Slam #1 - Inexpensive 'Garden' Furniture

It drives me crazy to see a lot of cheaply priced (and cheaply made) outdoor furniture in stores that will only last a couple of years, if that, or will be thrown away at the earliest moment the furniture becomes an inconvenience or is no longer stylish. I have played around with several ideas for inexpensive outdoor (or indoor, if you choose) furniture from various materials, but the idea I have settled on (possibly only temporarily) should appeal to the naturalist and the fashionable, the poor, middle class, and the rich, and the do-it-yourself’ers at once - the stone chair. It also rides the current wave of DIY trends as well as the popularity of spending time outdoors.

While a concrete chair would prove to be quite durable, it would present shipping/moving problems, or for the DIY person, require the tools and knowledge to mix and pour the concrete. Beyond that, concrete is not terribly inexpensive. My idea is to offer a ‘kit’ that allows the end user to source the stone on their own (preferably from their own property or from some other free source, but those with more money than brains can buy it) and construct at least one chair. The kit would contain several templates made from an inexpensive, durable paper product that can be folded and stored away, recycled, or composted after the chair is built with directions and tips printed on the templates in organic ink. The templates would help the person building the chair to get the correct dimensions for a comfortable, usable seat, and to make it stable and safe. The chair will withstand harshest weather conditions, and if no longer wanted, the stone can be moved or reused for some other purpose, or rebuilt as another chair of a different design/style.

I don’t think that this would appeal to every demographic or regional market, but in my experience, a lot of furniture only fills a certain niche anyway. The beauty of a stone chair is that it would be inexpensive to purchase the templates, require little space to store (templates), and can be returned to the earth with no harmful effects (provided people are not strip mining to gather stone!). Plus, the person building it will get a workout!

I’ll post some sketches tomorrow.


How about providing a jig made of wooden slats to position the stone in place as it is cemented (or do they just sit in place?). After the seat has set, remove the slats, reposition them, and they become the surface you contact when seated. I like the idea of sourcing the stones yourself, it allows a reference to the enviornment the chair is set in, as opposed to the fairly generic contemporary outdoor furnishing available.

As someone who is fortunate enough to have a garden in the city, I love the idea. Your arguments for using templates are great, and if it works and people use it, you’re solving a lot of problems.
The only major issue I have with it is the fact that it cannot be easily moved. Yes, people can move rocks if they put their minds to it, but ultimately it reminds me more of arty “permanent lawn furniture” projects like the Readymade grass couch and arborsculpture. Which are really cool concepts, but I think they have a limited practical appeal. It is a beautiful idea but I wonder how many people will actually take advantage of it. I, personally, am constantly moving my few lawn chairs around, and my yard is too small to yield enough rocks to build anything anyway. (And now I am done with my totally anecdotal evidence.)
I agree with you that no one lawn furniture concept could possibly fit all, but it would be great for this project to have as broad an appeal as possible (wouldn’t it be nice to say goodbye once and for all to those awful plastic chairs?) Maybe consider trying to adapt this concept to a more portable material?

Sounds like a lot of fun!

What if they were urathane molds that you rented from Home Depot?
You would simply buy the raw materials. The fun could be in buying concrete dyes and different rock mixtures.

AAAAAAHHH!! Damn i had a great idea for this and now it has to go bye bye…oh well i’ll give all the advice i can

Although providing DIY templates looks like a lot of fun.
Why not just put them in a book (Technical Drawings) or online. Then you wouldn’t need to MAKE templates in the first place.
But then it’s not a consumable … (hmm non-consumables for consummers)
but I mean it’s not a physical product. I think what this competition is about is a tangible product. Not an ‘e-book’ type solution. Ofcourse I could be wrong, since I did not devise the rules for it.
non-consumable inexpensive garden furniture is a GREAT idea… I am personaly not too happy with the direction you’re taking it. I’d rather see a tangible product.
I dont mean to be harsh or rude, just giving you a perspective from my point of view hoping it betters your solution.

