The Last Frontier?
By Tom Lassiter
Lighting may be the last frontier for the Outdoor Room.
Furniture? Oodles of options in myriad styles.
Fabric? Amazing luxury, performance, and longevity.
Rugs? Plenty to choose from.
Accessories? More choices than Crate & Barrel has SKUs.
But lighting? Not so much.
“It’s a struggle to find good outdoor lighting right now,” says Bruce Erickson, owner of a Summer Classics Home store in Highland Park, Illinois.
Thankfully, however, remedies for the paucity of choices in lighting appropriate for the Outdoor Room are at hand.
The 2016 Casual Market Chicago saw, in addition to the usual smattering of novelty lighting products, lighting introductions by three companies best known for their furniture products.
A fourth company created some buzz with its unique bulbs and lighting strands.
To be fair, other leading casual furniture companies have not totally overlooked lighting products for the Outdoor Room. But their interest in outdoor lighting dimmed rather quickly.
Woodard Furniture Co. introduced a line of outdoor lamps several years ago. Those products are history now.
Summer Classics once offered several stylish lamps that coordinated well with its furniture. They were last seen in the 2015 product catalog.
So it was refreshing to see at Casual Market Chicago lighting products from Klaussner Outdoor, a newcomer to the category. Gloster Furniture, which won a Design Excellence Award for its Lantern in 2015, expanded its lighting offering with two new products, and Les Jardins, best known for its teak furniture, introduced the second generation of its lighting product, called Tinka.
The lamps offered by these companies merit attention because they solve outdoor lighting challenges with style. They are not indoor lamps reengineered to be weatherproof. They were designed from the start to meet the unique needs of outdoor living and entertaining. The lamps have a casual flair and look good either on or off.
At dusk and after sunset, they produce illumination appropriate for conversation and entertaining. They’re all about ambiance. (If your retail customer wants to work jigsaw puzzles on the deck, suggest turning on the floodlights.)
String Light Co. offers a different sort of lighting solution that’s trendy, festive and easy on the pocketbook. The light sockets and bulbs are, as the name implies, on a length of electrical cord suitable for suspending between two points.
Bare bulbs with a nostalgic, hipster look are another offering from String Light Co.
Let’s look at these lighting innovations company by company.
Gloster’s Lantern (initially called Voyager Lantern to match the styling of the Voyager range), uses a minimalist teak frame to enclose a cylindrical plastic lamp housing. The LEDs inside emit a soft glow, powered by a battery unit that must be removed for recharging.
|Voyager Lantern from Gloster.|
Cocoon and Nest followed. Gloster bills these products and Lantern as ambient lighting. In other words, they’re all about mood.
Lantern’s teak exo-skeleton provides four feet for the lamp, allowing it to be placed on a table or chair-side. A teak handle permits easy transport or hanging.
Cocoon and Nest offer similar versatility. Cocoon’s design emphasizes its translucent plastic body, while Nest encloses its source illumination in a surround of all-weather wicker on a stainless-steel frame.
Cocoon and Nest feature photovoltaic cells that capture sunlight during the day to recharge each lamp’s batteries. Each lamp provides three levels of lighting and may be controlled with an infrared remote.
Retail prices range from $465 for Lantern to $840 for Nest.
Eric Parsons, president of Gloster America, says the lamps are “one more element to complete the presentation of the outdoor space for the customer.” The lamps, he says, “will cause more people to look our way.”
|Mesa outdoor lamp from Klaussner Outdoor.|
Mesa lamps, a line of five separate products, were introduced at Casual Market 2016. Three are suitable for table use, while two are for placement at floor level. The LED lamps require connection to household current.
Gary McCray, president of Klaussner Outdoor, says the company was working with a Chinese partner on a new furniture line when it noticed that the manufacturer had an existing lighting line that complemented the furniture. The lamps, for the European market, made a natural accessory for the new Mesa line of furniture, McCray says.
The lamps’ bases are stainless steel; decorative portions are synthetic wicker. Retail prices range from $150 to $300.
“We’re not going to become a big lighting or accessories supplier,” he says. “But if we see opportunities in a collection, we’ll do it.”
Buyers apparently liked what they saw. “Frankly, I was shocked,” McCray says. “We sold them extremely well.”
Mesa Lamps begin shipping to retailers this month.
Outdoor lighting, according to Les Jardins CEO Frederic Raffenne, tends either to be “very cheap or very expensive.” Les Jardins, he says, aims to fill the void in the middle with innovative, medium-high-end products.
Les Jardins calls its lamp line Tinka, a nod to the sun-worshipping Incas of ancient Central America, Raffenne says.
Tinka lamps need only sunlight to operate. A photocell recharges the batteries automatically. The batteries supply power to 12 LEDs in the base of the lamp.
|Tinka teak torch from Les Jardins.|
The company already has upgraded its power and light source, called Bloc Lumen, just a year after its introduction. Raffenne expects this to be a pattern, with new technologies leading to frequent improvements.
Tinka lamps, which use either teak or aluminum or stainless steel as their primary materials, are designed to accommodate future improvements. The batteries and light sources are “upgradeable like a light bulb,” Raffenne says. “You can keep the body of the lamp but just change the light source.”
Version three of Bloc Lumen will be introduced at a Paris trade show later this year, he says. It will provide three times the brightness of version one.
Current Tinka models have adjustable light intensity. There’s also a built-in motion sensor that turns the lantern on for pathway lighting when a person comes near, and off once they pass. “This is standard on all of our lamps,” Raffenne says.
Tinka lamps will be available through Frontgate this year, he says. Current specialty dealers, he says, include Carls Patio, Fresh Home and Garden in Toronto, and Ginger Jar Furniture in Vancouver.
Les Jardins aims to place its lamps in lighting specialty stores in addition to casual retail shops. “To sell to lighting stores,” Raffenne says, “you better have a serious product. We are not competing with anything at Lowe’s or Home Depot.”
Retail prices range from about $130 to around $600.
String Light Co.
A string of lights makes any area more festive. From casual restaurants and bars to entire city blocks, strings of glowing lights create eye appeal and set a mood.
The basic light bulbs included in the UL-approved products from String Light Co. are 11 watts. A 25-ft. strand, with one-ft. spacing between bulbs, sells for $50 on the company’s website. A commercial-grade product – 330 ft. with 165 light sockets – sells for $695.
Optional vintage-style bulbs are what set String Light Co. apart. Inspired by large, 3,000-watt commercial bulbs of clear glass, Rocha found a Chinese factory that would make bulbs of normal wattage with interesting looking filaments.
|Antique Vintage bulbs from String Light Co.|
“The filament is done by hand, four different ways,” he says.
The vintage-look bulbs are rated from 40 watts to 60 watts. The smallest bulbs are about the size of a regular incandescent bulb. The largest versions are almost the size of a volleyball. Prices range from $9 to $60.
The bulbs – sometimes called Edison bulbs – are trendy with 30-something, hipster consumers who find the look compatible with a retro, shabby-chic motif.
String lights and vintage bulbs make good add-on, accessory sales, Rocha says. “It’s an impulse buy,” he says.