Bobby Dekeyser, a former German soccer star, kicked outdoor furniture design into the 21st century seven years ago, when his company, Dedon, released its Daydream collection of furnishings. Richard Frinier designed the pieces, which were made from Hularo, a high-density polyurethane fiber that the company had invented in the early 1990s. Before Dedon transformed the industry with Hularo, outdoor furnishings were made from rattan, teak, or stainless steel, and the lounge chair silhouette had remained the same for 50 years.
Many Dedon designer furniture collections have followed Daydream, and one of the latest, Swiss artist Nicolas Thomkins’ Yin Yang sectional, might be the most impressive. Available in shades of platinum and bronze, the curved, teardrop-shaped halves of the sectional resemble the ancient Chinese symbol of opposing forces. “Most manufacturers only want to make furniture that is production-friendly and can be mass-produced,” says Dekeyser, Dedon’s chief executive. “But we are much more interested in making art, so we say to our designers, ‘Just imagine it and we will figure out how to make it.’ ”
Dekeyser had been the Bayern Munich club’s goalkeeper for several seasons, until he suffered a career-ending injury during a match in 1990. Shortly after recuperating, he formed a company with his brother-in-law, Brando Donapai. (They combined the first few letters of their surnames to concoct the name Dedon.) Initially, Dedon imported handpainted skis and raffia giraffes made in Madagascar, but it was struggling in 1993, when Dekeyser visited the Cologne, Germany, furniture fair. After viewing rattan furnishings from the Philippines, he asked the chemists at his grandfather’s plastics factory to help him develop a plastic hybrid that could be woven like straw. He insisted that the material be lightweight, colorfast, rustproof, and weather-resistant so that the outdoor furniture that was made from it would be durable and easy to maintain. The chemists responded by creating Hularo.
Dedon later invented treatments that give Hularo the color and texture of exotic woods as well as rattan. The firm’s craftsmen on the Philippine island of Cebu, where most of Dedon’s furniture is made, also learned to bend the plastic around powder-coated aluminum frames to produce beautiful furniture designs that conceal the framework. “Most outdoor furniture is a mixture of metal or wood, and you always see the structure and mechanisms underneath,” says Yin Yang designer Thomkins. “But you can look at any piece of Dedon furniture and you’ll never see the supporting structure. Think of it like the design of a fine automobile. All anyone is really interested in is the body; nobody wants to look at what’s underneath.”
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