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posted: 7/5/2014 6:00 AM

Better chemistry takes us back to nature

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  • New fabrics, furniture and rugs shrug off the elements, making outdoor living as colorful and comfortable as, well, the great outdoors.

    New fabrics, furniture and rugs shrug off the elements, making outdoor living as colorful and comfortable as, well, the great outdoors.

By Rose Bennet Gilbert

Q. We have a small, underused patio outside our bedroom. This is the first time I've ever lived in a house, because I grew up in apartments, and I need advice on how to "furnish" this space.

A. Welcome to the Great Outdoors! It's where everyone wants to be these days, so, lucky for you, manufacturers are working overtime to develop better products for better al fresco living. And, as the old DuPont slogan went, it's "better living through chemistry."

Modern technology brings us outdoor furnishings that not only stand up to the elements, but do it with front-parlor airs and graces. Today's woods would fool a woodpecker; rugs would frustrate a moth; wicker and rattan -- made by nature or by man -- can easily shrug off the worst any meteorologist could mete out.

You can forget those tough, stiff fabrics that used to scrape your bare legs. New processes patented by companies like Sunbrella produce fabrics with such a soft hand (and good colors and smart patterns) you'll want them indoors even before you know they shrug off water and refuse to fade, fray or shred.

With sexy fringes and luxe-look trimmings to match, you can enjoy what the outdoor furniture industry calls "deep seating" -- soft, sink-into cushions that look and sit with living-room style.

Ditto for outdoor floor coverings, like the colorful rug that underlies the seating arrangement in the photo we show here. Don't be fooled by its good looks and tactile surface: The rug's made of ultraviolet polyester, which renders it stain-, rain-, soil- and fade-proof, a totally worry-free pick-me-up (also inexpensive: 5-by-8 feet for $299) for any outdoor space.

Or any indoor place that needs a colorful or softer touch, say, in a kitchen. An indoor-outdoor rug is as kind to the cook's feet as it is to the maintenance staff: Take it out and hose it down once in a while, that's all.

Shopping for modern outdoor furnishing is as exciting as, well, all outdoors. But I'd advise starting indoors at your computer. Some websites to get you started:,,,, and

Q. We're buying new furniture and would like it to be green -- not the color. Are there any guidelines?

A. Largely in response to savvy consumers like you, manufacturers are paying attention to eco-friendly living. So are top architects and interior designers like Campion Platt, who recently laid out some green buy words for other designers at a presentation in New York's Decoration & Design Building.

Foremost in his eco-vocabulary: VOC paint; low-E glass, double-glazed window; Energy Star appliances, cork flooring, reclaimed glass tile, furniture made from reclaimed wood, skylights that capture the sun. A new no-no: bamboo flooring. It's mostly shipped in from East Asia, leaving a fat carbon footprint, Campion points out.

By the way, to deliver his lecture, he traveled uptown from his downtown Manhattan home by rented bicycle. Learn more at


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