Welcome to Second Nature, a Q+A series with Jute founder, Ali Davin, that explores all things healthy living, with a fond emphasis on that thing she does best—interior design.
It’s a beautiful day, and you want to relax outside with a book for a few hours. Which sounds more enticing: a random cluster of plastic furniture, or a living area filled with natural materials that’s just as cozy and comfortable as your indoor one?
The answer is obvious. And the key to creating an outdoor space you actually want to spend time in is utilizing sustainable materials that are made to last.
Let’s start with the deck. Most people want wooden decks built up off the ground. We like to use an outdoor wood that weathers well, like teak or cedar. Don’t be tempted to use engineered or pressure-treated wood—those materials will off-gas and will sit in a landfill if you ever rip them out. You do have to do a little work to maintain wood, like sanding and re-oiling. Just think of it as routine maintenance, like having your kitchen countertops buffed or your carpets cleaned.
In terms of appliances, people care most about grilling and drinks. You want a built-in grill, a sink, a wine fridge, maybe a beer drawer. You don’t usually do a cooktop or range like you would inside. For countertops, any natural stone—marble, granite, limestone, soapstone, bluestone—will be fine outside. We also like enameled lava stone, which is green and sustainable. It’s a hard surface that weathers well outside, and you can use it for a counter or tabletop.
For furniture, we do a lot of built-in seating, like banquettes into a stone or plaster wall. Then for the tables, we like enameled tops, stone, teak, or some combination of those.
Wood-wise, we use a lot of cedar and teak, but stainless steel is also fine outside, and you can even paint it with a finish that will weather well. Clay-based tiles work really well as surrounds or on the ground.
I’m torn. It’s not necessarily going to kill you, because it’s off-gassing outside, but plastic is not great for the air, and it’s not going to last forever. It’s going to fall apart at some point, and then it goes into the landfill and won’t decompose. I personally prefer wood and stone.
They’re usually pure plastic, and that’s problematic. If people are adamant about using them, I will—again, if you’re concerned about air quality, it’s not the worst thing. But I’d rather do some sort of stone accent under a dining or seating area where a rug would go. We can do a pattern inlaid into the deck material so it looks like a rug.
A lot of fabric is plastic, and we’re just in the infancy of getting outdoor fabrics that are sustainable. A few companies have started producing ones that have a better hand. There are great indoor/outdoor linens that I use on cushions, pillows, sofas, anywhere that I need outdoor fabric. I know it’s a pain, but just remember to bring your cushions inside at the end of the night!
I wouldn’t call them antiques, but there are salvage yards full of old fountains, tiles, and other architectural elements you can reuse. You can totally repurpose materials outside and do something that’s bespoke for your space. If you do thoughtful planning and are cognizant of the materials you’re using, that’s best.
Try and choose materials that will weather well and not end up in a landfill