Real Estate

Outdoor furniture encompasses environmentally friendly materials and contemporary designs

Outdoor furniture made by Edwin Blue of Kansas City includes this side table, chair and ottoman.

Outdoor furniture makers are keenly aware that home is the current vacation hot spot.

This season offers an array of unusual pieces in colors, materials and styles to soothe our recession-weary souls. A quick sample: backyard swings crafted from reclaimed wine barrels; a candy-stick hued collection of modern rockers and gliders made from recycled milk jugs; and canopied daybeds with deep cushioning.


"Consumers are hungry for something different to personalize their environment," said Michelle Lamb, an international home furnishings trend forecaster based in Minneapolis. Outdoor living "is a great way to get more space out of your house, which is useful in this economy when people aren't moving to bigger homes as frequently."

Kansas City designers are raising the bar of outdoor living with locally made furniture. Consumer demand for products crafted from local materials is growing because it's better for the environment and economy. Plus, customers can build one-on-one relationships with artisans to get exactly what they want. Westport-based company Edwin Blue created its first collection, Rise, which includes chaises, chairs, ottomans and side tables.


"We grew up camping and enjoying the outdoors, so it was a natural place to start," says design director Clayton Vogel, who co-founded and co-owns the company with architect Matthew Hufft. The friends, who graduated from the University of Kansas, met in Springfield and worked in New York before forming Edwin Blue in Kansas City.

They plan to launch the line next year at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City, but the pieces can be ordered and built at their Westport location.

The removable cushions in the Rise line are made by Gearhart Upholstery in Buckner, Mo. The machine-washable covers are lined with swimsuit material and come in dozens of colors, but customers can specify their own fabrics.

Sustainability played a big part in the collection. Sturdy stainless steel frames are built from 45 percent to 65 percent recycled material. Seatbacks and tabletops are made of " sinker cypress"—trees that sank to the bottoms of rivers between the late 1800s and 1930 in the logging process. Cold river water protected the wood from sunlight, and years of sediment buildup results in a variety of colors in the wood.

"It meant not having to cut down trees, and these are old-growth trees that you can't find much anymore," Vogel said.

Other area outdoor furniture makers also use environmentally friendly methods. Jerad Foster of Studiobuild in Overland Park, Kan., repurposes scrap wood from a window company.

"Besides being interested in local and green, people want pieces to be flexible and multifunctional," Foster said. "Especially in this economy."

People want benches that can be used for casual entertaining and dining, as well as indoor-outdoor pieces. For example, Foster's picnic table doubles as a conference table.


Andrew Dickson of Acronym Designs, who shares workshop space with Foster, recently developed modern wooden garden columns. He initially built them for his wedding in April but thought they'd be innovative for the backyard. The columns — made from recovered mahogany and oil-finished steel—are modular and can be used in three heights. A beverage or plant rail can be mounted to them, and attachments can form an overhead structure.

Rod Wilcoxen, the owner of Terrace, an outdoor furniture showroom for designers in the Crossroads Arts District, says outdoor furniture isn't reserved just for dining anymore. Chairs now rock, swivel and recline.

"It's all about being comfortable for hours," Wilcoxen said. "Not just 15 minutes."