By Design by Elaine Markoutsas

Take It Outside

Besides warming weather and blooming landscapes, the best thing about spring is refreshing. That is taking stock -- of your closet, your wardrobe, your house -- and thinking "reboot."

This is especially important outdoors, where you hope to spend much time grilling, entertaining or just being a lounge lizard. But besides amping up your sangria game or finding a new fave craft beer, take a gander at the furniture. One dramatic piece can make all the difference. You've got plenty of options.

Last fall at the Casual Furniture Market in Chicago, outdoor furniture manufacturers introduced much of what you'll see in retail stores this spring and summer. And along with products from European shows in Paris and Milan, you'll spot a wealth of trends.

Tops among those: duplicating what works indoors. Like bar carts, and double-duty pieces, such as chaises with shelves or side tables with extra-high storage for stacking pillows not in use. Sideboards and consoles, some with built-in ice buckets. Motion furniture, though not just gliders, swings and swivels. Actual recliners -- Klaussner debuted a power model one in a weave that works by remote.

In addition, we're seeing increasingly clever use of materials, including pairings that add immeasurably to the design -- like colorful porcelain tables with teak tops at Gloster. Porcelain tops that double for stone, in beautiful slab-like installations on long tables. Here again, Gloster introduced a dining table in a beautiful matte black finish with subtle white veining.

The idea of mixed media is playing out more and more, and that overused buzzword, "eclectic" (still the best catchall that everybody gets), has been ingrained outdoors. Take style notes here: Try to go beyond the suite for sweeter options. This is one reason small drink tables, garden stools and poufs have taken off -- they come in fireclay, concrete, metal, wood -- in modern looks with colors and patterns that lend personality. Blend materials in one grouping and ground it with a striking rug, just like a well-designed interior.

Who better than the "Million Dollar Decorator" to show you how? Martyn Lawrence Bullard designed a few outdoor collections for Frontgate, and the debuting examples look like a million.

"I work with clients that have a 'sky's the limit' attitude and know great design when they see it," says Bullard. "It's most important, for me, to have my personality stamped in every item. What we are doing is injecting that personality, that design into a very curated collection that can take high design to millions of homes."

For Bullard, it's every bit about comfort as it is style. "I really love to be outdoors sitting on indoor furniture," he says. "I want that luxury. I want that depth. I want that comfort."

Of course, there are Moroccan notes, whose signature geometric motifs often appear in Bullard's work, like tile for Ann Sacks and wallcovering for Cole and Sons.

"Moroccan design is having a bit of a moment," he says. "Big graphic fabrics in black and white, intricate tile work tabletops, variegated antique nickel hand-hammered finishes and geometric shapes of the Holland lantern (part of the collection) all spring out of my love for (Morocco's) influence.

Although there is much rooted in tradition, and even with materials, like metal and wicker looks, Bullard also imagined a modern grouping called Sloane, especially powerful in white. He teams the white powder-coated stainless steel seating with comfortable upholstered pieces and a touch of weathered wood for balance.

White furniture frames continue to attract attention, dramatic in all-white or set off with bold fabrics in colors or patterns that pop, as well as teak. Michael Vanderbyl's collection for JANUS et Cie has simple lines, and the teak grid insets are classic.

But look out for matte black or the deepest charcoal. As it is with interior furnishings as well as dinnerware, the no-sheen black is emerging as a striking tour de force. Barclay Butera's newest chair for Castelle Luxury embraces classic style, with a bit of Hollywood glam.

Woven looks still are robust, with some dynamic examples in media you wouldn't expect. At RH, for example, a new collection by Toan Nguyen features a bold weave of wood. It hits all the style points: large-scale and a weathered, driftwood-y finish.

Wicker weaves remain in vogue with tonal geometrics adding interest, and you'll also find them in traditional and modern shapes.

Rope and string offer another stylish counterpoint, especially in tandem with upholstery. A new sofa from Palecek called Avila has a teak frame and a woven frame with a grid pattern. The gray weave is set off with white upholstery.

Comfort, of course, remains key, especially evidenced by a lot of deep seats and modular sectionals with plenty of length for stretching out. There are plush chenille upholsteries, but no more luxurious covers than leather. At Maison and Objet in January, visitors were raving about the slouchy slipcover-look sofa and inviting chairs at the Italian brand Baxter. Performance fabrics continue to amaze, but this outdoor leather, especially in a fetching indigo-denim shade, stood out from the crowd.

In addition to outstanding performance fabrics, look to outdoor rugs for a bump up in technology. Brands like Tai Ping, Doris Leslie Blau and Perennials are among those that offer plush rugs that are wool lookalikes. And Liora Manne's new painterly rug, which looks like drops of pale-hued watercolor, is art underfoot.

Fire tables have far from flamed out. With more consideration to the tables, manufacturers are focusing on shapes and materials to set them apart. And lanterns have become more relevant -- as small architectural accents and mood setters -- either by real candlelight or a lookalike flickering with battery-operated pillars.

At Crate and Barrel, one pillar even has a timer to automatically turn off in five hours and relight at the same time each day.

For many, styling an outdoor space is getting a boost from Instagram, Pinterest and shelter publications for leads. Whatever style you fancy for your outdoor nest, it soon will be time to head for the most comfortable lounge out of the house. Let's get this summer party started!


-- Anthropologie, 800-309-2500,

-- Baxter, at DDCNYC, 212-685-0800,

-- Castelle, 855-612-9800,

-- Elaine Smith, 561-863-3333,

-- Exteta, through Bradley Terrace,;

-- Fermob,

-- Frontgate, 888-263-9850,

-- Gloster, 434-202-5521,

-- JANUS et Cie, 800-245-2687,

-- Liora Manne, 212-989-2732,

-- O.W. Lee, 800-776-9533,

-- Palecek, 800-274-7730,

-- RH, 800-762-1005,

-- Woodard, 800-877-2290,