Casting a look back

I thought it might be fun today to look at some really popular lawn furniture.

Okay, I should have explained that it was really popular in its day, but not so much today. It doesn’t look very comfy. Does it? Maybe it needs more cushioning?

Okay. Still no. So, why was this so popular?

This furniture is made of cast iron. This was brand spankin’ new technology in the 1800’s. It was the lucite furniture of the moment.

"Peekaboo clear nesting tables" by CB2

While the use of iron dates back to the Roman Empire, iron was all the new rage for architecture in the Victorian era. We’ve already talked about one famous building example of its use in this post. Here’s another example that still stands today:

The Eiffel Tower, in Paris, may be the most famous example of an iron structure on the planet. Millions of people still travel to see it every year. However, the Eiffel Tower was not cheap when it was built, in part because of its weighty materials.

This bring us back to the cast iron furniture. Cast iron was so exciting because the process made it so cheap and adaptable to decoration. Molten iron is poured into a mold of any shape, cooled and then the pieces are bolted together.

Image courtesy of

Most of the furniture was originally painted green, to blend in with your garden. This is also why most pieces sport so much foliage detailing. It’s almost is if the designers were trying to say, “This garden is so lovely it has grown a bench for us to enjoy in it!”

As you find models from closer to the 20th century, the detailing styles can become all Gothic and scroll-y (very technical term):

Image courtesy of

If you’ve ever sat on black cast iron furniture during hot summer months, you can also imagine another reason that green and white were very popular color choices. The women of that era would have no idea of what I’m referring to because they all had layers of skirts to protect them from the heat. However, Victorian men, in their white linen summer suits must have inwardly cringed when beckoned to one of those hot seats. We never see that in Merchant Ivory films, do we?

Image courtesy of

It’s also worth noting that the backs of all of these furniture pieces were also dictated by ladies fashion. Remember that polite ladies were always taught to sit upright, and really had no other choice because of all this nonsense going on underneath their pretty dresses:

Image courtesy of

There was no way these ladies could kick back with an ice tea and the latest issue of Elle Decor. Poor things. So now you have a good idea of why this furniture declined in popularity as fashion, literally, “loosened-up”.

You can still find cast iron furniture today. The best place for the original stuff is estate sales and auctions. You can also find decent reproductions available.

The "Country Living 3-piece set" from Sears

If you are seriously considering moving cast iron, even just to sit down…bring a friend. Or have a really strong butler, like they did in the 19th century. It is very heavy furniture. I think this is why some many older pieces survive today.

Do you like the cast iron furniture look? What type of lawn furniture do you prefer? What is your favorite way to relax outside?

Psst! Today is the very last day to enter to win our current giveaway. It can certainly help you kick back and relax! You can enter to win it right here!

Posted on May 23, 2011, in Design Vocabulary, Furniture. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. We had the mesh kind of furniture when I was a kid. Not ask heavy, but not as stylish as this. Or as durable…

  2. I love the cast iron look, but you’re right, they are so heavy! Thanks for the fashion lesson. I’m glad times have changed. Especially in the summer.

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