The History of Rope Outdoor Furniture and Its Current Craze

Nautical style is hotter than ever, but it began more than 75 years ago with Brown Jordan.
Brown Jordan Outdoor Furniture

Brown Jordan’s Contemporary Walter Lamb Collection

Amid the TikTok-fueled “Coastal Grandmother” trend, it’s safe to say nautical style is having a moment. In the outdoor furniture arena, rope and knotted pieces are in high demand, but this enduring style is anything but new.

Inspired by the Wreckage

In fact, it may have begun in 1948 with Brown Jordan’s Walter Lamb Bronze collection. In 1947, Lamb was living part-time in Honolulu, where he was inspired by the salvage metals dredged up from Pearl Harbor. For his premiere collection for the then-burgeoning outdoor furniture brand, Lamb created eight pieces using salvaged bronze wrapped in springy, snow-white cord reminiscent of ship’s flagline.

When the pieces launched, the sales material offered an option of cotton cording or “the new polyethylene, recommended in damp areas.” Brown Jordan was already innovating—the first Walter Lamb collection was manufactured in salvage metal, eventually moving exclusively into brass when the supply dried up. But not before Margaret Knoll sweet-talked the cinematic details of Lamb’s story into Life, Look and The Saturday Evening Post. In 1953, Lamb’s Waikiki lounge chair and other pieces outfitted the immense terrace of House Beautiful Magazine’s Pace-setter House of that year. 

An Enduring Aesthetic in Outdoor Furniture

Thanks to their durability and universally appealing aesthetic, nautical materials have always had a place in interior design, especially in coastal homes. But the current movement goes far beyond beachfront properties. “What to me makes the nautical theme so interesting is the texture in these current trends,” confirms tastemaker and tableware designer Joanna Buchanan. “Put a beautiful knotted sofa in a landlocked garden, and you’ve still got that nod of escapism inspired by a seashore moment.”

Brown Jordan

Detail of the Brown Jordan Oscar sofa.

The nautical revival combined with a current favor for all-things handcrafted has pushed knotted furniture into the limelight, Buchanan says. Brown Jordan anticipated the movement, relaunching its Walter Lamb collection when originals began skyrocketing in price on the vintage market in 2019. Today, an aluminum base is offered with the choice of 21 colors of high-performance heathered-acrylic rope.

Along with its appealing look, the natural durability of nautical-inspired pieces makes them a natural choice for industry pros. “When we’re sourcing outdoor furniture for clients, I always try to find pieces that offer longevity aesthetically but can also stand up to the elements, especially in our sometimes harsh New England climate,” offers Wesley Stout, Principal of his eponymous landscape architecture firm, Wesley Stout Associates. “If an acrylic rope and metal base can weather the ocean, I know it will thrive in a home or commercial landscape for years. And the look and feel are outstanding!” 

Brown Jordan Outdoor Furniture

Brown Jordan H Large dining table.

Buchanan loves the idea of styling the coastal look with a neutral palette complemented by agate or petrified wood and seashells. Conversely, she says, another option would be to bring in an array of unexpected hues. “The nautical theme has moved so far away from just a navy and white stripe being enough,” the designer adds. “People have really dug into a much more varied kind of icon library.”