teamed with frames of synthetic woven rope, and/or treated timber and stainless steel, cushioned furniture with quick-dry fillings can stay outside all year.
BUTTERFLIES ARE BIG
Go for cream, caramel or grey for large pieces of outdoor furniture — this is your smart neutral background. Then, maybe for a chair, add brighter shades and patterns from “designer” brands, plus cushions, to get the look.
Cushions from £10-£20 sold as “outdoor” come in palm prints at H&M and covered in splashy butterflies at Sainsbury’s. Ikea has loads of neat, boxy floor cushions with easy-carry handles, from about £10, and tie-on pads for loungers and chairs are everywhere.
Bear in mind that cheaper cushions may resist a splash but you have to spend a lot more to get quick-dry fillings and a good synthetic water-repellent fabric that feels soft and has UV fade protection.
Amara has classic Missoni zigzag cushions from £144, and its own brand for £100, with Designers Guild reduced to £34.30.
Interior designer Annie Selke, well known in the US, has chic outdoor cushions and rugs on her UK website. They are stocked, with other brands, at Luma in Barnes, SW13 (020 8748 2264).
Indian Ocean does cushions by Dedar, Casamance, Pierre Frey and Designers Guild, or make your own. Most of the fabric showrooms at Design Centre Chelsea Harbour in SW10 do outdoor ranges.
Or visit the fabric bar at Harrods. Just arrived in the Knightsbridge store is French brand Roche Bobois with the Escapade stunning outdoor sofa dressed in fashionable Missoni. Sea Breeze is a very pretty fabric collection by Osborne & Little, with printed and woven designs. See them at King’s Road, SW3.
FEELS JUST LIKE LINEN
London designer Richard Ward makes sturdy beech-framed folding rocking chairs in his Wawa workshop off Columbia Road, in Ezra Street, E2, open Sunday to Friday (foldingrockingchair.co.uk; 020 7729 6768).
They come in a great choice of polypropylene fabrics that feel like cotton canvas or linen weave.
There’s also a cushion-making service for all the outdoor fabrics, including Zimmer + Rhode and Sunbrella, from about £40. Chaplins has an upmarket outdoor department in its huge Pinner store, where top continental labels offer weather-resistant upholstery by big-name designers (Uxbridge Road, HA5).
A summer special is the Vibe set, fully upholstered in tough Sunbrella fabric with quick-dry foam in a smart plain grey. You get a sofa, two armchairs and a table for £2,800, delivered within days.
Rugs in woven synthetic fibres are the latest outdoor furnishing. You can even hose them down.