OUTDOOR SANCTUARIES

BY MICHELLE THOMPSON

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Outdoor space, with a ceiling composed of blue sky dotted with white clouds, is to Judy Singleton, co-owner of Tropic Aire Patio & Wicker Gallery, the canvas on which the most special room in a home is created. “Be it a balcony, patio or pool deck—whatever your outdoor area is—making the most of it is so important,” Singleton says.

She and husband Duke founded Tropic Aire of Columbia in the 1970s, building screen porches, awnings and enclosures. When many clients sought to furnish their new outdoor spaces, the Singletons opened a small, casual furniture store to address the need. The venture thrived, and they later sold the construction company to focus solely on outdoor furnishings, opening Tropic Aire Patio & Wicker Gallery. Now the largest casual furniture resource in South Carolina, they stand among the top 75 outdoor furniture stores in the United States and Canada.

“We don’t just sell furniture,” Singleton says. “Our company philosophy is to treat people as we wish to be treated, and we are very good to our customers. We want them to leave feeling as if they are friends of ours.” She continues, “Our approach is called ‘Maximum Customer Service,’ and that is what we offer.”

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Featuring 75 furniture collections displayed in their 20,000-plus-square-foot store, along with umbrellas, hammocks, rugs, curtains, lamps, fire pits and accessories, visitors to the showroom are treated to an all-inclusive shopping experience. During the holidays, a stroll through the store is even more of a treat when Santa’s Closet transforms a portion of the showroom into a winter wonderland, featuring the highest grade permanent trees, garlands, ornaments and holiday trimmings.

Daughter-in-law Mary Beth Singleton, Tropic Aire’s sales and design director, and her designers and sales staff are on hand to help clients who need assistance. Customers are advised to bring photographs and measurements of the area to be furnished. “We help them find furniture and accessories best suited for their space, budget and lifestyle,” Singleton says.

For those interested in metal furniture, Tropic Aire carries wrought iron, aluminum and cast aluminum collections. “Wrought iron is one of the original materials used in furniture making. Ours is made in the United States and has extremely durable finishes. Though it does require occasional maintenance, it is a classic material that will last for many years,” Singleton says.

Aluminum furniture is well suited for use in coastal environments with salty air, as it doesn’t rust. “Sling furniture consists of an aluminum frame with seats constructed of a durable outdoor mesh material. It is wonderful for pool decks,” Singleton says. Cast aluminum furniture—beautifully detailed and virtually maintenance-free— is made from molded pieces that are welded together and painted with a durable powder- coated finish.

For those who prefer the look of wood, Tropic Aire features teak, ipe and roble collections, along with colorful rockers from North Carolina manufacturer Troutman. “Teak is called the 100-year wood,” Singleton explains. “It will gray over time, but that does not affect the integrity of the wood. We sell products that can be used to keep the finish brown, but if you don’t want the maintenance, you can let it go and it will take on Mother Nature’s patina.”

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For a wood look without maintenance, Tropic Aire carries Polywood, a brand of outdoor furniture made from HDPE, a high-density polyethylene that is impervious to all types of weather. It is durable, eco-friendly and comes in a myriad of colors.

Outdoor wicker is, of course, very popular and Tropic Aire carries 18 different collections. Most collections feature powder-coated metal frames encased in synthetic, handwoven wicker with weaves in many designs and colors. Some are partially covered in wicker, allowing the frame to simulate a rattan or bamboo look. Ideal for use in sheltered outdoor areas, but fine outdoors as well, outdoor wicker will not become brittle or crack and is completely washable.

Cushions are also a big part of the equation. Tropic Aire’s cushions are covered in solution-dyed acrylic Sunbrella fabric, which comes in a vast array of colors and prints. The fabric will not fade over time, can be cleaned with bleach and is quick drying. One cushion incorporates a drain that siphons off accumulated water; another is constructed with a waterproof, zippered fabric casing that covers the cushion filling.

With a large inventory of cushions in stock, and the ability to order virtually any shape and size in any fabric, finding replacement cushions is easy. “In the rare instance where we can’t find a replacement size to fit the seating, we can take the original, have a pattern created and the cushion remade,” Singleton says.

The Singletons encourage customers to visit their showroom in Columbia and experience the furniture firsthand. “Many times, people who buy online don’t get the opportunity to sit in the furniture first, and they end up disappointed,” Singleton says. “We keep our prices as low as we can. Our furniture is delivered with white glove service throughout the state of South Carolina and into Georgia and North Carolina, then set up in your home, ready to be enjoyed.” She continues: “We are a family-run business and have been very fortunate and blessed. We want you to come in for a visit and experience all that we have to offer.”

Michelle Thompson is a writer in Mount Pleasant. Find out more at michellemariethompson.net.