When the Apartment Therapy website collaborated with Casual Living, a trade publication, to do an outdoor decorating survey, their main finding was no surprise: Nearly eight out of 10 homeowners have an outdoor room or are creating one.
"Outdoor rooms continue to evolve as one of the most important areas of the homescape," says award-winning West Coast-based designer Richard Frinier.
"Outside has become the dining, living room and kitchen," says Steve Lowsky, president of Pride Family Brands, a company that specializes in luxury handcrafted aluminum casual furnishings. "And there is way more potential -- it's the 'room' with the most square footage."
With the explosion of performance fabrics and fibers for weathersafe rugs, as well as a range of furniture frames -- including wood, metal, wovens and resin -- that allow plenty of decorating, color and pattern options, there's no shortage of style. And performance fabrics now have a softer hand, sometimes mimicking luxury indoor fabrics like silk, chenille, velvet and even leather.
"The constructions, textures, patterns, colors, UV stability, easy care, and even use of recycled yarns, are remarkable," Frinier says of Sunbrella, a leader in the performance industry. "That allows us to do much more outside than we would have ever considered doing just a few years ago.
"Also, people are starting to mix and match their outdoor furniture, (pulling) pieces from different collections the way they do indoors," says Frinier, "to create a more unique, original and sometimes curated look."
Consumer tastes have been trending to simpler, more modern silhouettes in recent years -- both indoors and out. But no matter what the preference, there's one thing that most everyone agrees on: comfort.
While style choices are broad, here are five categories for this season's al fresco offerings that are especially directional.
White and natural often are part of the cushion package for outdoor furniture, as they go with everything. In frames, white long has been a classic -- think Adirondack chairs and English painted planters and furniture. But this year, it is especially coming on strong in the contemporary category -- both in slick glossy and matte finishes.
"White is a classic neutral, which is always popular," says Frinier. "When used on upholstered furnishings, it serves as a starting point like a clean canvas to a painter. Whether bright or soft, warm or cool, white tends to lighten a space (indoors or out) and even lifts our moods and spirits. It is seen across all styles. Starting with a neutral, white palette allows you to bring your personal style to any collection simply by choosing a frame finish and also textured and patterned fabrics for toss pillows to stylize as you wish."
Frinier describes his new modular Connexion collection for Brown Jordan as a thoroughly indoor/outdoor sectional designed for comfort and versatility, light in appearance, though durable and functional.
"The framework is tautly upholstered with a double wall of a proprietary Versatex mesh, which means you can actually use the same or different fabric on the outside and inside vertical surfaces for either low or high contrast appeal."
Another modular grouping, from Royal Botania, has a less pronounced, slender frame that's barely there, serving as a platform with short feet for cushions, especially striking in black. White and taupe also are a dynamic combination in a tightly upholstered armless sofa from Room & Board. Other color options are available, including brights, which coordinate with a fun cube table designed by Frank Gehry.
More transitional is a new group for Janus et Cie that pairs handsome chairs with gridded backs by Orlando Diaz-Azcuy with a table designed by the company CEO Janice Feldman. The pieces were influenced by the style of Josef Hoffman and the early 20th-century Viennese collective Wiener Werkstätte, and their graceful lines suit both contemporary and traditional architecture.
At the other end of the spectrum, there's explosive color and bold form. Like statement jewelry, these are standalone pieces that can shake up a neutral setting.
"When you bring colors into your outdoor spaces," says Frinier, "whether subtle and soft or bright and vibrant, this splash of patterns and textures draw people into the space because of the visual interest and energy generated, exactly the same way we all use color and pattern for our interiors.
"When you are inside of your home looking out to your outdoor room and spaces, or when you are looking down from a balcony, or near a pool, you have to remember you are seeing your outdoor furniture arrangements from a different perspective and it is smart to consider this when choosing frame finishes and fabrics."
That goes for scale as well. The Tiempo chair from Janus et Cie calls attention to itself because of its heft, but also because of distinguishing features: pairing teak and powder-coated aluminum and canting the sides of its square arms, plus its striped coral upholstery.
