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Choosing the Right Outdoor Fabrics & Furnishings

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Choosing the Right Outdoor Fabrics & Furnishings

Long before Memorial Day, when summer seems within reach, folks north to south start to get a little giddy about their outdoor spaces. I know - I share your excitement!

For many years, I chose outdoor cushions based solely on aesthetics, color or design vs. how well they might wear. I was too excited to clutter my creative mind with important details with words like "colorfast" or "polypropiline." 

Thank goodness for experts like Brittany Zimmerman, founder of Bleu Bee Designs in Jacksonville, Florida. It's educated designers like Brittany who help guide us toward the best decor and furniture options based not only on budget, and taste, but on important considerations like environment and durability.

Brittany Zimmerman, Bleu Bee Designs

For years, living in the MidAtlantic, near water - but not the salty ocean - I never worried about extreme elements. During the course of my move to Florida, however, I've learned a great deal about sea salt damage, hurricane winds, rain and brutal summer sun on fabrics. Did I mention "hurricane winds" and "unrelenting rain?" 

Brittany, a native Floridian familiar with scorching sun and humidity, joins us on the front porch to share her outdoor furniture and favorite fabric options to help us find the very best choices suited to our own environment. Even if you've already invested in some pieces this season, you can catch end-of-summer sales (starting soon!) and buy your investment pieces at even better discounts.

 

Her first tip for the Blue Crew (the nickname I've given Magnolia Blue followers on Facebook), is to, in fact, consider severe climates when choosing furniture and fabrics.

"In southern states with heat and humidity a majority of the year, you'll want to avoid organic materials that are susceptible to rot, mildew and mold," she said.

"If you're set on a wood-look, hardwoods like teak will withstand the tests of time with a little love and care." Brittany also suggests wrought iron as a go-to for these harsher climates - which is similar to what my husband and I chose for our Florida patio.

Before you buy your outdoor furniture, ask yourself: how will this space be utilized?

Brittany reminds us that if you'll be entertaining a great deal, with large vs. intimate gatherings, you'll want to consider multiple conversation spaces - tables and chairs and a larger dining table vs. an outdoor sofa and love seat pairing.

Maggie Blue believes strongly on investment pieces that can grow with the space - but not everyone can wait (due to the timing of family events like graduations and birthdays) to fit the space with the necessary furniture. Budget friendly options, according to Brittany, include aluminum with a wrought-iron looking finish, as well as resin wood-look pieces, understanding that the lifespan may be significantly less than those of more expensive options.

While living in the Annapolis area, my cushions and decor were primarily cobalt blue, red and white. In the "Sailing Capital of the USA" - the nautically-themed decor we chose was natural and appropriate. And...as long as I didn't leave the cushions outdoors in the winter, the only thing that really destroyed them for the stuffing were the squirrels!

Now that we're permanently moving to Florida, we created an environment with classic black and white awning striped Sunbrella fabrics, a powder-coated cast aluminum seating area, small square table (we never seemed to use our large, rectangular one in Maryland) with splashes of apple and kiwi green with a tropical resort vibe.

We worked with Palm Casual long before we met Brittany (or we would have absolutely consulted with her), but were delighted with the fact that they are a family-owned business with years of experience who stand behind both their furniture and custom-made Sunbrella cushions. In addition, Rick and I turned to Ballard Designs which has a local store in Jacksonville - but we also buy from them online. They've an entire line of Sunbrella fabrics (we also purchased the Sunbrella draperies and are planning to get more) that Brittany recommends and several different types of cushion styles and cushion construction, including one they call "Fast-Dry." While they are a little more expensive, they are what they claim - fast drying! 

"Your home is your sanctuary," says Brittany. "Choosing the right components, furniture pieces, fabrics, and wall coverings - and understanding how they are going to work in your spaces, their care requirements, and how long they last, coupled with your unique needs in mind, is a highly-personalized task. It's what designers help you define - then find!" 

Brittany shares her best outdoor fabric and furnishing tricks-of-the-trade here:

  • Avoid natural fibers - look for fabrics that have acrylic or synthetic thread fabric infused with plastic. Look for the word "polypropylene."
  • Consider the following manufacturers/brands of these fabrics for your outdoor fabrics:  Sunbrella, P/Kauffman Outdoor Performance fabric, Richloom Fortress, and Bella Dura.
  • Insides matter! Create a water resistant/quick drying cushion and pair these fabrics with a "Dry Fast" foam!
  • Choose "marine" grade (closed cell foam, such as that which is used on boat cushions) OR open cell foam, which resists mold and mildew (i.e., Urecel brand, considered the 'best.')
  • Outdoor brands she loves: Grandin Road, Country Casual Teak, Yardbird and Frontgate are among the best.

Brittany reminds us that "colorfast" is an essential descriptive in choosing our cushions and fabrics. The above recommended Bleu Bee approved brands are all rated colorfast, which means they'll withstand the elements and fade at a slower rate than other un-rated fabrics.

Fabrics by these companies also come in water resistant finishes, lush, gorgeous patterns and are easy to clean.

When caring for your cushions, vacuum frequently, then annually, spot clean them. Really bad stains (bird droppings, food spills, etc.) that were not dealt with immediately, can be worked on with a bleach and water solution to synthetic performance fabrics including Sunbrella and Bella-Dura.

Lastly, Brittany tells us to treat your cushions with 303® Fabric Guard™. Fabric Guard which restores the water-repellency of your fabric and protects against oil-based liquids and other stains. 

 

Whether you're just beginning to build your outdoor look, or continue to invest year-to-year in your patio, lanai, front porch or deck furniture, decor and cushions, y'all take time to research what will work best for you - and take care of what you have!

ABOUT BRITTANY and BLEU BEE DESIGNS

Brittany Zimmerman, Founder of Bleu Bee Designs, is a native Floridian and interior designer and stylist. Brittany is, also, the Head Design Consultant for The Untamed Square, an online art collective which gives emerging female artists a platform to shine. A member of the Association of Military Spouse Entrepreneurs (AMSE), Brittany loves collaborating on creative projects with other entrepreneurs. When Brittany isn't volunteering for K9's for Warriors or making client spaces beautiful and soulful, she is dreaming of her favorite city in the world, Paris, where she often draws on its enchanting beauty for inspiration. To connect with Brittany and Bleu Bee, follow her on social media and ceck out her website, y'all!

 

Comments on this post (1)

  • Jun 26, 2021

    I made my cushions two years ago and they did not stand up to the elements. While the fabric I chose was listed as outdoor, I’ve since learned of sunbrella. Also my foam was not appropriate for the outdoor extreme elements of the Mid-Atlantic. We are overhauling our outdoor space to include conversational areas as well as dining. I’m so excited. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

    — Gwendolyn Martin

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