When Penelope Clark recently bought new furniture to refresh her backyard gazebo in Sierra Madre, California, she selected an outdoor fabric in navy blue that’s resistant to water, sun and stains.
“It’s surprising,” says the 65-year-old. “It’s really soft, not that heavy canvas. It’s a nice, lighter fabric.”
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Outdoor fabrics have come a long way
Innovations have created a new breed of synthetic textiles that are more durable, lighter and softer. They also come in more colors and patterns — from shells to modern geometrics — and some are even embroidered.
“It used to be that outdoor fabric was scratchy and stiff like boating fabric,” says Nikki Klugh, an interior designer and CEO of Nikki Klugh Design Group of San Diego, California, and Omaha, Nebraska. “Now it’s so soft because it’s made of microfibers from plastic. You can even clean them with bleach and water.”
Focusing on fabric, including rugs, is an easy way to refresh or upgrade your outdoor space, and to enjoy the last warm days of summer or the cooler breezes of fall. As these fabrics have become more sophisticated, they work well in high-use areas, like the patio or pool area or kitchens. They’re also helpful if you have pets. In addition, they can define areas for seating or dining outdoors while adding color, texture, softness and layers to accessories like drapes, pillows and umbrellas.
Since the pandemic hit, people have continued to focus on enhancing outdoor spaces, often creating a seamless passage from inside to outside with sliding glass doors or large windows, say interior designers.
“Choosing the right fabric can make or break an outdoor space, as it can either add to the overall ambiance or detract from it,” says Chloe Hughes, editor in chief of Foter Mag, an architecture, decoration and design website. Fabrics can “help make it more comfortable and functional by their ability to withstand the weather.”
Some popular brands include Covington Fabrics, Kravet and Sunbrella. Bella-Dura Home’s and Milliken Textiles’ new outdoor performance fabrics both come with a five-year warranty. Prices can be as low as $9 per yard, but most outdoor fabrics are $35 and up. Sunbrella lets you order samples for $4 each.
Before buying, research your options and consider a fabric’s characteristics based on the intended use. You’ll want fade-resistant material for items in direct sunlight and water-resistant fabric for open patios in areas that get afternoon rainstorms.
Here are some fabric suggestions and tips for using outdoor fabrics to add interest.