Brown Jordan has a legacy dating back to 1945, but the team is constantly pushing forward and evolving. That includes working with new materials and designers who think outside the box.
For the H Collection, Brown Jordan collaborated with award-winning industrial designer Toan Nguyen, who helped dream up a new look for the brand using three basic materials—rope, aluminum, and fabric. The collection launched in October 2020.
The H collection (named for the first letter of the word “hoy,” or “today” in Spanish) marks an evolution for Brown Jordan, updating a classic mix of materials with new curves and finishes. “The combination of three materials, as different as they are complementary, together redefines the codes of American metal outdoor furniture while drawing on its roots,” Toan says.
Rope as Design Element
Brown Jordan Chief Brand Curator Stephen Elton says mixed materials are huge in outdoor furniture now in the States, especially among higher end brands in North America. “But most times companies have just done things like put a teak arm on a chair or add a woven panel on something,” he says. “For example, acrylic rope is a category that’s been around forever, but it’s mostly been used as a seating surface and nothing else.”
Toan Nguyen and Brown Jordan changed that, making rope a design element on its own. They use larger rope than you’d typically see on outdoor furniture—scaling up to a 3-inch diameter for a sculptural effect against the collection’s streamlined aluminum frames. And it’s not a seating element at all. “No one has done this before. They’ve used what you’d think of as traditional hammock-type rope,” Stephen says.
Toan says the H Collection’s oversized braid weaving of the rope makes a statement where designers could have kept it simple. “The weaving of the vertical surfaces is the result of the development of a large-dimension, padded, custom-made polyethylene braid that gently accommodates sofa’s cushions or becomes a soft backrest for chairs,” he says.
The Brown Jordan product development team and Toan Nguyen spent many months working to get the rope so it didn’t look flat, asking questions like, “What does the filler look like? How does it keep its shape? What’s the right color? How do we actually put it on the chair? How do we get it to the right thickness so it feels elevated and elegant?”
Designing the Frame
The chair is just one in the outdoor collection of dining chair, armchair, sofa, and side tables, but it’s a great example of what the brand calls subliminal attention to detail. It doesn’t look manufactured or assembled, given the arm’s elegant curvature and how the rope unexpectedly winds around the back. There are no sharp angles; the chair envelops you almost like you’re sitting in a nest.
The aluminum frame is true to Brown Jordan’s core brand. “It’s where we’ve been for years,” Stephen says. “We can push aluminum, twist aluminum like no one on this planet. Our DNA is to figure out how to make that curve more exaggerated.”
He says using aluminum also guarantees the outdoor furniture will be around for a long time. “With minimal care 15 years later you can walk outside and be hard-pressed to know the chair is that old.
H’s frames are made using extruded aluminum with die-cast components. The aluminum makes the chair lightweight and easy to clean and care for with added corrosion resistance and heat dispersion.
Toan said the team also chose aluminum in part because it allowed them to move away from the rigid shapes common in outdoor furniture while designing for both comfort and style. “Aluminum is a particularly powerful material and perfectly suited for outdoor use,” he says. “Following in Brown Jordan’s manufacturing tradition, I have used this material to create a structure that is as light as it is strong, contrasted with the generous and highly comfortable cushions and the padded, oversized braid weaving. Comfort is visible and, above all, real.”
It also lends to the collection’s sculptural feel, he says.
Working with Toan Nguyen
Brown Jordan works with some of the best designers in the world, but it’s not enough to work with the best; they want designers who push them to innovate and who understand the brand’s contemporary North American design language.
Considering every piece of the collection down to the fabric, color, and feel sets Brown Jordan apart. Stephen, Toan, and Senior Vice President of Engineering and Product Development Bill Forbes spent a lot of time on the phone and emails and video calls going over color and fabrics—Toan in his Milan studio and the product development team all over the States. “We look at it like creating a real art piece,” Stephen says.
Brown Jordan feels it’s important to work with outside designers to ensure textiles and fabrics are elevated. “Most outdoor furniture companies see that as a necessary evil. They design their furniture and they put fabric on it. They buy off the rack and they’re ready to go. We don’t do it that way, not even close,” Stephen says. “When we work with someone at Toan’s level it’s really important to us on the fashion side, the color side, the texture side, the textile side—it’s all just as important in the process as the design.”
Design partners like Toan get that, Stephen says. “He asks a tremendous amount of questions, and he did a tremendous amount of studying the history as it relates to design and where we are now, why we have what we have, where he fits in, and where the creations we did together would fit in.”
When it comes to color, the Brown Jordan team developed Almandine—a reddish-brown rust color inspired by shades of red wine. It sparkles in the sun, with a little bit of gold fleck in it.
Nature inspired Toan and Brown Jordan in a big way. The H Collection’s frames are powder-coated in three finish options—Almandine; Storm, a moody gray; and Loden, a greenish hue with undertones of gold. “The colors, which are likened to specific vegetation tones at different times of the year, are part of a product design process that is long-lasting and far from ephemeral trends,” Toan says.
It’s a continuation of Brown Jordan’s mission, as they’ve been known to collect color inspiration from bark, glass that’s washed up on a beach, and even an old iron gate the team walked by one day in New Orleans.
Like the rest of the team, Stephen continues to be proud of the work they do, including, especially, this latest collection. He even keeps a piece of the rope from that initial vision for the H Collection on his desk today—a reminder of just what is possible.