Supplement Feature - April 2018
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Creature Comforts

Select the Right Furnishings for Your Site

By Deborah L. Vence

Patron Comfort

When it comes to ensuring patron comfort, a broad range of features and environmental factors need to be considered.

"First, product selection is based on the intended purpose: short-term use, such as a pick-up/drop-off area or shoe changing space or extended stay, such as a nature viewing or conversation area, dining or activity space," Anson said.

"Also, consider the characteristics of the environment and choose appropriate materials: Will the space be temperate or be subject to climate extremes? Who hasn't scorched their backside on a hot seat? The density of [our company's] solid HDPE [high-density polyethylene] boards result in low conductivity of temperatures compared to some other materials," she said.

What's more, placement contributes to patron satisfaction in an experience, and can vary with the audience.

"Inclusive products and accessible placement, along with availability, should be taken into account to provide rest and people-watching stops along the way for the young, elderly and those with limited mobility," Anson explained, adding that ADA-compliance can be found in benches, tables and receptacles that provide accessibility while maintaining design continuity.

"The space should offer sufficient quantities of furnishings, well-spaced, and varied to serve all walks of life," she said.

Additionally, "Clear wayfinding signage and well-displayed information reduces anxiety and contributes to a pleasant experience. Above all, cleanliness is paramount. Nobody wants to sit on the bird poop bench or eat on a moldy table with gunk in grooves. Choose products that are hygienic, easy to clean and disinfect, and safe for food, kids and pets," she added. "The most elegant furnishings are wasted if your patron isn't comfortable using them."

Clemons said that "When we think of furniture, whether for indoor or outdoor use, we want to have a product that feels good when used on a regular basis.

"The contour of the seat back and bottom needs to be such that it is relaxing to the user," he said.

"The location is also a key factor, whether it's a nice shady spot, a location with a nice view, or just a practical seating area, location always needs to be well thought out to ensure your patrons comfort," he said.

Site furnishings also tie together the brand of any park, trail, facility or recreation location.

"High quality, durable, and attractive furnishings will showcase a high-quality brand. In most cases, the brand of a park, trail, facility or recreation location should be centered [on] the experience and comfort of its patrons," Steen said. "Carefully selected furnishings are the glue that ties together the brand, the experience and comfort for patrons."

Common, Resilient Materials

Outdoor furniture can be manufactured using various raw materials. "The most common and durable is steel, which can be formed and welded in a wide variety of designs," Clemons said.

"We have simple park benches all the way to a nice premium line for all different budgets and destinations. In addition to steel, we also offer recycled plastic, 100 percent recycled plastic and wood," he said.

Anson noted that "Wood was traditional, and metal and concrete came into play to extend longevity, but now composites and plastics have taken over a huge portion of the market share."

She said recycled plastics, in particular, continue to evolve because they are so incredibly efficient, because they are sustainable, durable and don't deplete limited natural resources to manufacture.

And, when it comes to resilient materials, Anson believes, wholeheartedly, that recycled plastic, particularly #2 HDPE because of its inherent strength, far exceeds any other material currently in use, including composites.

"Composites utilizing sawdust or other organic matter can truly state they're made with reclaimed materials, but organic matter can absorb water and is subject to rot and insect infestation," she said. "Metal products coated with epoxy, paint or plastic are still just coated. Metal dents and rusts, and once metal is exposed through wear and tear or being scraped or vandalized, you can start planning for necessary maintenance or replacement."

Concrete is very strong and theft-resistant, but also is porous, making it a potential victim of spalling/cracking from water penetration during freeze/thaw cycles, and tough to clean if graffiti comes into play.

"Many household containers are #2 HDPE," Anson said. "A milk jug has an average thickness of .019 inch and scientific studies estimate it lasts around 450 years in the environment. Our boards are 1.5-inch thick, which is almost 79 times thicker than a milk jug. By using this same material to create outdoor furnishings, it stands to reason that they are the longest-lasting furniture option."

Clemons said he has no doubt what the best and most resilient finish is for outdoor furniture.

"Our process of thermoplastic coating application over steel is second to none. The coating bonds to steel that has been heated to nearly 300 degrees Fahrenheit, then allowed to cool for a nice gloss or textured finish depending on the desired look," he said. "The seal tight bond of the thermoplastic coating is more resistant to cutting and vandalism and it does not fade due to harsh UV rays."

For Steen's business, he said that the most common materials are steel, plastisol and powder coating.

"We use steel and coat every area of the steel in a UV stabilized plastisol. We choose these materials because they allow us to provide an industry best 20-year warranty, and they are easily customizable to the experience our partners are trying to create," he said.

And, as far as resiliency, "We have found that properly dipping steel into plastisol creates the most resilient product we have seen. Plastisol coated steel will not rust, will not allow hornet/bee nests, and will not be affected by salt," he said. "The plastisol is also anti-microbial, so mold will not grow on the product."