Blasts from the Casual Past...
Home & Textiles Today Staff -- Casual Living, September 1, 2009
While thumbing through the tattered pages of a Family Circle from June 1974, an unexpected headline caught my eye. In bold print, it read, "Dozens of ideas for turning your patio, porch, balcony or backyard into The Outdoor Room." This 35-year-old blast from the past appeared to have a message that was as current as if it had come from the pages of any of today's plethora of magazines catering to outdoor living.
With the suggestion that the reader "expand your living space simply by going outdoors" via the creation of an Outdoor Room, the magazine's editors appeared to be years ahead of their time. Or, could it be that what we believe to be a recent trend is more vintage than avant-garde?
This month, Casual Living, the Voice of the Leisure Marketplace, begins to celebrate turning 50.
For half a century its pages have noted, discussed and featured the tremendous changes that have occurred in the products, processes and people of our industry. Although 50 years is a phenomenal feat in the world of publishing, when Casual Living first appeared, it was met by icons within the industry that had already celebrated a half-century mark and several others working toward making a mark on this growing business segment.
The industry Casual Living was created to serve encompassed a rich history of artisans, innovators and those built for the long haul. Several companies have not only been around since the magazine debuted or Family Circle portended the Outdoor Room, but continue to this day to shape the world of outdoor living. With a closer look at a sampling of these, a wealth of vintage experiences and avant-garde moments is revealed.
Zeppelins, Flappers, The Babe and Lloyd Loom
It was the early 20th century when Marshall B. Lloyd founded a company and subsequently revolutionized not only the wicker industry, but outdoor living forever. With the introduction of a method of streamlining the process and production of wicker, the signature Lloyd Loom was born.
"In relation to the Victorian styling of the day, Mr. Lloyd's designs were simple and very classic," said Lou Rosebrock, vice president, sales and marketing for Lloyd/Flanders, the successor to Lloyd's company. "The original looks were very clean and contemporary for the time."
Today, Lloyd Loom continues to be manufactured in the United States at the company's Menominee, Mich., plant. "We are the only U.S. manufacturer that produces its own fibers," Rosebrock said. "The process has remained much as it was a century ago."
One construction change the company instituted is the replacement of the steel wire used at the core of the weaving with weather resistant and lightweight aluminum wire. Collections within the Lloyd Loom line continue to be a major component of the company's offerings with new designs being added each season.
In the 1980s, after Flanders Industries purchased what was originally Lloyd's company, history was made again with the introduction of synthetic or vinyl wicker. Marketed under the SunLoom brand, this introduction once again revolutionized the casual furniture industry. "We are always updating and trying to bring new items to market," Rosebrock said. The custom woven vinyl collections continue to be individually handcrafted and based on customer requests. For 2010, the century-old company will unveil classic as well as contemporary design within its growing woven vinyl line.
World War, Pin-ups, Joe DiMaggio and Steel Lawn Gliders
In 1947, in Jefferson, Texas, Torrans Manufacturing began crafting from metal a line of lawn chairs and gliders. Today, Torrans Manufacturing is run by Louis and Kathy Torrans who are serious about maintaining the style and design of the earliest models.
"It was our intention from the very first not just to toss out a product that looked like the old pieces; but instead to give the retailers a truly vintage styled chair with the same or better value from decades ago," Louis Torrans said. "Kathy and I have met and talked with two of the really old manufacturers, and we think we understand very well what they were thinking when they were in production."
The basic construction of the chairs has not changed greatly in its more than 60-year history. However, modern features and components have been integrated including a higher weight capacity, stainless steel fasteners and durable powder-coat finishing. The steel and the method used to form the parts have remained unchanged. "You just don't have too many different ways to make these things," Torrans said.
For 2010, Torrans will be growing its line with more from its East Texas Adirondack furniture collection as well as adding colors to the classic pieces. "I'm always on the lookout for anything that has to do with the old days that fit our product line," Torrans said. "I'm constantly researching these old chairs and gliders for a book I have started on the subject."
Customers of Torrans' vintage chairs often are described as baby boomers for which the bright colors are a draw. Specialty retailers, catalogs, nursery and pool retailers are primary vehicles for sales of this line. Contract applications have grown as more retro-themed restaurants are looking to the line for their exteriors.
