Image: Kristin Belz
A chair for summer that will elicit cries of "I want! I want! I want!": the Eco-lene chair at Digs Inside and Out.

The warm and sunny recent weather has gotten us strolling the sidewalks of some of Portland's lively retail streets. It's a pleasant activity, promenading on the boulevard, people watching and window shopping. But when the merchandise bursts out of the shop windows and onto the sidewalk, well, that can provoke a dangerous reaction in the innocent stroller: want want want!

In that spirit, it's time to start a summer wish list, which will only get longer as the season continues. At the top of the list: a classic, comfy outdoor chair that's both hot and cool. It's a take on the mid-century modern wicker hoop chair, but this is wicker for the modern age. Which is to say, it's synthetic "wicker fiber" made of polyethylene, a.k.a., wicker that walks the talk of eco-friendliness and sustainability, and won't fall apart when you leave it outside.

Wicker is traditionally a woven material made of twigs or branches – reed or swamp grasses, cane, strands of palm (including a vine you've probably heard of, rattan). So it's not really a material at all, but a method of making something sturdy out of spindly strands of something else. When we say wicker is "traditionally" made of twigs or branches, we're talking way back into the time of the ancient Egyptians. (Steve Martin probably had a wicker patio chair.)

The Egyptians brought wicker to Rome, and over time it drifted to Southeast Asia, and then to England and America, where the Victorian age boosted wicker's popularity. In that sanitation-minded era, wicker furniture was considered more hygienic and easier to keep dust-free than upholstered fabric was. 

Synthetic wicker is safe if it's polyethylene (PE). (Stay away from the common and cheap substitute, polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is toxic during production and throughout its lifetime.) Polyethylene comes under several brand names, including Ecolene, Rehau, and Viro. And though in the photo above (taken outside the NE Alberta shop, Digs Inside and Out), the chair looks like it's about to walk off in a sidewalk sale, the price isn't exactly a steal (about $440). But then, as we all know, a good chair is hard to find, and you get what you pay for.

And this is only the beginning of the summer wish list. What's on your list? 

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