HIGH POINT — As the popularity of performance fabrics grows indoors, the differences and demands for outdoor vs. indoor features and looks continue to blur, too.
Culp observed the trend about two years ago when it undertook the soft launch of its own outdoor line, Livesmart Outdoor. The company had been seeing great success with its indoor performance fabric line, Livesmart, so it decided to move back to the performance fabric category’s outdoor roots.
“People loved Livesmart, so it was a natural next step for us to create Livesmart Outdoor both for our customers looking to make outdoor pieces and for the many folks who just prefer the extra protection provided by outdoor-safe fabrics,” said Tammy Buckner, senior vice president of design and marketing for Culp. “The lines are very similar, and our outdoor product is being used on indoor pieces quite often.”
But if the look and use of indoor and outdoor fabrics are shared, what even makes the difference between indoor and outdoor fabrics? Primarily, fabric sources say, it’s the fabrics’ definitions of performance.
“‘Performance’ is such a common word, and there is no official criteria you have to meet to call your fabric performance, so it can be a bit confusing,” explained Sarah Keelen, design director for outdoor and performance for Swavelle, parent company of performance fabric brand Bella-Dura. “But the one thing all performance fabrics tout is their easy cleanability. However, not all performance fabrics are appropriate for outdoor use.”
From the array of “performance” definitions, a handful of qualities almost always arise in some mixed form: durability, cleanability, water repellency and fade resistance.
For fabrics used outdoors, those qualities are more important, as performance features need to go well past just offering cleanability to perform. Outdoor environments require that performance fabrics offer significantly higher lightfastness and durability rates, and many put an emphasis on water resistance.
“Everyone knows a lot more happens outdoors, so to keep outdoor fabrics fresh, they have to be made for lots of sun, rain, snow and more,” said Christy Almond, vice president of product development and marketing for Valdese Weavers. “There are a lot of elements to contend with.”
But just because a piece of fabric may not face those exact conditions indoors does not mean those outdoor features go unused. Inside, water resistance translates into extra protection for spills, and durability and high fade resistance can add to the lifespan and overall quality of the fabric.
And fabric manufacturers such as Valdese Weavers, Sunbrella, Richloom Fabrics and Bella-Dura Home already cross-market performance fabric brands for indoor and outdoor use.
“Features that are usually associated with the outdoors, like fade resistance, are still beneficial,” said Almond. “If you have a sofa with an outdoor fabric on it, you can put it in a sunroom without worry or in front of a large window. And if the fabric is waterproof cleaning a spill inside or out is even simpler.”
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor cleanability has become even more important to Valedese Weavers’ Insideout brand, too. Culp and Bella-Dura Home have seen similar questions come from customers during the pandemic, both from consumers and retailers who have also begun more regularly cleaning furniture on their showrooms floors.
“We’ve had a lot of inquiries about bleach cleanability during the pandemic because people are being extra careful,” said Almond. “People wanted to be sure that regular cleanings with different chemicals wouldn’t compromise their fabrics’ colors or feel.”
To meet that information need, Valdese Weavers doubled down on testing its pieces’ cleanability in February, ultimately releasing updated information on the best ways to disinfect and clean its fabric pieces with cleaning products such as Lysol sprays and diluted bleach.
Outdoor design trends
Almond noted that, outside of performance features, the success of indoor/outdoor brands is in large part related to both technological advancements, making way for more advanced and textural outdoor-safe fabrics, and the outdoor room design trend, which has led many to invest in their outdoor spaces and furniture pieces.
“Now more than ever people are merging what outdoor and indoor spaces look like while trying to create some cohesiveness in their homes, especially with open concept living,” said Almond. “We are seeing a lot of the same trends indoors come outside, but we are still seeing some of the more playful patterns for outdoors, too.”
Specifically for Valdese Weavers, classic prints like gingham in trending colors have done well both indoors and out, calling back the look of a traditional picnic blanket and updating the motif with seasonal colors. Warm neutrals and more artisan textiles continue to trend for the company in both settings, along with blues and grays, which have been trending for several years.
Newer to the mix is bold combinations of black-and-white or neutral, and a full spectrum of green shades, from kelly to teal green, that pair up with a resurging interest in botanicals both in patterns and home decor in general.
At Culp, designs for Livesmart and Livesmart Outdoor are also very similar to each other, with the decision Buckner and her team to share looks and color palettes between the two lines having been informed by earlier trips to Salon del Mobile and Maison & Objet as well as the ongoing coronavirus.
“People are really looking for casual comfort during this time,” explained Buckner. “People are spending so much more time at home that they are looking to be comfortable, and they are looking for that inside their homes and outside now, too.”
While COVID-19 “pushed the trend to the next level,” Buckner said the outdoor room trend had been growing for a while before, with design shows like Maison & Objet dedicating trend displays to seamlessly blending indoor and outdoor pieces and materials.
Translating that blend into Livesmart Outdoor, Buckner said the company is approaching both brands with the same styles and themes, focusing on eclectic looks, boucles, chenilles and similar color palettes. Between the lines, Buckner said that, without a tag differentiating the two, people would not be able to tell the difference between them.
“We’re using a lot of light body plains all over on like sofas, in light or white, with black or dark java pillows. Really, block prints are just really huge right now. … Simple stripes mixed in with simple, small geometric have been important, too.”
Clean lines and, more specifically, a move away from the traditional florals and loud colors associated with outdoor looks have defined Livesmart Outdoor’s offerings.
Different spaces, different uses
Sunbrella approaches its fabrics with a little more emphasis on designing for both spaces separately, having divided its indoor- and outdoor-focused fabrics into divisions with separate marketing and design pushes, while still recognizing that both groups can go indoors or out.
“We design with aesthetics in mind, so when we approach an outdoor space its more about color and having more saturated, lively color,” said Sarah Dooley, marketing director for upholstery at Glen Raven. “That being said, we have seen trends over the past few years where you kind of have that sense that neutrals are moving outside as well as they are inside, and that’s reflected throughout. We really try to meet what the market wants.”
Dooley said that the design team at Sunbrella has had to adjust its thought process to help mimic indoor looks as they have seen people begin approaching outdoor design like they would the rest of their home. Neutrals have come into fashion in a big way outdoors, with pops of color and pattern being allocated to smaller pieces as accents, just as it has inside.
For texture, being sensitive to the different uses of fabrics indoors and out has been key, according to Dooley, as she noted that the sofa fabric you want to cuddle up with inside should feel different from the fabric on your outdoor lounger.
Keeping in mind the overall differences between indoor and outdoor design has been key to Bella-Dura Home’s approach, too.
“There is a real difference in the looks people buy for indoor verses outdoor use, which comes down to the environment the fabric will be used in,” said Keelen. “A typical outdoor space may be surrounded by trees, flowers, a pool, deck or patio — all of which provide a lot of texture. … To balance all of this textural interest, fabrics are usually more paired down than indoor ones.”
Indoors, Keelen said fabrics have more wiggle room because texture is created by what is put in the room. Additionally, Keelen noted that outdoor fabrics often make use of more bright colors and contrasting patterns because of the natural light whereas indoors these colors can “overwhelm a space and people make much subtler choices.”
“I think the indoor outdoor lifestyle is something that will continue, even more so now given the current situation,” noted Dooley, adding, “We are all focusing on ways to stay on trend while also remaining timeless in both spaces.”