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Life Lessons From a Lawn Chair
How a pair of Danish folding chairs became a harbinger of my future. Plus: The six most collectible pieces of outdoor furniture you'll (definitely) want to use indoors, too.
Nearly 20 years ago, when I was in-between apartments and subletting a small bedroom on the UWS from a stylist I was working with at Gourmet magazine, I drove upstate for the weekend with a friend. She had a fantastic white Volkswagen with a stick shift, and every time the car accelerated above 50 mph it would make a high-pitched chirping sound like a screeching bird. While I have zero recollection of what town we drove to, where we stayed, what we ate, or why we were even going there in the first place, I do remember what I bought. Two things, actually…things that definitely could not fit in a tote bag or the tiny single bedroom I was subletting: a small white metal table (THIS table…exactly), which I ended up using for years in my tiny kitchen when I finally moved a few years later into my own studio, and a pair of wood-slatted Danish folding chairs. Mind you, I didn’t even have my own apartment—let alone a lawn or even a fire escape to speak of.
But hey, no matter. When it comes to collectible vintage furniture, the heart wants what it wants…
I think I paid $5 for each of them. Even if it was completely illogical, something in me knew better. Like a harbinger, they would somehow bring something good…something with sunshine…and, maybe a tree. That if I bought them, “the garden” would come. Perhaps the best part about buying al fresco furniture for an al fresco I didn’t even have was that I really never needed it (the al fresco part, that is). Because even though I kept them folded up and stashed in the back of my studio’s sole closet for years, I did occasionally whip them out and tart them up with rad pillows or a cool camp blanket on the occasion I had more than three people over. Sure, they were deck chairs. But they were also conversation pieces. They taught me at a very early age how important it was to choose special things in my space that not only had an interesting story to tell but were adaptable when the story changed…sometimes, over and over again.
Fast forward nearly two decades, after I’ve moved this classic pair of chairs around about 12 times from one storage unit or temp home to another, and I finally DO have some outdoor space…a garden of my own. Garden is generous here. It’s basically an acre of land we are re-wilding as well as a 22-spot parking lot, which, well, we will figure out a plan for in a year or four (I’ll keep you posted).
And now that I can actually sit in these chairs and watch the clouds just be clouds, I realized, in a very strange and unexpected way, how much I learned from them…as chairs that were designed to be moved, to be stored, to be mixed with tables or a bench or a blanket, to be resilient and averse to inclement weather, to get better with age. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a lawn chair?
I wish all furniture was designed like this. Foldable, moveable, adaptable, timeless. To me, this is as much about sustainability as responsible sourcing, manufacturing, or ecological materials. What’s endlessly amazing about living in a small(er) space is that you organically learn how to live by these principles—change, and things designed with change in mind, just make us smarter. Even though our upstate land is still super new to me, we’re tackling it tiny corner by tiny corner. And since we live in a smaller space full-time, it’s been unbelievably luxurious to pretend all this outdoor space is just one giant loft—thousands of square feet to create mini experiences and moments to read, think, make friends, with some birds. When you live in a smaller space as I have my whole life, just a generous windowsill has the power to take on new meaning (especially when you can grow your own cherry tomatoes).
Maybe that’s why outdoor furniture is so romantic to me. It’s not trying too hard to be chic (even though it IS). It has a job to do. And, when it needs to take a nap, it’s happy to fold up into nothing and hide under your bed or in a closet/shed somewhere (we should all be so lucky). Maybe what I love most about garden furniture is that it’s beautiful…but never precious.
Freedom! Like living life as a lawn chair: Shape-shifting, ready for a storm, a super model in disguise:).
When I started writing this missive, it was all about my favorite summer furniture. But then, as life does, it turned into something else…portability, resilience, cool things that flex with change…finding value in something because it really has to work, probably in a few different ways. That’s what I love about outdoor furniture—depending on the way you look at it, it can be perfect for the beach or the unexpected statement chair in a tiny living room when you need an extra. It also ticks the box of my dream furniture collection: Every single piece can be moved from one apartment to another without the help of movers or a giant moving van. It folds. It breaks down and comes back together again. Just like us:).
And so, here’s the ATA guide to the best indoor/outdoor pieces for real life and all the good (unexpected) things that come with it—not just for summertime but forever.
I linked to the wonderful classic lawn chair by MOMA in an earlier version, but this one by Supreme is super collectible, too. I honestly don’t think you can ever have too many of these, and the more patterns and styles you can find at flea markets, yard sales, and junk stores, the better. Design Project Bonus: You can find all different patterns and color-way packages of replacement webbing on Etsy and eBay, which I started collecting when I find a crazy color pairing that feels irresistible.
This neon green is incredible and could be woven with other contrasting styles to use for so many things like a stair barrier, headboard, wall sculpture…
Slatted wood chairs seem like the epitome of a beachy summer and the design construction is as classic as they come. My chairs are technically slatted, but this post-modern electric green pair are SUPER slatted. And quite honestly, they are way too beautiful to leave in the rain. These are definitely living room or bedroom statement chairs. I’m obsessed. I want them. (Should I get them?!😬)
The Modernist. (*Paid #abcpartner)
I have long been a super fan of abc carpet & home, which as one of the few still operating NYC institutions just celebrated its 125th birthday🎉. When I agreed to do a paid partnership with them, I knew I either wanted to talk about their hand-loomed carpets (best in class), their rotating vintage collections, or their classic Heller pieces. And since it’s summer and since we were putting together this edition, they were/are IT. Which is what this bench and side table are…created by legends Lella and Massimo Vignelli nearly 50 years ago when the designing partners couldn’t find multi-purpose indoor-outdoor furniture for their own home in Italy.
According to Heller, “Known for their ability to bring clarity and timelessness to everything they created, their durable, functional, modern Vignelli Cube is a sculptural addition to any setting.” And I have to agree, so I decided to play around with mine inside and outside…because they work and thrive perfectly in both. Bonus: These are incredibly lightweight, which makes them super easy to move around solo from terrace to bedroom bench sans a second pair of hands. And, if you need them to be wind-resistant, there's a plugged hole where you can add dry play sand for weight.
Also! abc carpet & home has generously offered a 15% discount to all A Tiny Apt. readers, so just use the code CHRISTENE15 when checking out:)
What can I say, I’m obsessed with this chair, too…and I’d like to buy two of them. With a low sofa, they are genius. This vintage Japanese design is pricier, but the shape is timeless and would be a delight to keep stashed in the back of your car for an impromptu hot-dog truck stop or some sunset gazing.
Again, this one is extremely collectible and probably special enough to be in a museum somewhere. Or your backyard, take your pick. It also sent me down a deep Vintage Brown Jordan Patio Furniture search…of which I only got sucked back out of because I had to pick up my kid from summer camp. I mean, LOOK AT THIS. I also love these vintage macrame woven chairs, which folded and hung on a wall, seem pretty beautiful to me. And especially this one (below), which actually IS art, designed by Becca Van K, 2021.
Allegedly these were THE chairs to have if you were lucky enough to traverse the coasts in an Airstream. I love the stripes and the different color-ways, but mostly, I like the name…Zip Dee. Also, if there is an actual piece of furniture that comes with its own carrying case, I am IN.
That’s all for today, but here’s the latest & greatest from ATA, just in case you missed it…xxCb✨