THINKING OUTSIDE THE HOUSE

BY BARRY WALDMAN

Walk into Outside is In, an outdoor furnishings store and design center in Mount Pleasant, and you’ll be overcome by a feeling of peace—you’re spending a lazy evening on your back deck, watching the sun set over the marsh. When you wake up from that reverie, you’ll have a new mission: to choose a Photograph courtesy Gloster patio ensemble that will let you re-create that feeling at home.

Fortunately, you’ll have lots to choose from. Spread over 7,000 square feet are more than 1,000 pieces of beautiful grade-A teak, as well as mahogany, synthetic wicker and powder-coated aluminum furniture. This seemingly endless display of outdoor furniture is as impressive as anything you’ll see in your favorite shelter magazine. The difference is that at Outside is In you can sit on the cushions and run your hands along the fine wood grain.

Outdoor furniture is often built cheaply because it’s not expected to last long in the elements. But at Outside is In every piece is crafted for beauty and long life in the unforgiving Charleston sun, rain and sea air. The company uses skilled craftsmen to build beauty and durability into each piece. Take teak, for example, which is resistant to scorching sun, lashing wind and rain, and years of salt air and humidity. It doesn’t rot or splinter and resists nearly all pests. It requires no paint or varnish, instead it often forms an attractive silver-gray patina from sun exposure. With simple cleaning several times a year, teak can last decades, even in a harsh climate.

Bob Kelliher, the company’s knowledgeable owner, is constantly in contact with the small factory in Java, Indonesia, that makes the company’s exclusive Generations line. This factory is close to government-controlled plantations that grow sustainably harvested teak.

Kelliher notes that each item is designed and made with as few joints as possible to reduce the possibility of failures. Instead the factory uses a solid, longer piece of teak, which is more expensive to make. This strengthens the furniture, reduces the possibility of problems and extends its life.

To fit a customer’s needs, the factory can craft any piece to specifications. For example, one customer requested an 82-inch round table with a 32-inch lazy Susan built flush into the center. It sits on a beautiful arched pedestal base that could support a truck! But clever designs often come standard. Consider the table with the hidden teak extensions that seamlessly swivel up to turn a table for six into a table for eight or more—without losing a hint of loveliness.

The company’s focus on quality isn’t limited to wood products. Outside is In’s talented local staff designs and fabricates cushions for its own line of Generations furniture as well as custom projects. The head-to-toe single cushion on the popular Lazy chair is divided into five panels, each stuffed with a padded insert cocooned in a zippered, water-repellent case. Customers can remove the inserts so the cushions can easily be cleaned in the washing machine. In addition, they can add or remove stuffing to create varying degrees of support for different parts of the body. For example, someone who requires more lumbar support can remove the insert that sits under the lower back, add stuffing, then reinsert it into the cushion.

Grade-A customer service attends the grade-A furniture. Kelliher is happy to expound on the relative merits of different species of wood. He waxes poetic about a teak cabana chair and its mortise and tenon construction. He regales you with the life history of the mahogany table you admire, pointing out where the heartwood ends and the sapwood begins. Then he invites you to appreciate its live edge (the natural contour of the trunk after the bark is removed).

In addition to being knowledgeable, Kelliher is honest and candid. When one customer ambled into the showroom looking for a curved fireplace bench, Kelliher acknowledged that the piece the man had his eye on was finely crafted and affordable. But he cautioned the customer that this particular design was not the most comfortable to sit on. Kelliher believes an educated consumer is his best customer.

Outside is In caters to customers who are in the market for fine quality, beauty and durability. These customers will pay for that quality, knowing that durability creates value over the long run. Still, because it offers propriety lines, the company’s furniture is surprisingly affordable. Outside is In boasts the largest display of premium outdoor furniture in the Lowcountry. Aside from his own, Kelliher offers these other fine lines:

Gloster: World renowned for its award-winning designs, beauty and quality.

Couture Jardin: Stylish designs in aluminum powder-coated frames fused with a variety of synthetic woven materials, some accented with teak. All come with Sunbrella cushions. With the industry’s most comprehensive commercial and residential five-year warranty, Couture Jardin is perfect if you are near salt water and expect a lot of exposure and use.

IndoSoul: A newer line from Australia that features striking designs with powder-coated frames, teak accents, sling material or Sunbrella cushions.

Kelliher knows that local residents appreciate quality and understand what a great investment teak is. And he loves to provide customers with the expertise to make the choices that will best meet their needs.

Kelliher sums up his work this way, saying: “We bring your vision to fruition. We want our customers to look at the items they purchased from us five to 10 years later and say to themselves, ‘I’m glad I made that investment.’”

Barry Waldman is principal of Big Fly Communications, a PR firm for nonprofits and small businesses.