Feature Article - September 2016
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Seeking Shelter

Innovations in Shade & Shelter Solutions

By Joe Bush

Make a Statement

Richard Lubbers, vice president of marketing and design for a Holland, Mich.-based manufacturer of shelters, is another who sees the delivery of shade as only the beginning of his company's mission. He explained that his company was the first to design a line of shelters inspired by an architectural style (Craftsman), the first to offer shelters with a "live" roof, and the first to build a two-story shade shelter.

"Park directors say, 'We want something nobody else has,'" Lubbers said. "So we work with them on different designs, different elements of the design that perhaps have never been done before in the industry. Our wheels are always turning."

While breaking the mold with creative new approaches, Lubbers' company is more focused on sturdier structures that use less flexible materials than shades. Explaining the development of one of the company's newest styles, Lubbers said, "For the past 30 years, the steel shelter market was dominated by the notion that all the fasteners have to be hidden. I started looking around, and what I was seeing in the design world for other markets was a lot of retro-industrial looks where companies were using I-beams and heavy rustic looking wood components in both furniture and in structures."

In response, the company came up with a line that features "… heavy I-beam columns and rivet plates." Lubbers added, "I was fascinated with early 20th century iron bridges with all the rivets. Those were some of the best trade shows we had, people responding to the line. The next year we added to it, with a line of furnishings, firepits with big hoods over them, benches with I-beams and heavy wood slats.

"You go to parks and you see picnic shelters with picnic tables under. I thought, 'Why not create a living room situation?' So we did benches that are like couches and coffee tables so people can sit around, put their feet up, talk. If it's an outdoor structure, we'll do it."

Lubbers admits it's not all fun and games: The company has a full line of traditional types of shelters that make up the bulk of its business. He estimates that the customized work is 30 to 35 percent of the company's focus. He added, though, that the pace of innovation is hard to ignore.

"The lines blur; things we were thinking would only be accepted by a certain group or a certain location we would be well received by others as well," Lubbers said. "We see new materials all the time, we get samples, we play around with it, we think of ways to use it. Manufacturing is always moving forward, so we look at different machines, different ways of fabricating. We're finding also that the workers we hire are more educated and better trained."