I admit my fascination with polyester resin garden furniture may place me in a small minority. My global study, superficial as it is, may make it an even smaller club. I hasten to add that this curiosity is entirely academic, or is that esoteric? I have never owned a piece of polyester resin furniture in my life and indeed have actively shunned it on aesthetic grounds but this does not stop it being a source of great amusement.
Polyester resin furniture is that cheap, plastic type which hit our stores well over a decade ago. Being low priced and functional, it pretty much took the bottom end of the market by storm as New Zealanders embraced the concept of al fresco living. In those early days, it came in three colours – white, dark green, and for those with slightly higher social aspirations, sophisticated sage green. That was it. I didn’t think about it much until we did a trip to Vietnam about eight years ago. In place of their traditional bamboo and cane furniture, there were the same polyester resin chairs and tables but not in our aforementioned colours. No, the Vietnamese ones came only in French blue and burgundy. Suddenly it dawned on me that this was a global phenomenon and somewhere, maybe, there was a little man in an office who decided which country was to get what colours. Without wishing to overstate my desultory interest, I started to take more notice. On the Sunshine Coast of Australia, polyester resin furniture was all white and cream. On the Greek islands, it seemed to come in old gold and white. Each country visited over recent years appeared to have only two, sometimes three different colours but all in the same design. So it was both a revelation and a terrible disappointment when I pursued this entirely random study in Spain and Portugal recently.
The revelation was the emerging sophistication. First there was the ubiquitous resin chair (in Cordoba, for those of a pedantic disposition) which came with inset mock marble seat backs. I was entranced, though I felt they should have been Italian in origin. A marbleine finish, a friend suggested, though I thought perhaps marblette. Undeniably naff, but then so is most polyester resin furniture. Is poly resin in a swirly marble design worse than the plain, unadorned poly resin?
Then there were the poly resin chairs of a cut out design which attempted to look like the white aluminium furniture forever branded with the name Enderslea which was in itself an attempt to reproduce the expensive, antique wrought or cast iron furniture we associate with the French provincial look.
I burst out laughing when I came across the poly resin furniture in a Portugese restaurant which emulated the woven raffia look. By this stage my travelling companion, who had started out somewhat incredulous at my fascination, was entering into the spirit of the quest and arranging the furniture for my photographs. Indeed, we even found some more upmarket poly resin chairs in a roadside bar in Seville. These were in a stylish and sophisticated charcoal and a square design. These, I thought, I could actually live with in my own garden but only if necessary.
But sadly, dear Reader, it dawned on me that my sociological study of this global phenomenon was showing too much variation for me to keep with my theory of the little man in an office determining distribution and colour. Not only that, but the true horror of globalisation and corporate sponsorship will see the end of regional diversity sooner rather later. Yes, folks, corporates like Coca Cola and Amstel have seen the possibilities of this ubiquitous furniture as cheap advertising billboards. National differences in colour are set to disappear in the face of the corporate red of Coca Cola or the Amstel colours.
Scientist daughter mentioned in passing that the production of poly resin is highly likely to be extremely unfriendly to the environment, that it is an amalgam of some real nasties and the cheaper the product is sold, the more likely it is to be produced in a country with poor environmental controls over its industry. You could argue that you shun poly resin furniture on green principles but then I always worry about how many little Indonesian orang-utan babies have been made homeless orphans by the continued harvest of Asian hardwoods so I am not sure that the bulk of outdoor wooden furniture is any more environmentally friendly. It is so very difficult to buy ethical and sustainable outdoor furniture these days, don’t you think?
The final word on this furniture came in a little garden we visited in Cornwall. The modest little afternoon tea set-up had camouflaged poly resin furniture. The tables (are they sometimes octagonal?) had pieces of hand-painted ply on top while the legs were encircled in bamboo stakes cut to size and tied together with jute. As I recall the chairs were draped in fabric and cushions. It seemed such a lot of effort to go to in order to mask the humble origins beneath but maybe she regretted the impulse which had seen her buy this cheap and practical outdoor furniture.