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The Names and Brands Behind Collectible Outdoor Furnishings
Historically, outdoor furniture has not been well documented. Because it was often viewed as having a short life due to its exposure to the elements—sun, wind, rain and snow—homeowners often replaced it every few years. Indoor furniture—built to last and decidedly more protected— traditionally has garnered more attention and praise. Through the years, labels and marques of patio furniture have fallen off. And thanks to the web and a plethora of "experts," misidentification of furniture manufacturers and lines runs rampant.
In spite of the seasonal nature of outdoor furniture, a funny thing has happened along the way. Against the odds, many of these outdoor pieces held up through the years, and collectors began taking notice of certain manufacturers and lines or styles that they found especially appealing. Some survivors might have survived because the original owners often took better care of their possessions—that "pride of ownership" philosophy that may have been handed down from their ancestors. Remaining patio sets might have been stored in basements or sheds during the off season, and cleaned regularly or protected by overhead roofs or shade.
Mid-20th Century Collectibles
Others might have been used indoors. During the post-World War II housing boom, the John B. Salterini NEVA-RUST furniture company marketed its garden furniture in home and garden magazine ads, touting, "It's the decorative trend, using wrought iron furniture indoors because it brings into your home the freshness and gaiety of a flowery summer garden."
Salterini also made a push for indoor use in magazine advertisements featuring illustrations of lean, long-legged homemakers in high heels and aprons serving dinner on their patio dining tables, with ad copy suggesting the furniture was perfect for budget-minded "young marrieds." Recommending that homeowners use the garden furniture indoors helped justify the higher price tags on these sets, which were sold at "finer furniture stores" and through decorators.
West Coast-based companies like O.W. Lee and Brown Jordan focused on producing outdoor furniture that could be used year-round in climates that enjoyed the burgeoning patio culture, like California, Arizona and Florida.
"The mid-century years in Los Angeles were a period of extraordinary creativity, nurturing designers and architects like Charles Eames, Richard Neutra and John Lautner, while a mild climate allowed people to redefine concepts of architecture and lifestyle," explains Stephen F. Elton, Chief Brand Officer for Brown Jordan. "Entertaining on the patio or lounging by the pool became a way of life. And Brown Jordan became synonymous with outdoor furniture of timeless design and enduring quality."Continue to 2 of 10 below.
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Mid-Century Doesn't Always Mean It's Modern
While most of the more collectible lines of outdoor furniture are mid-century modern in style, not everything produced during that era was modern. Salterini designed the ultra-modern Clamshell line, but also manufactured more traditional pieces like the French Provencial set—same wrought iron material but an entirely different look.
Prices vary widely for patio furniture—many sellers don't know what they have since it has not been well documented. Yes, it's possible to find more high-end pieces on sites like eBay or CraigsList for good prices, but don't expect the furniture to be in the pristine condition you might find on auction sites like 1stDibs. However, with research and vigilance, you might score something valuable that you absolutely love.
We've researched and compiled a list of the most collectible brands of outdoor furniture, including their more popular lines.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
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Lightweight outdoor furniture with zinc-coated tubular steel frames and vinyl cording or strapping that came in turquoise, lilac, orange, yellow and white, with black or bronze frames. Featured safety-tempered "Ripple-mist" glass on table tops.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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Location: Started in Pasadena, California.
Year Established: 1945
Founders: Industrial designer Robert Brown and Hubert Jordan
- Bronze collection by Walter Lamb. Introduced in the 1940s and made using cotton cording and copper pipe salvaged from naval ships that had sunk in Pearl Harbor, the Bronze collection was popular through the 1960s and reintroduced in 2008.
- Calcutta, aka Chinese Chippendale
- Kantan by Tadao E. Inouye in 1956
- Mai Tai by John Caldwell
- Morning Glory (for Bullocks Wilshire in Los Angeles)
- Quantum by Richard Frinier
- "S" lounge chair by Walter Lamb
- Sol y Luna
- Tamiami by Hall Bradley, 1950s
- Venetian Grotto
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Location: Wadena, Minnesota
Year Established: Company was started in 1953
Founders: Mert Bottemiller and Al Engelemann started Homecrest as an offshoot of a retail furniture shop when they attempted to design a better hassock (ottoman) than their vendors could supply. The business expanded into lines of indoor and outdoor furniture.
Known for: Modern designs and Bottemiller's swivel rocker mechanism, which was patented in 1956.
Notable Lines and Products:
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- Courting swing
- Hilo table
- Holly Hill
- Jamaica server
- Nassau glider
- Siesta chaise (pictured; courtesy of Kenny K of K2 Modern)
- Summer Set
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Molla began in England in the late 1800s but moved to the East Coast to produce neo-classical cast aluminum and magnesium metal furniture that was saltwater resistant--good for those estates in Newport, Rhode Island, and beach houses on Cape Cod. Mid-20th-century pieces featured Alumaloy frames that were advertised as being resistant to pitting and rusting, which are major issues with metal furniture kept outside. Metal finishes included special names like Pompeian, Old Pewter, Mediterranean Blue, Iridescent Green, Venetian Blue, Venetian Green and Yellow.
Notable Lines and Products:Continue to 7 of 10 below.
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Sometimes mistakenly referred to as bamboo, rattan furniture was made by many manufacturers in the mid-1900s, with a big push after World War II. Why? Troops who fought in the Pacific Theater were exposed to the exotic appeal of the South Sea islands and tropics, and wanted to recapture the better part of their wartime experience with furnishings, accessories, clothing, music, and food that reminded them of these far-off destinations.
The following is a list of companies that produced rattan furniture during its heyday. Pieces tended to be large and were better indoors or under a covered patio. Collectors favor strands--what look like poles--and the more strands, the better. Past collectors include Bruce Springsteen and Diane Keaton.
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- Franco Albini
- Heywood Wakefield
- Paul Frankl
- Seven Seas
- Tropical Sun
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Location: New York City
Era: 1928 to 1953
Founder: John B. Salterini, who emigrated from Italy
Notable Lines and Products:
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- Banana Leaf
- Clamshell by Italian architect/designer Maurizio Tempestini (pictured, photo courtesy of Kenny K of K2 Modern)
- Della Robbia
- French Provencial
- Laurel Leaf
- Lily Pad
- Mt. Vernon
- Palm Springs
- Park Avenue
- Rambler: Vines, leaves and berries; art nouveau inspired
- Ribbon by Maurizio Tempestini
- Riviera by Maurizio Tempestini
- Rose Leaf
- Sea Island
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Location: Established in Sarasota, Florida. In 1970, the company moved its headquarters to Orange County, California
Founder: Started by retired engineer Burt M. Baker as the Sarasota Redwood Furniture Co.
Notables Lines and Products:
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- California Redwood
- Coventry Manor
- Down East
- Jai Alai
- Manele Bay
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Location: Owosso, Michigan
Year Established: 1933
Founders: Lee Woodard began making handcrafted metal furniture in the 1930s. His three sons, Joe, Lyman and Russell, built the company to become a leader in outdoor furnishings.
Notable Lines and Products: