A Teak Revival?
By Tom Lassiter
It’s early yet, but indications are that 2015 will be a strong year for higher-end wood patio furniture. Several manufacturers report that early-buy purchases, placed last fall for the current spring season, are up. New introductions, some manufacturers report, received strong early-buy support from retailers. Enthusiasm for new products is always welcome, regardless of category.
Most high-end wood manufacturers seem united by a sense of – dare we say it? – optimism.
“We’re having the strongest pre-season that I can ever recall,” says Charles Hessler, executive vice president of Barlow Tyrie. To find anything comparable, he has to reach back to the early 1990s “when teak was discovered.”
|Cortland dining set from Jewels of Java.|
“The season is looking pretty good,” says Eric Parsons, president of Gloster America. New products were well received at the Casual Market, contract orders are up, and the design trade – always an important component for any high-end category – “is tracking where it should be,” he says.
Jensen Leisure Furniture vice president Janet Wansor says early-buys were up about five percent. Commitments came in a bit later than the company would have liked, complicating the process of forecasting and production planning. Nonetheless, it was an increase, continuing a trend the company has enjoyed in recent seasons.
What’s fueling the growth in high-end wood patio furniture? Increasing consumer confidence and a generally improved economy, especially for higher-income households, must get some of the credit. But the lion’s share must go to fresh designs.
|Monterrey teak chair from Barlow Tyrie.|
The Monterrey chair, which earned a Design Excellence Award at the 2014 Casual Market, has turned into a hit for Barlow Tyrie. The dining chair features a teak frame and cord (rope) back and seat. Orders poured in and continue to do so.
“That’s the product we cannot keep up with,” Hessler says. “And the table that goes with it – it’s going crackers, too.” Mark Tyrie designed both.
Gloster brought out two new teak ranges for 2015 – Oyster Reef and Pepper Marsh.
Oyster Reef features buffed teak frames that fall squarely into the transitional look. Gloster has raised its projections several times since the design was first seen at the 2014 Preview Show in Chicago. The range accounts for 40 percent of Gloster’s early-buy business, Parsons says. “This will be a home run,” he adds.
Pepper Marsh is distinguished by resin wicker-wrapped sides and back on teak frames. “Mixing of materials has been a huge opportunity for Gloster,” Parsons says. “We’re seeing our consumers gravitating to that.”
The combining of diverse materials (often called “mixed media”) broadens possibilities for furniture designers and enables companies to branch beyond their traditional niches. Using teak as an accent or in combination with metal or resin wicker expands the universe of teak buyers.
|Tivoli roblé collection from Jensen Leisure Furniture.|
Jensen Leisure Furniture’s Tivoli collection is constructed of roble, a sustainable wood harvested from Bolivian forests. The wood has a natural blonde color; others describe it as golden brown, Wansor says. The Tivoli collection has a contemporary look and “was very well received,” she says, “so much so that we will be adding to the collection in July.”
Several manufacturers of teak furniture have embraced a trend sweeping through the wood furniture industry. It’s the so-called rustic look. The definition of rustic varies by manufacturer; it can mean weathered or distressed or simply not brand, spanking new.
“That’s what the trend is now,” says Karel Simeon, president of Jewels of Java, “the rustic style. It looks like old-style furniture. The design makes it look old.” Courtland and Heartland are rustic teak products by Jewels of Java.
Wansor says Jensen Leisure’s Argent collection, constructed of Bolivian roblé wood and introduced three years ago, falls under the rustic umbrella. She describes it as “weathered, distressed, large and classic looking.”
In teak furniture, rustic carries different connotations. The look often depends on using teak lumber that, because of knots or grain inconsistencies or size, is not considered premium grade or first quality. The wood, however, is just as durable as first-quality teak and weathers with the same gray patina.
Using rustic teak enables manufacturers to keep prices more affordable; that’s an important consideration for a managed resource when supplies are constrained and worldwide demand is up.
Kingsley-Bate president Clay Kingsley takes credit for launching the rustic teak look in patio furniture two years ago with a collection built of reclaimed teak. Kingsley notes that Restoration Hardware helped create consumer demand for furniture with a rustic look. For interior furnishings, the Gabby brand, a division of Summer Classics, also was early into the rustic look with a line built of reclaimed wood.
“But,” Kingsley says, “I think we created the look in the casual industry. It’s a trend thing right now. It’s what’s selling.”
|Tuscany teak collection from Kingsley-Bate.|
Kingsley-Bate has capitalized on the trend with a new collection called Tuscany. Reception at the Casual Market was good, so much so, he said, “that we will be expanding that group in the next show.”
Barlow Tyrie’s contribution to the rustic look is called Titan. Constructed of wood “that we normally cut away,” Hessler says, the Titan collection is among new products “that have helped bring us new dealers.”
Because the individual slats and boards used for rustic teak furniture are not uniform in appearance, Hessler points out that each item is prone to have a unique look. “No table is exactly the same” as another, he says.
Summer Classics president Bew White noted in an email response to questions that the market for teak is “a niche. But a very strong one. Purists like teak.” The category represents less than 10 percent of Summer Classics’ business, White wrote, but is growing.
|Rushton reclaimed wood cabinet from Gabby, a division of Summer Classics.|
Demand appears to be increasing for high-end furniture constructed of other species. Jensen Leisure’s sales continue to trend upwards following a change in ownership and a transition from Australian jarrah to South American hardwoods.
Regionally, Jensen is enjoying its strongest sales in the Southeast, Wansor says. “Florida, too,” she adds. “All of a sudden Florida has kicked in.”
Those familiar with the wood furniture business know that it’s a highly cyclical category. Sales ride the currents of global and regional trends, usually pitching up for a few seasons before eventually settling into a trough for a while.
This year, things are looking up. Hessler sounds positively ebullient when he says, “I’ve heard a number of people say teak is making a comeback.”