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Sunbrella’s Sunny Side Up

Ondy Sweeting discovers the colour, variety and class behind canvas company Sunbrella.

Indonesia has a long history of producing exquisite textiles – from the beautiful dyed and traditionally woven Ikat fabrics to the unique waxing to create meticulously designed Batik.

This centuries-old textile tradition has taken a dramatic turn and combined with technology to develop high performance materials that are fashion forward, weather resistant and uber chic.

Trademarked as Sunbrella these fabrics are the hottest go-to product for marine canvas, shade structures and indoor and outdoor upholstery.

Think deep marine greens and blue cushions with upholstery in luscious forest green fabrics. Softly draped material that tumble into timeless bedstead canopies that reflect contemporary style with a tone with classic élan.

These unique textiles have also been used in the sculptural installations of trailblazing fibre artist Sheila Hicks, who is known for blurring the boundaries between painting and sculpture with her dynamic textile works.

Dripping 18-feet from the ceiling to floor of New York’s famous Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue was a wave of pigmented fibre as part of the 77th Whiney Biennale.

The artist honed the elaborate piece, which is named Pillar of Inquiry/Supple Column, from huge amounts of brightly coloured Sunbrella materials. “I wanted people to look at it and let their imagination soar”, Hicks said.

The calligraphic sculpture was crafted from dazzlingly coloured chunks of interlaced lines that invite personal involvement and reinforce the natural confluence of art, streetscape, architecture and the people who inhabit these spaces.

Hicks chose the Sunbrella textiles because of their durability and beauty. “I know that the museum guards and curators frown on touching the art, but this work can really stand up to any test,” she said.

The brand is popular in Indonesia with examples of the shade, upholstery and marine collections being in high demand among beautiful Balinese five-star resorts, opulent leisure craft and exclusive luxury villas.

Examples of this avant-garde fabric can be seen in situ in Bali’s chicest destinations including The Oberoi, Ku De Ta, Katamama, the Alila and Potato Head – just to name a few, and as a main component of Warisan’s designs, Bali’s renown hospitality and villa furniture maker.

The USA-based mother company – Glen Raven Custom Fabrics – has been manufacturing these statement materials since 1961 and constantly develops methods of production that improves the quality and performance of fabrics for awnings, architectural sails, yachts and other maritime purposes as well as the wider upholstery market.

The integration of powerful technology in the design process has resulted in Sunbrella being the go-to product within the upscale interiors industry given that the products are weather and temperature resistant, malleable and importantly – aesthically beautiful.

“Sunbrella is founded on the belief that fabrics should be both beautiful and functional,” said Glen Raven’s international marketing manager Debbie Andersen. “We began in the 1960s with the challenge of creating an awning canvas with a substantially longer lifespan than cotton. Now Sunbrella has become widely adopted throughout the world.”

“Our textiles are made with close attention to design detail and engineered with robust performance characteristics that provide resistance to fading and degradation from sunlight and chemical exposure. It’s easy to care for, too,” she said.

Given the passion, inspired colour palette, sophisticated design and divinely soft textures, it is no surprise that Sunbrella has maintained a dedicated following in Bali and across the globe.

The company is also a constant supporter of innovation in both art and design and regularly partners with artists to develop one-off collections and promotes the industry through competitions.

North American Folk artist Vollis Simpson’s playful whirligig and windmill pieces have long held the collective imaginations of the North American public since the 1970s and he was selected to develop a design collection for Sunbrella.

The Vollis collection is playful and charmingly influenced by his works that can be seen in the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore and occasionally in the windows of Bergdorf Goodman in New York.

The company’s commitment to the future of textiles is also underscored by its Future of Shade Competition, which is a collaboration between Sunbrella and Architizer and aims to explore the challenges that architects and designers face with the integral role of fabric in shade and building design.

Sunbrella is also behind the yearly Perspectives Los Angles design event that showcases luxurious Sunbrella fabrics through the eyes of top interior designers. Think of a recessed Ottoman tent with intricately patterned pillows, detailed fabrics with opulent trims set against minimalist black and white fabrics created by leading interior designers Chad McPhail of his eponymous company in L.A.