A double chaise takes up a larger footprint as well, and the eye-catching Oko lounger from Mamagreen also boasts functional pullout trays and small umbrellas as well as a perky stripe to make it a standout.
Form and materials put the spotlight on complementary pieces as well, such as a glass-topped side table from Janus et Cie, which has a pedestal that looks like it's made of knotted cords; it's actually Sunbrella fabric.
Even bolder is a chair from a line called M'Afrique for the Italian brand Moroso. Its vibrant hues rival anything blooming in the garden, but it's the craftsmanship that really stands out. It's handcrafted by artisans in Africa who use a technique of plaiting by hand -- with plastic cord traditionally used to make fishing nets that's perfectly safe for outdoor use.
All-weather wicker continues to be popular. It lends texture and options, as there are different styles of weaving as well as opportunities for combining more than one hue to create nuanced effects. Some mimic sweater weaves, others herringbone. And sometimes the material lends itself to bending in ways that can't be replicated in other outdoor media. A collection introduced by designer Celerie Kemble for Laneventure, for example, featured "movement" in skirted bases, a kind of draping that resembles fabric folds.
But even traditional forms can be tweaked for great effect. Take the outdoor wicker wing chair from Arhaus, for example. The shape and style are familiar, but the expression in a large-scale herringbone weave takes it in a new direction. That it sits on turned feet is another nice indoor furniture touch.
Another woven by Barbara Barrie for McGuire doesn't disappoint her followers; it delivers clean lines and smartly tailored looks.
There's more of a desire in outdoor furnishings to not go all-suite, everything matching. It takes a good eye for design, though, to mix it up by pulling from different brands and collections, which is what good designers do for an eclectic look. So some manufacturers are mixing it up themselves, teaming up different materials within one collection or crossing collections.
Teak manufacturers, in particular, like Barlow Tyrie and Gloster have started to do this. Showing wood tables with woven chairs or tables with metal bases and stone tops lends more visual appeal.
Upholstered and slipcovered looks
Fully upholstered sofas and chairs as well as slipcovered looks are here to stay. Fillings also have improved, not only with waterproof features but also in ultra plush comfort.
The newest collection by Timothy Oulton at Restoration Hardware easily could transition indoors. Shown in white, the sectional is clean-lined -- one that can play off of a variety of companion pieces. The design seems to exude comfort, exactly the ambience that's so sought after because it reminds us of how we like to live indoors.
Notice, too, that sofas, sectionals and banquettes all lend themselves well to designing the space with all sorts of accessories, such as lanterns, throws, pillows, side tables -- anything that visually warms the setting. There's also the idea of creating a sanctuary, a getaway.
Some of the comments from those surveyed by Casual Living/Apartment Therapy spoke to the psychology of being outdoors.
A Michigan consumer weighed in: "My outdoor room is a place to feel connected with wildlife and nature. ... Somewhere to enjoy the sound of birds and rustling trees and to watch the flicker of the fire pit. It's somewhere to entertain guests and to show off to neighbors."
And a respondent from Missouri summed it up: "It's an escape in my own backyard."
-- Arhaus, 866-427-4287, www.arhaus.com
-- Brown Jordan, 800-743-4252, www.brownjordan.com
-- Century Furniture, 800-852-5552, www.centuryfurniture.com
-- Gloster, 434-575-1003, www.gloster.us
-- Henry Hall Designs, 800-767-7738, www.henryhalldesigns.com
-- Janus et Cie, 800-245-2687, www.janusetcie.com
-- Mamagreen, 415-279-7895, www.askmamagreen.com
-- McGuire Furniture, 800-662-4847, www.mcguirefurniture.com
-- Moroso, www.moroso.it
-- No. 9 Thompson, at Holly Hunt Ltd., 800-320-3145, www.jimthompsonfabrics.com; www.hollyhunt.com
-- Restoration Hardware, 800-910-9836, www.rh.com
-- Room & Board, 800-301-9720, www.roomandboard.com
-- Royal Botania, D'apostrophe, 212-812-9852, www.royalbotania.com
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