Wednesday, October 3, 2007



Yes, that's right, the biggest trade show in the United States for outdoor furniture is held semi-annually in Chicago, IL.
Now I don't know about you, but if I were to pick a place to hold the largest outdoor furniture show in the United States, would it be in Chicago?
Uh, hell no (sounds like Mean Guys in the house)!

Chicago? What the heck? How about South Beach? At least that makes a sense.

And on with the show...

And so it was in Chicago, and at 4.5 million square feet, and is approximately 1/8 mile square X 17 floors, and it took us four straight days to walk the entire Chicago Merchandise Mart. Once owned by Joseph Kennedy (yes, the late President Kennedy's boot leg'n daddy), the building is considered to be the largest (as in square feet) in the USA.

Thanks to the fine folks at the Chicago Architectural Foundation, who provide Docents to the many tour boats that ply the Chicago River, giving tours of the cities' many architecturally significant buildings. The buildings include the worlds biggest names in architecture including Mies van der Rohe, Phillip Johnson, Edward Durrell Stone, Skidmore Owings and Merill, and more than I can remember at the moment. It's a great tour and one that I have taken on two other occasions. The Docent's have always been informative (though the docent on this tour was a little too comfortable telling dumb jokes) and the boat is comfortable and has a full bar for those who want to imbibe.

A little history: The word Chicago is an Indian, I mean Native American word, meaning the big stink. In a nutshell, Chicago was a swamp and was built on land reclaimed from the swamps that once occupied the area.

Now, back to the furniture show: We saw the usual, aisle after aisle of cheap teak and badly designed woven wicker, both real and synthetic. We even saw outdoor furniture made from synthetic teak! I mean, can someone explain that to me? Oh well, there was worse on hand!

The outdoor furnishings and fabric world has truly flourished in the last several years, to the point that either can be used as satisfactorily indoors as out, and you would scarcely recognize the difference.


It's wonderful, but not outdoor, eh? Throw it away just because of that? Uh, no! Have a look at the photo to the left. This red blooded wicker beauty is just that, wicker, and is produced by industry innovator Lane Venture.

What's wicker you ask? There really isn't a natural material named wicker. Wicker is more about the type of material, a pliable twig, that is woven together to make an item, usually woven over frame.

According to the manufacturer, the wicker chair above is completely outdoor safe for full rain or shine. How'd they do that, you ask? Simple, they have used a specially developed outdoor acrylic paint from Sherwin Williams. That's it! Its a natural woven product with a finish on it, and it won't fill up our city dump with more cheap and non-biodegradable woven furniture.

Great colors include a French Vanilla, Royal Navy Blue, Pistachio and more. Heck, this furniture was so yummy, I didn't know if I wanted to sit on it or eat it for lunch.

Another collection, also by Lane Venture was the newly launched Leeds Castle Collection.

It was interesting to hear from the sales representatives about
how the designers were inspired by things such as wrought iron
grates on a door opening, which was interpreted as the cut-out pattern on a teak table top.

The artistic license taken by the designers, and rendered in teak, this collection could be considered low-Gothic (interpreted--not overdone!).

The collection featured a "chat" table, which is a table that is higher than a cocktail table, but lower than a Dining table. A chat table is a great height for drinks, casual super, or for just plopping your feet on.


We're not talking about the top on your Porsche, its about the top on another great find, from the Quebec based, Cuscini Design, a cabana/tent company.

We've seen a lot of sunshades, and these aren't the pup tents of our youths. These tents have moved into the league of cabanas extraordinaire.

These pitched roof cabanas have an engineered lever that easily retracts the top, as in convertible, very cool! With very little effort, the entire pitched "roof" neatly folds down from the front to the back, exposing the entire cabana to full sun.

The canvas is 100% Solution dyed acrylic.

Sizes vary from 10' x 10' to a very generous 15' x 20' that will comfortably accommodate a full sized outdoor sectional sofa and a dining table that seats ten guests.

What is extra cool are the optional ceiling lights that are nicely executed as small circles, just larger than a hockey puck. The "pucks" are attached tightly to the interior center pole, and to the corners of the cabana. The lights are eco-friendly LED, and are guaranteed to 50,000 hours, which, according to the manufacturers representative, equates to 5-1/2 hours per day for 25 years! He went on to say that actually they will last longer than twenty five years, but they just won't be guaranteed to be as bright. LED, where have you been all my life?

Look for the Cuscini Design Cabanas at Cabana Home in Santa Barbara for Spring 2008. Prices begin at $5,000 for a 10' x 12' model with retractable roof.


Umbrellas also had a makeover at this show. The side post umbrella designs continue to be refined, and are the new "must have" for sunshade, making the old center-post umbrella "passe".

The canvas is 100% solution dyed acrylic from Sunbrella, and is available in 12 standard and 68 custom fabrics.

A side post umbrella is just that--an umbrella that is hung from a post that has been mounted to the side of the terrace, allowing

for full use of your space. The post may be permanently or semi-permanently installed, so moving the base is not necessary.

But what about when the sun moves during an afternoon?
You ask. No worries says Design Guy. The entire umbrella swivels from 180 to 360 degrees, depending on installation, allowing for all day sun-tracking.

No more moving the lounge chairs every fifteen minutes or rolling the umbrella and its base to different locations.

These units are so well engineered that you can move the umbrella with your index finger.

Maximize the arrangement for maximum use of your outdoor entertaining space without working around the old center-post umbrella pole.

A well made side-post umbrella is somewhat expensive, but a good investment as it relates to your peace of mind and your increased enjoyment of your outdoor space. expect to pay $1,800 to $3,300 depending on size and quality.

Find a rectangular, Italian designed model from FIM, and a wall mounted, hexagonal model from Sun Scape USA, at Cabana Home stores in Santa Barbara and Mill Valley, year round.

All for now. More in tomorrows report from the largest Casual Furniture show in the USA.

Good Night Moon.