Supplement Feature - March 2022
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Fully Furnished

The Right Furnishings Bring Park Space Together

By Deborah Vence

Site furnishings are essential to any park. Picnic benches, tables and trash receptacles seem simple enough, but actually can give parks the cohesiveness that bring people together. Choosing the right materials and colors is especially important to ensure that you have the right balance for your site.

Visual Appeal

A wide variety of aesthetics are available for park sites, and often will have materials that complement one another. "Many customers want the materials used in their site elements to match with each other. If a picnic table is built using perforated steel, then a nearby trash receptacle or bench is often made using perforated steel also," said Bob Simonsen, marketing manager for a Cherokee, Iowa-based designer and manufacturer of park equipment. "This has become common enough, that if a customer requests a quote for site furniture using different materials, we will usually confirm the selection with that customer.

"Color choice is another aesthetic for most sites, from rustic trails to picnic shelters to streetscapes. Brown, green and cedar (tan) are popular color choices for trails, campsites and parks. Streetscapes, playgrounds and schools often select brighter colors," he added.

Mimi Marler, marketing manager for a company in Red Bud, Ill., that manufactures commercial recreation products including site furnishings, picnic tables and park benches, said "The aesthetics for park sites vary greatly across the country. They are about as different as the weather. Some parks have more of a modern feel, while others feel more traditional. Some parks are lush with greenery, while others may be in the middle of a concrete jungle. The natural aesthetic of a park is really shaped by the terrain. And it is always a good idea to try to choose your site furnishings in a way that complements this."

She added, "No matter how different park sites feel, they all have the same goal, and that is to bring people together from all walks of life, in an inviting, outdoor setting," explaining that her company has products to cater to every park site aesthetic.

Parks without a lot of green space have the challenge of trying to feel inviting. But adding pops of color to bring more life to a space is a great way to accomplish that. Marler's company offers 17 standard powder-coat colors, though just about any powder-coat color can be custom-ordered.

"If your park has a ton of shade trees and greenery, I would recommend more understated pieces to blend with the aesthetic," she said.

Matt Erickson, sales director for an Iowa-based company that designs and manufactures commercial-grade outdoor furniture and amenities, said "There are many variables with aesthetics. Some cities are looking for a clean look. Others are looking more for viability and longevity in their site furnishings."

Paul Hart, president of a furniture company in Bunnell, Fla., that specializes in park benches, picnic tables, pool furniture and more, noted that "The aesthetics of a well-designed park site are always going to be tied to its surrounding area and how well it caters to the community.

"If I visit a beach popular with tourists, I would expect to see a splash park for children perhaps with palm trees, sea creatures, etc. If the surrounding community is made up of more retired and local folks, I would expect a park that emphasizes relaxation, health and enjoying the natural beauty of the location," he said.

Material Pros and Cons

Depending on the materials you choose for your site, there are a few pros and cons to keep in mind.

For example, "Lumber is the least expensive material, and most readily available in most areas so replacement of damaged components is easier. But lumber does not last as long," Simonsen said. "Recycled plastic lumber will not rot and isn't susceptible to insects. It will last a very long time and comes in many colors. But it is more expensive, and usually not available from local stores for replacement."

In addition, "Coated expanded steel and perforated steel offer great strength, longevity and a variety of colors. The coated steel is protected from the weather and won't rust, as long as the coating is not vandalized. But this material is more expensive, and replacement components have to be purchased from the original manufacturer," he explained.

Similarly, Erickson pointed out that "Steel-coated furniture will last longer than other materials, i.e., wood, wrought iron," and that "there are different types of coated furniture that can withstand weather and outdoor elements. Some offer much better quality. The priority of consumers with outdoor furnishings is ROI."

Materials available for site furnishings are growing every day, Marler noted—"from thermoplastic-coated steel to recycled plastic to newer materials, such as thermally modified ash."

Powder-coated steel is a great option if you are looking for bright pops of color, she added. "It is very durable and offers a more high-end look. If you prefer a more natural look, there are tons of different wood options on the market, as well as recycled lumber that are great for enhancing outdoor environments."

What's more, Marler feels that "the most resilient finish for outdoor furnishings is thermoplastic-coated steel." She explained that the coating bonds to steel that has been heated and then allowed to cool, resulting in a gloss or textured finish—depending on the look you want to achieve. "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."