At RIT I worked on a project using concrete furniture. I feel like it could of been taken farther, essentially my idea was to use it in a more permanent setting, such as a park or a public garden. I also liked the do it yourself aspect, because if members of the community took it upon themselves to create a public space they could use this furniture and create the space kind of piece by piece. I thought too that you could create an office park out of these pieces, in green areas downtown; hoping that people would do some work outside (wifi included of course).

As for adapting the concept to a more portable material: google foamed concrete.

Artur, I respectfully disagree :slight_smile:
The whole template, not-product aspect of this is really appealing to me. I do think, though, that to make it work, you have to make the idea exciting for any DIY types, not just the really artsy ones–it has to be a project that is ‘mainstream’ enough that people who watch, say, While You Were Out will want to build it. Otherwise you run the risk of people saying, “Huh. That’s an interesting idea.” and then going out and buying the plastic chairs at Home Depot anyway.
I think the real issue is the dreaded “target market”. The whole deal about this competition (in my mind) is not necessarily whether your idea is cool or not–it’s whether it’s cool AND convenient enough that people will actually, you know, use it. The most eco friendly design in the world is useless if people still prefer the plastic throwaway alternative. Just my 2 cents.
And on a different note, I’m sure everybody has heard about translucent concrete already…

Here are my initial concept sketches for a DIY stone chair and what the templates might possibly look like:

Sketch #1

Sketch #2

I have tried to come up with some type of furniture that is inexpensive, yet can withstand being outdoors in any weather. Cement isn’t exactly cheap, and transporting a cement chair would drive the price higher. There is always the idea to sell a simple mold, but once it is cast, one must find a place to store the mold (could always have it sent back to the manufacturer or recycled, I suppose) and moving/disposing of the chair later is problematic. With stacked stone, at least you can disassemble it and return it to nature with virtually no harmful effects.

End-user-collected stone is the best I’ve come up with so far for am inexpensive, non-consumable material.

The template is only part of the final product; having the consumer undertake their own materials sourcing and manufacturing should take a great deal of cost out of the final product. While putting a drawing/instructions into a book or running them in a magazine would be a nifty idea, there has to be something more for the average consumer to undertake (and purchase the template for) the project, otherwise it will see limited use in my opinion

I have some other ideas for templates than the one that I have drawn, but something that packs flat and is put together by simple folding and/or interlocking tabs is the best I have come up with to date, since it allows for minimal packaging and shipping, and allows the user to store/pass it on once they have built their chair(s).

Thanks for the comments and suggestions.

the first one looks like a fireplace.

user collected stone is good, but not everybody lives in the area with lots of rocks just scattered around. I’d need to do half a dozen car trips to get enough stone to build that mammoth…

My only question is why mold, why jig, why multiple stones, why concrete, when you can just sit on “A” rock?

What if people could use their existing cheap lawn furniture to make a more permanent object? for example dipping their decrepit plastic wall-mart chair in some sort of cement that would stick to its surface making it a permanent object.

Cool…I can’t remember where, but I saw a construction (I think it was welded steel tube?) that could turn one of those ubiquitous white plastic chairs into a rocker. The chair was just as hideous as before, but I really liked the idea of it.

Blender, cool idea. Its better than throwing out whatever furniture consumers have to make room for something else!

melovescookies - following that logic, why buy anything to sit on? I mean, there is always something solid under our feet that works just fine as a place to sit. Seriously, though, you make good points. I’ve come up with a few more ideas that utilize some other materials and keep the DIY nature to create a more simple form and still keep costs low.

Will post some sketches in a day or two.

when i was young we had metal lawn furniture (there wasn’t cheap plastic stuff). the cheap metal furniture rusted. got thrown out pretty fast. when plastic was first used it lasted. it wasnt cheap. it was durable. and was a better product than the metal. so is plastic really the problem? or is it what industries do with the material?

