While it may seem counterintuitive to shop for outdoor yard furniture in November, it actually makes sense when you consider the whole production process, especially if the stuff you want is one of a kind, high end and beautifully made.
(photos by Joe Larese)
“Look now and decide by January and then you’ll have it by early spring and be able to enjoy it all summer,” says John Danzer of Garrison, who is pretty much king of the mountain in the world of outdoor furniture design and exterior decoration.
A year ago, Danzer opened a 133-piece showroom on Route 9D in Garrison for his company, Munder-Skiles, in a building that has variously been a nursery, travel agency and the cramped home of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust before it moved to nearby quarters at Winter Hill. Out back, on terraces and patios, he’s created a series of vignettes to show clients how they might put together some of the gorgeous and wildly comfortable chairs, tables and benches his company designs and hand-crafts in a factory in Costa Rica.
“People can visualize it here, see the whole experience,” says Danzer, a refugee from the banking industry who lives nearby with his husband, Chip Allemann, general manager of The Garrison.
“It’s a showroom, not a shop — but we do let people in,” Danzer says with typical wit and charm. The 1,600-square-foot renovated showroom is usually staffed on weekdays, but by appointment on weekends.
Most of his clients are decorators and designers shopping and buying for a high-end clientele. “It’s a lot of hedge fund people, a lot of big-league landscape architects and designers,” he says.
“There are not a lot of people willing to spend $700 to $800, or $1,400 to $1,500, per chair,” he says. “A lot of people take the stuff and put it indoors.”
Before launching Munder-Skiles 20 years ago, Danzer immersed himself in the world of outdoor garden furniture, amassing a digital library of 10,000 images, plus piles of clippings and scrapbooks covering more than 50 related topics. He’s a favorite expert and speaker for horticultural, design and decorative arts groups here and in Europe.
And he quickly won acclaim in the design world. One of his most popular designs, the modern and ergonomic Taconic Chair, received the 1994 Roscoe Award as the Best American Chair, the first time a garden seat won. (It sells for $1,200.) In 2000, the New York School of Interior Design staged a 10-year retrospective of Munder-Skiles called “Reinventing the Garden Seat.” Again, another first in the industry.
Along with his signature sleek, elegant and ultra-modern pieces, Danzer loves to find interesting and historic furniture designs and tweak them a bit. “We make Thomas Jefferson’s garden furniture,” he says. “We make Edith Wharton’s garden furniture.”
“I’m not a designer — I’m more of an editor,” he says. (The name Munder-Skiles, by the way, comes from his great-grandparents.)
Danzer also works as an exterior designer and decorator for clients, who think nothing of flying him to Maine for the weekend on their private plane to plot out what should go in their yard. He happily buys from his competitors if their stuff works better. “Fifty percent of what I use is not my stuff,” he says. “I work for an industry.”
“This is a crazy business,” he adds. “Most everybody else is 40 times bigger than me. I don’t care — I’m the most interesting. I’m a real niche player.”
And a lot of that niche is about high-quality design and craftsmanship and faith in Danzer’s terrific eye.
“I love a good plastic white chair,” he says. “It’s one of the most interesting engineering feats around. Do I want that plastic chair in my home? No.”
Similarly, he firmly believes exterior spaces should stand on their own, not just mimic what you have going on inside. “The outside space should be a different space — I don’t want the same furniture outside.”
Everything in the Munder-Skiles line is made to order and manufactured in Costa Rica. “No two things are made alike,” he says. “We control the production,” meaning that chairs and tables can be slightly adjusted for the height and girth of clients. It usually takes at least seven weeks from order to delivery.
His factory also controls the water content of the wood, which is all Costa Rican teak. “We force it down to 8 to 12 percent,” he explains. “When you dry it out, the weight goes out of it.”
Along with benches, tables and every imaginable chaise and chair for sitting outdoors, the Garrison showroom also has outdoor rugs and lamps, totes and some pottery.
Danzer also has an apartment in New York and regularly meets with clients in the city. He’s thrilled with how much business the Garrison showroom has brought in.
“We’re up 100 percent in the last year,” he says.
IF YOU GO
The Munder-Skiles showroom is at 1180 Route 9D (corner of Snake Hill Road) in Garrison. 212-717-0150, www.munder-skiles.com. It’s usually staffed on weekdays, but it’s best to call ahead and make an appointment.
Caring for outdoor furniture
If the pieces are made of high-quality teak, just leave them be for the winter, Danzer says. “Enjoy the whole beautiful experience of letting it sit out in the snow, or whatever weather,” he says. “We need to get used to the whole concept of a naturalized garden.”
If you’ve got wicker things, they need shelter for winter. And all cushions, too, of course.
Twice a year, brush down wooden pieces with a simple brush.
“Whatever you do, don’t stack it,” Danzer says. Stacking wooden furniture causes nicks, scratches and other unnecessary damage.
(I love this piece. If the seat is wet, just turn it upside down.)