EDITION: August - October 2019

Choosing Outdoor Fabrics

By Susanne Schmidt
Choosing the right fabrics to decorate with is always an important design decision, and it is particularly interesting when deciding about upholstery for the garden, pool and terrace areas. Here on Ibiza we spend a lot of our time outdoors, so we need to know if it is safe to leave our cushions outside at night. Given our abundance of sunshine and the high humidity of the evenings, your choices for exterior fabrics should have the following properties:

• Resistance to fading from exposure to the sun so they can retain their original colours for a long time.
• Water repellent treatment that allows the night moisture to roll off the fabric without being absorbed.
• The material should be antifungal to resist mould and avoid dark stains.
• Resistance to the oils and creams that we use on our bodies.
• Easily removable and washable.

A lot of innovative designs and improvements over the past 20 years have greatly improved the quality and beauty of outdoor fabrics. Aesthetically they are not only available in a full pallet of colours, but also in countless designs with stripes and patterns. The higher quality fabrics offer a softer and more comfortable feeling. Their threads are dyed in bulk, unlike less expensive fabrics that are merely printed. The finer fabrics include linen and velvet that are adapted for outdoor use.

“Water Resistant is not Waterproof”

Some people want to keep their cushions out day and night throughout the summer in both sun and rain. This is not generally recommended because even if your fabric is water resistant it is not likely to be waterproof. Some outdoor fabrics try to solve this by being plasticized underneath. This is helpful, but if there is a lot of moisture it can penetrate through the seams (the finest holes in the fabric) into the cushions. If you really want to leave your upholstery permanently outside (especially when it rains) then you need a special foam for the cushions. There is one called “Dryfeel” that allows the water to pass through the foam so that it dries very quickly. So if you have a very high quality fabric, plus ‘dryfeel’ foam inside, then it is possible to leave the upholstery outside even when it rains.

Of course water is a much bigger concern for upholstery on boats, even when there is no rain. The artificial leather known as “Skai” was supposed to solve this problem, and to a great extent it works pretty well. But even with this material, water can penetrate through the seams and into the foam. Another drawback of artificial leather is that your bare skin sticks to this material on a hot day.

The safest thing to do is simply put your cushions under a canopy or in a box during the evening. At the very least you can cover it with plastic, and should there be rain just remove the cover and let the cushions dry in the sun. These simple precautions will keep your upholstery beautiful, and help it to last for a long time. When making your decision about which fabrics are best for you, it is helpful to seek advice from a specialist. Finding the right combination of good workmanship, practical materials and beautiful design will insure your enjoyment for many years to come.