How about a user built chair made from other objects you already throw away?
Maybe from garden waste… things which would bio-degrade over time, but could be made into a solid object.

i’m not so sure about stone chairs - finding specific shapes and sizes of stone would be difficult, and you’d probably end up needing stone-cutting machinery to get the exact shape and size that you need. i like the idea of concrete furniture though…especially the ones on :slight_smile:

I’ve regrouped and refined my idea a bit. I have tried to itemize the problems and possible solutions to make inexpensive outdoor furniture that is not a consumable/disposable:

Why is cheap plastic and metal furniture a problem?

  • Invariably ends up in landfills or other places in the environment
  • Not biodegradable
  • while it is recyclable, I think the size of chairs, etc. cause people not to put it out with their soda bottles, etc.
  • also, recycling and remaking more plastic/metal chairs continues to use energy
  • plastic itself carries a connotation of being cheap and disposable
  • durability of plastic (UV damage causes breakage from becoming brittle and color fading)
  • durability of metal (corrosion, physical damage to structure, finish)

Possible materials that could replace plastic and plastic/metal in this application:

  • wood - while technically renewable, the few species that are truly durable outdoors are expensive and/or endangered; biodegradable over time, but not easily recycled
  • stainless steel - very durable, but expensive and not completely resistant to corrosion (stain_less_); non-renewable resource, limited recyclability
  • aluminum - moderately durable as a material, but not cost effective when a lot of the material is needed to make truly durable; also non-renewable
  • wood/plastic composites - durable and eco-friendly as it uses recycled materials, expensive in terms of start-up costs (molds, or dies for extrusions); continued disposable connotation associated with it because of the plastic content?
  • concrete - durable, available to both industry and DIY’ers, very dense (good for durability, bad for transporting), less density with composite concrete but drives costs higher and possibly eliminates the DIY element; not quite eco-friendly to produce
  • stone - durable (most types), free (found/natural stone), no environmental impact; not available everywhere or in sufficient quantities, random sizes and shapes not conducive to reproducing a standard design
  • recycled organic materials - while definately eco-friendly, making any kind of pressed/molded organic material durable for outdoor use, if possible, would push it towards becoming non-biodegrable (addition of plastics?); leaving it biodegrable is not breaking the consuming cycle

While my first solution was to have a DIY ‘kit’ that helped the end user construct a chair from locally-obtained stone, the problem of non-uniform sizes and rock types, along with limited availability and mobility, has led me to abandon that idea. My next solution is concrete. This leaves several options as to the type of concrete used and the ability to retain the DIY aspect (a good selling point at this time, IMO). Obviously, to overcome the high density and weight of concrete making the seating too heavy to move by the consumer, the form itself should me minimal, both in terms of size and material usage. While concrete composites, such as foamed concrete and fiber reinforced types, are readily available, they often need special equipment or materials not as readily available to the consumer for construction. This is not a large obstacle if the weight can be pared down enough to make transporting the seating easier, as the pieces can be sold in a finished state. I think that the DIY trend is popular enough to persuade consumers to build the chairs on their own, and can be sold as a well-developed mold (also, a mold rented locally is a possibility) with the consumer purchasing the concrete (or other casting material) separately. While I am currently thinking that the mold would be biodegradeable/recyclable, the end product would not be. I believe that this solution would ultimately use less energy - more energy would be needed in transporting the heavy finished seats; having a re-usable or rented mold uses even less energy, but durability of the molds vs. cost is a concern.

Here is a “sketch” of my revised idea for a DIY cast concrete chair. The back doubles as an arm rest or writing surface should one choose to sit 90 degrees from normal.

That’s mickey D’s dude, I’m loving it. Well done, well shown. You could even do a 2-mold chair if you wanted to incorporate arms and a back. I could also see a lounge version for poolside. Get nice and toast in the sun.

looks good - but i wonder if you could make interlocking components instead, so that you can have a chair in a variety of styles, made with the same basic parts…