``Umbrellas have always been fascinating to me. ``And after admiring the beautiful market umbrellas of Europe, I decided to try my hand at making the best garden or patio umbrella in the world,'' says Colin Hayward, founder of Santa Barbara Designs in Santa Barbara, Calif.
He began his small business in 1981, first in the family garage. Then he moved it into the family room of his parents' home, and finally into a small factory.
Mr. Hayward now makes 24 styles and shapes of outdoor umbrellas in 100 fabrics. He uses alder, mahogany, teak, and oak for their wooden frames. The umbrellas sell for $1,500 to $3,000. Hayward says most people buy them not only to protect them from the sun, but simply for their beauty.
Cher, the Academy Award-winning actress, recently ordered three of Hayward's umbrellas. Other celebrity purchasers include Robert Redford, Angela Lansbury, Merv Griffin, and Barbara Walters.
The umbrellas are also seen in the courtyards of top hotels, including Marriotts and Hiltons, at country clubs and resorts, caf'es and restaurants, polo and racket clubs, and shopping and decorative design centers.
``Today,'' Hayward says, ``we make umbrellas in 95 different colors and stripes in the most weatherproof and most fadeproof fabric available. We use five coats of varnish on well-cured wood, and rustproof metals.''
He says gale force winds, hard rains, and harsh environments are very hard on the umbrellas. But when they are properly cared for, they can last for years.