The birth of free time, a phenomenon more recent that one could actually think of, is perhaps linked to the fertility that took the outdoor furniture design industry by storm from the second half of the Eight-Hundreds. On transatlantic ships, the newly-invented deck chairs are meant to be folded and stored away in no time in case of bad weather. In the gardens where family gatherings take place, the recliners built in wood and canvas are sat on by an intellectual audience dedicated to the ascending pastime of newspaper reading. In the warm environments of the colonies, outdoor furniture turns into a collective space inspired by the solutions adopted by army campsite seats, therefore combining essential design traits with practicality.
It is perhaps because of their combination of minimal design traits and great functionality that outdoor seats have provided us with a varied series of iconic pieces, whose designers have now become identified with, ending up standing in the shade of their own creations. The Tripolina, the Adirondack Chair, the Indian chair, the Butterfly chair, but also the cast iron seats or the classic French garden loungers, represent models that show no sign of ageing, taking actually advantage of a plethora of global brands that do not seem committed to reproducing the quality of the original pieces.
Alongside the great classics, new inventions have subverted the design of outdoor furniture, often with the aid of plastic materials that contributed to a more informal conception of the time spent outdoors. It is, in fact, the human body to benefit from this new freedom in design. Take, for instance, the Garden Egg by Hungarian designer Peter Ghyczy: its low seat, nearly touching the ground, increases the direct contact with the nature and allows bodies to take positions that only a few decades earlier would have been deemed inappropriate, especially for all the women still bond to wearing skirts.
Over the last years, contemporary outdoors seats have demonstrated enviable creativity, definitely something that should be not taken for granted in the furniture industry. Take the O. rocking chair designed by Marcel Wanders for Moooi. Its ring structure, at first cryptic, soon reveals to be perfect for those who love contemplative resting with their legs up in the air. Innovation also comes as an answer to the long-lasting environmental challenge of plastic pollution. If recycled plastic is more and more present in the production chain, on some occasions it can also lead to aesthetic revolutions – like in the case of Alex by Alessandro Mendini for Ecopixel. These sorts of pieces represent a bright hope for innovation in a field of the furniture industry that, more than others, is bond to the small joys of everyday life.