Why You Should Be Using Outdoor Fabric for Basically Everything

It's fade-resistant, durable, and incredibly gorgeous.

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Jonathan Kambouris

No, these aren't your grandmother's sticky, plastic-y patio furniture covers: Today's outdoor fabric is fade-resistant and durable, but it's also incredibly gorgeous. That's why more designers than ever are turning to performance fabric for every part of the home, indoors and out.

"Outdoor fabric is trending due to the fabric’s performance characteristics," says Ann Sutherland of Perennials, a go-to source (nearly every designer we spoke to touted their incredible performance velvets). "It shouldn’t fade or stain and it's now available in soft textures and beautiful patterns, making it a viable option not only for outdoor environments but for indoor applications as well"

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A serene poolside bar by Alison Palevsky in Punta Mita, Mexico, puts performance fabrics to the test.
Edgardo Contreras

"I use outdoor fabrics almost exclusively," says Dallas-based designer Denise McGaha. "Looking at them indoors, you would never know that’s what they really are." Nashville designer Chad James agrees: "The newest options truly feel as luxurious as beautiful indoor fabrics."

Read on to learn how best to choose, use, and care for them.

So what makes performance fabric different?

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Miguel Porlan


"It’s like the difference between a radish and a carrot,” explains textile expert Scott Kravet. While most fabric yarns have color on the outside but are white on the inside, outdoor fabrics use what's called "solution-dyed" fibers. For this material, explains Thibaut wovens director Patricia Hoffman, "the pigment and the polymer are blended together—like orange plastic soup." That "soup then "goes through a high-pressure showerhead" to spin the fiber. As such, the fibers have color all the way through.

This is what makes them durable—and cleanable. "All yarns have the tendency to either attract or repel water and oil," says Hoffman. "So most synthetics are going to repel both, so they’re more cleanable. Because they’ve been solution dyed, they’re also bleach-cleanable."

What do all these terms mean?

Waterproof, water repellent, performance; what does it all mean? "Performance, as far as I’m concerned, leaves a lot up to interpretation," says Hoffman. "Manufacturers choose to define it as it best defines their brand." But, there are a few terms that will help steer you to the right choice. Here, we break down the befuddling terminology.

  • Performance: Must be one or more of the following: durable, UV-resistant, or water-repellent.
  • Waterproof: Liquid won’t penetrate the fabric, which means it’s not breathable—i.e., not great for cushions.
  • Water-Resistant: Water beads on the surface but will penetrate if it’s left long enough. On the upside, it breathes better.

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    Designer MA Allen upholstered the sofa and throw pillows above in Perennials fabric, and recommends them for any interior “where people are sandy and sunscreeny.”
    Anna Routh


    So how do I use it indoors?

    Ok, so you're convinced of the benefits; where do you start? Here, some suggestions for the best applications indoors (or out!).

    • Spill-Proof Seating: “You don’t need to sacrifice style for practicality,” says New York designer Courtney McLeod, who uses outdoor fabric on sofas and barstools.
    • Fade-Proof Curtains: As Palm Beach designer Krista Watterworth Alterman explains, “the sun can damage drapery, so it’s a practical option.”
    • Multifunctional Ottomans: Love using yours as both a spare seat and a makeshift table? Cover it in a durable fabric so it doesn’t stain.
    • Cleaner Headboards: You wash your pillow­cases regularly, but not the headboard —gross. A performance fabric (Massachusetts-based Erin Gates suggests a linen look) won’t show grease.
    • Durable Dog Beds: Since these fabrics can withstand their fair of slobber and paw prints, Dallas-based designer Jean Liu says they’re perfect for furry roommates.

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      Some of our favorite textures shown here. clockwise from top: Holly Hunt’s Aqua Velvet III in Forest, Holly Hunt’s Lionheart velvet in Spa, Perennials’s Wild Child in Ice Queen, Link Outdoor’s Barracuda faux leather in Azure, Sunbrella’s Pure Platform chenille in Dove, Dedar’s Mont Blanc bouclé in Neige.
      Philip Friedman


      How do I care for it?

      As for the fabrics that are outside, remember: just because they're high performance doesn't mean they're indestructible. "It’s just like your car," says Gant. "People sometimes see the Sunbrella brand and think its bulletproof, you can do anything to it. I appreciate the compliment, but you buy a Ferrari, and keep it outside, it's going to look messy. So just take your hose and spray it down!" More specifically, here's how Gant advises to keep them in tip-top shape:

      • Use mesh bottoms or vented zippers so the fabric can breathe.
      • Store upright. If not used for long periods, bring them inside.
      • When dirty, hose them down.
      • Once a season, scrub with Dawn dish soap and water.
      • To treat stains, clean with half a cup of bleach and warm water.


        What if I can't pick a pattern?

        Tyranny of choice? Fear not; we've got you covered. Here, designers the fabrics they turn to again and again.

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