Furniture - Sun Parlor, Porch, And Outdoor Furniture

( Originally Published 1931 )

Although "wickerware" is a term still frequently heard in discussing furniture developed for the sun parlor and porch, the fine-woven basketwork to which it referred has been out of the market for many years. There is no such thing nowadays as wicker furniture. In its place have been developed two broad classifications: furniture for use in the sun parlor and on the at least partially protected porch, and that for use on the lawn and elsewhere out-of-doors where there is full exposure to the elements.

Sun Parlor and Porch Furniture : In the first category the materials used are willows, fibers and reeds; for outdoor use the materials include hickory, maple, cedar, "habitant," Oregon fir, cement, stone and iron. In selecting these furnitures for suitability and value, much depends on the material, but even more depends on the method of construction.

Willow: This is probably the most satisfactory of all the porch or sun-parlor types of furniture. The material is a natural growth and, not having been cut, split, bleached, or dyed, retains all its native strength in the finished product. Furthermore, the method of construction used calls for a skilled craftsman; the worker has no frame or dowel to which to fit his material, and he must therefore build and fashion from the ground up. The willow for furniture is grown chiefly in Argentina, where it is cut after a year's growth and transplanted for two or three months. Then it is ex-ported to the United States, where it is peeled and woven into the desired pieces. Frequently it is manufactured in sets of four chairs and a table.

It is most important to avoid confusing this excel-lent product with the output of Belgian and Polish peasants, who make willow furniture in their homes during the winter months. For the most part they are not sufficiently skilled and their product is loosely woven and does not run true to pattern. Often their material is knotty and of poor quality. The American woven ware is generally a third higher in price than the European importation, but it more than makes up for the price differential.

Reeds: The raw material for reed furniture is a trailing vine cut on the rubber plantations of the Malay Peninsula and the South Sea Islands and shipped to Singapore, where American and German experts buy up the better grades and the Chinese buy the rest. Quality depends on size and color, a pure white reed with a diameter of three-eighths inch being considered excellent. The Chinese reed, as it is known in the market, is almost black and must therefore be bleached before it can be used. Bleaching robs the reed of much of its strength and only a poor grade of furniture can be made from it. Brought to America, the reed is peeled. Some is left in its natural shape; the rest is cut into half-round, oval, and fiat shapes. The more the reed is cut the more liable it is to split when it has been manufactured in furniture.

Stick Reed: This is the natural round material, which gives its name to the best type of reed furniture. The method of construction is to nail the reeds to a skeleton frame of ash or rock elm. This makes a sturdy product which retains all the native strength of the reed; and it also permits a wide variety of patterns and facilitates designing for comfort.

Woven Reed: Furniture of this type is made from cut or split reeds, which, as we have already seen, are less durable and weaker than the stick reed. In these products the material is woven by hand and the pat-terns which can be used are more limited than where stick reeds are fitted and nailed into more intricate designs.

Fiber Furniture: This is nothing but a combination of paper and the glue pot; yet, when well made, it is sturdier and more durable than reed furniture. The disadvantage is that the strands of the weave are coarse and do not lend themselves to beauty in design. For many years a prejudice existed in the Eastern states against any article of furniture made out of paper; but now the distinct merits of this product have come to be recognized, and New York has become one of the largest markets for fiber furniture.

Craft paper, which in appearance resembles ordinary wrapping paper, is cut into strips from 1% to 3 inches in width. These strips are then tightly twisted by machinery into thin, hard cords while turning in a bath of glue. The cords which are to be used as the uprights, or stakes, in the finished chair or settee are reŽnforced with cores of steel wire. In the better fiber furniture the cords are woven by hand over frames and the entire piece is then given a heavy bath of glue for further stiffening. When dried out the piece is painted and varnished.

"Borax Houses": This phrase from the furniture trade's own special slang is picked up to call particular attention to one important point. That is that the wise shopper must know how to distinguish hand-woven fiber furniture from the machine-woven product, and, furthermore, must be prepared against the plausible but specious arguments of salesmen who argue that the machine-woven is the better product.

Stores which handle cheap, poorly made furniture at "bargain" prices frequently specialize in machine-made fiber goods. These are known in the trade as Borax Houses, because they "soft-soap" their customers. Salesmen in these places call attention to the fine weave of the machine product, its closeness and compactness making, they say, for greater strength and durability. They try to create the impression that the frequently more open-work designs of the hand-woven pieces are obvious indications of weakness. This is a complete reversal of the truth. The machine-made fiber ware is woven on a loom and then tacked or nailed to the frame, dipped in glue and painted. When new this product presents a fine appearance; but the loom-made fabric is apt to pull away from the frame when the fiber cords dry out, and this fabric, being only tacked in place, adds but little to the structural strength of the product. The hand-woven ware, on the other hand, is actually woven into the framework and thus produces a strong and durable whole. Exactly the same materials are used in either case, but the differences in construction make considerable differences in value to the purchaser.

Outdoor Furniture: Here both material and construction are subjected to the terrific strains of summer heat and moisture (all such ware should of course be housed or otherwise protected from ice in winter); nevertheless there are many things on the market which are of flimsy construction. Braces should be doubly strong and corners should be reŽnforced with brackets of metal which is either rust-proof or painted. In making this furniture various kinds of woods are used. Some lend themselves to painting, in which case it is well to have a top coat of clear varnish (spar varnish is the best) and to renew it once a season as protection against the action of sun and rain. Other woods, such as hickory and cedar, have much of their decorative attraction in their bark, which is left shaggy; even here a coat of spar varnish is used as a preservative. With these general statements in mind, let us briefly describe the more common woods for outdoor furniture.

Hickory: This is regarded as the best wood for the purpose. It is tough and its bark dries very hard and close to the wood, giving greater strength and greater resistance to the elements, as well as affording a decorative feature. The seats in hickory chairs, settees, and benches are usually of splint, which also is a durable material.

Oregon Fir: Many believe that this wood is sturdier and more durable than hickory, as it dries out quickly; but it is not used to any great extent for furniture. It is admirable for arbors and trellises.

Maple: Cheaper than hickory but not as durable. Its use is confined largely to pieces for porches and partially protected places, encroaching in this respect upon what is generally considered to be the field of woven ware.

"Habitant": This is the name given to boards hand-hewn from white-cedar logs and treated with a weather-proof varnish which permits the grain of the wood to show through. It is rapidly coming into use for outdoor furniture.

Cedar: This wood with the bark left on is an old favorite for general outdoor use. It is comparatively cheap and is slow to warp or rot; further, it is attractive in appearance and retains for some time a pleasant smell.

Stone and Iron: Supplementing the woods, permanent benches and settees are often made of stone; and iron has become a popular material for outdoor furniture under the leadership of the Swedish craftsmen. Stone benches are made of a mixture either of granite dust and cement or of lime dust and cement. The former has the more durable and attractive surface and is more expensive. This stoneware is cast in molds and therefore can be ornamented with appropriate designs. Where this is done it is well to cover at least the ornamented parts in winter so that no ice can form in the crevices and break the details of the de-sign. Just because iron is one of the sturdy metals of industry, the shopper should not overlook the need for adequate bracing and other reŽnforcements in iron chairs and tables. These are most important. It is also important to paint this furniture once a year to prevent rusting.

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