Sit Pretty with High-Design Outdoor Furniture

Tips for plotting the perfect garden living room (Adirondack lovers, beware!)

By Kate Bryant June 2, 2014 Published in the June 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Your backyard chair is much more than just a seat. It’s a crucial object that connects you to your outdoor world—one that should be beautiful, comfortable, and in sync with its surroundings (both architectural and organic). To prep you for summer lounging, Portland-area garden designer Vanessa Gardner Nagel, author of The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings, shares some tips and tricks for enhancing your outdoor domain.

You see a lot of garden furniture. What common mistakes do people make?  Mixing furniture styles that don’t agree. Mixing, say, a Japanese bench with a Victorian table usually results in a complete disconnect, not a charmingly “eclectic” look. Also, not paying attention to the scale and proportion of the furnishings in relation to the surroundings. A beefy house with lightweight, pixie furniture looks unbalanced. And then there’s the Adirondack chair problem....

What’s so bad about the Adirondack chair?  First off, it’s become trite from overuse. Granted, it’s fine if gazing across a sweeping lawn toward a distant lake. But its vast footprint makes for stumbling in small urban gardens, and it’s hard to lift, move, or position around a fire pit. Above all, it’s awkward for conversation: the angle of the back makes eye contact tough. 

So if Adirondacks are out, where should people start? There are four main factors to consider: Do the furnishings physically fit in the space? Do they properly fit the people using them? Do the materials work with the use they will receive? And do they suit the setting stylistically? 

How important is color? It’s huge! We usually think of color as “hue,” but it’s also intensity (bright or dull) and value (light or dark). Thinking about all three helps you pick the right color. And remember, not everything can be a statement—something always has to take backstage. Got a plain table? Make the chairs striking!  

Where do you like to shop locally?  I love Digs Inside & Out and Garden Fever. And there are also great larger retailers specializing in outdoor furnishings, like Hive Modern, Design Within Reach, Fishels, and Ludeman’s.

Five space-changing chairs

Vegetal by Vitra (above): This 100 percent recycled polyamide chair is weather-resistant, sustainable, and well-suited to a ranch, midcentury modern, or contemporary garden and home. $650 at Hive Modern, 820 NW Glisan St

Luxembourg Chair by Fermob: These bright, comfortable retro chairs dry quickly (great in the Northwest) and suit a broad range of midcentury and contemporary settings. $347 at Digs Inside & Out, 1829 NE Alberta St 

Aman Dais by Westminster Teak: With a nod to historical style in the legs and back detail, this modern lounge would sit well with a traditional, contemporary, or even Asian-style house or garden. From $1,361 at 

Lago Chair by Loll Designs: Taking its cues from the midcentury aesthetic, the Lago chair is particularly well-suited to contemporary or Japanese-themed spaces. $496 at Garden Fever, 3433 NE 24th Ave

Louis Ghost by Philippe Starck: Inspired by Louis XVI, this chair’s scale and simplicity mix well with many styles: contemporary, traditional, colonial, classical, Victorian. $410 at Design Within Reach, 1200 NW Everett St

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