Color TV, Polio Vaccine, Elvis and Removable Seat Director's Chairs
Although the company began manufacturing in 1903, it was in 1953 that Bob Vanderminden of Telescope Casual Furniture made a lasting mark on outdoor living history when he redesigned a consumer-friendly version of his company's popular wooden director chair. Prior to 1953, the chair featured a nailed-on seat.
"With his design, it made it possible so the seat could be replaced and the seat color could be changed," said Bill Vanderminden, executive vice president of design and marketing for Telescope Casual and son of the designer. "The growth in popularity exploded after that." The Telescope World Famous Director Chair has remained virtually unchanged in design since that date. Primarily due to its portability, it historically has been a longtime Hollywood favorite. "During the NBC broadcast of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, our bar height chairs were used to create a gallery for those watching within the studio," Vanderminden said.
Twenty years following the design change, Telescope debuted chairs made of aluminum tubing for which again the seats could be replaced. "What was unique was that the same dowel-in-grove construction was put into aluminum chairs thus creating what is now the standard for sling furniture," Vanderminden said.
Riots, Rock'n'Roll and Gallery-worthy Outdoor Designs
In the 1960s, Richard Schultz was designing pieces for the outdoors that were as avant-garde in styling then as they are now. In a world of wicker and wooden director chairs, his 1966 Collection became a flagship for the designer who was then working for Knoll International, a well- known design firm.
"My father says that at Knoll they designed for themselves," said Peter Schultz, president of Richard Schultz. "They did no market research, no studies of competition. They simply designed product they loved."
This product turned out to not only transcend across generations, but also into artistic history as pieces by Richard Schultz, who continues to design today, are part of a permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Although the models being introduced for 2010 continue to reflect the style of Schultz's original designs, much has changed with better materials and techniques being applied to produce greater durability and comfort. Peter Schultz said the line's original Dacron/polyester mesh has been replaced by vinyl-covered polyester for easier maintenance and longer life. Polyester thread has been replaced by space age Teflon thread which is warranted for the life of the product. As with other manufacturers, additional advancements include the use of powder-coat finishing and stainless steel versus the original steel. Durability is key in the 21st century, but this is not a new concept for this company.
"In the 1960s, Florence Knoll told my father during the design process that 'we are grown up enough now to use castings,'" Schultz said. "Castings at the time were more expensive, but were extremely durable. The entire product line was created with quality in mind, in addition to design."
For 2010, the line will introduce armless dining, counter and bar chairs and corresponding tables to meet customer requests for variation in table and chair heights. "In the last decade there has been an increased focus on outdoor living in the United States," Schultz said. "Our customers now speak of outdoor rooms, and designers have told me more than once that they and their clients have three outdoor rooms to furnish — dining, poolside and living. People are interested in bringing the same quality of furnishing and comfort they have in their living rooms onto their terraces."
Star Wars, Watergate, Bicentennial and Vintage Revisited
With the 1970s came continued advancements in the outdoor living arena but at the same time, there also was a birth in the interest in acquiring and revitalizing vintage outdoor furnishings.
It was this interest that created an opportunity for Michael Scopinich and his Gold Coast Casual Living. "The quality and workmanship of older pieces managed to intensify my interest," Scopinich said. "I feel outdoor casual furniture should be recognized, for style and value much like vintage cars and antiques."
Scopinich, whose company provides refinishing services for outdoor manufacturers, began to acquire vintage pieces to meet customer requests. "We have clients who purchase vintage pieces to match what they have, and it may be that these lines are no longer available," said Scopinich. "Manufacturers such as Scroll, Completely Casual and Pompeii are no longer in business. It's likely that as time goes on, the demand for their products is going to grow." The Gold Coast Casual inventory is acquired through a variety of venues including from current clients downsizing from larger residences to condos or from treasure hunting at yard sale or thrift stores.
"I think in the years to come, more people will start to recognize the value (of casual furniture) and its collectability, whether it is an accent piece or a whole set," said Scopinich. "Currently, the trend is leaning toward wicker outdoor furniture. However, due to refinishing options, regardless of style or taste, the demand for aluminum style furniture, new or vintage will become greater, because of its longevity."
Whether from the pages of a 1970s periodical or the words of contemporary designers and manufacturers or vintage collectors, The Outdoor Room is a trend that for years has embodied opportunities for many. From innovations to publications, it is a trend that may have been a part of the past, but is well-equipped for a future full of opportunity and well-designed relaxation.