Ah ... spring. When thoughts turn to the great outdoors and spending quality time chilling, grilling and entertaining.
And also ... daydreaming.
For starters, imagine your ideal outdoor space. It might be a fabulous resort, stretching out on a pristine white chaise longue with the Mediterranean blue as a brilliant backdrop. Or a foliage-framed jungle of a garden, where you've set up a rainbow-colored, festive fringed hammock for swinging or just lying still. Or a country garden, blooming with roses and hydrangeas on the edge of a patio outfitted with cozy seating -- outdoor wicker plumped with cushy pillows. Or a manicured bluestone terrace, framed by tall galvanized pots brimming with boxwood, the backdrop for a straight-lined, tailored sectional.
No matter what style you prefer, or what kind of landscape you can create (depending on size and budget), comfort remains the key to outdoor room design. It doesn't even matter how big the space is, because you can create ambience even on a condo balcony with ingredients as simple as an attractive, snug chair and some sort of side table for a margarita, guacamole and chips, or summer reading.
In terms of materials and choices in outdoor furnishings, there are improvements every year. Wicker and rattan looks have blossomed, with a wide range of specialty weaves, like herringbone, multitonal effects or even bolder striping, as well as open weaves that make even mega-scale pieces feel less bulky.
Upholstered wovens intrigue because the mesh-y "fabric" stretches like skin across frames, resulting in a crisp, clean-lined, contemporary look.
Powder-coated aluminum remains a top choice for a range of colors, in matte and high-gloss finishes. Besides seating, tables, planters and accessories such as trays add to the options for colorful accents. Outdoor stainless steel and other metals provide polished or rustic and weathered looks, sometimes hammered or grained to look like wood. Porcelain tabletops also offer a range of looks from stone to wood.
And teak (as well as other outdoor-friendly woods like ipe, mahogany and acacia) is by no means stagnant, especially strong in contemporary, with new styles of mid-century modern that appeals to those who embrace that style indoors. More weathered finishes (either distressed or smooth, driftwood-like surfaces) are opening the door to those who aren't as fond of the natural reddish tone of teak or are unsure about how it may silver and wear over time.
Wood combined with other materials, including wovens, metals and synthetic concrete, have enhanced design options.
While frames, styles and materials offer considerable ranges, textiles have perhaps been the biggest game-changers in the last few years. Sunbrella, Crypton and Outdura are instantly recognizable brands for performance fabrics, but so many fabric manufacturers have added outdoor components, you may be surprised at the kinds of sophisticated patterns that are available, from animal prints, paisleys and ikats to tropicals, bold cabana stripes and chevrons. Digital printing allows rich and subtle prints, like a watercolor hydrangea on a soft blue background called Bloom, from the high-end brand Donghia. In addition, throw pillows are huge, just as they are indoors, where they can change up or freshen upholstery.
Style leaders like Elaine Smith take their cues from fashion runways, so details such as pleating, weaving fabrics like ribbons, fancy buttons, braiding with frog clasps, hand-twisting for 3-D effects and chenille yarns for raised patterns are spot-on in trend. If the only investment you make this season is in pillows, it's well worth it, as they can instantly add sparks of color, life, a touch of whimsy or a theme that can be carried out in other accessories.
Rugs also lend a dynamic element, and the stain- and UV-resistant categories have such a wealth of good-looking styles that feel so much like softer indoor rugs that they're moving inside to sunrooms and family and dining areas.
If you're in the market for new furniture, be sure to come armed with measurements for your patio, roof deck or terrace. You might even photograph the space with your smartphone and share with on-site designers, especially in specialty shops, as they may guide you through selection.
Here are some tips to keep in mind.
-- Go bold. Choose a color or a pattern that makes a statement. It can be grand -- on a sofa, a chair, ottoman or pouf. Or small -- with an accessory like pillows, a lantern, melamine dinnerware or a planter.
-- Mix it up. More and more we're seeing two different materials combined in one piece: teak plus resin (even in color at West Elm), teak plus metal or even concrete-like synthetics. Or you can become your own mixologist by teaming stone, mosaic or synthetic concrete side tables, or porcelain planters, with teak or wovens.
-- Give me shelter. If you've got the space, there's an outdoor four-poster at Pottery barn that looks like a bed framed by a pergola, complete with canopy, framing curtains and even lanterns hung inside. Chairs or chairs and a half that are scoop for nesting or even those that cradle with hoods or canopies offer cool outdoor getaways.
-- Gray is the new beige. Just like indoors, gray is gaining traction in outdoor furniture. It goes with just about any color -- especially citron, mustard and hot pink -- and the green landscape pops behind it.
-- Try white. Nothing beats it for pristine style, especially with a modern profile, as in Restoration Hardware's new Marbella aluminum collection.
-- Get in the swing. From traditional gliders, like metal or a French country style wing in black matte powder-coated aluminum with a chunky natural-colored vinyl wave from Lloyd Flanders, to exotic hybrids (a hammock chair from CB2), these offer sheer retro enjoyment.
-- Have some fun. Outdoor poufs can add a playful touch -- especially when you choose a graphic pattern, such as starfish or octopi or giant coral. The puffy vinyl inflatable Air Flower chair in a hot fuchsia shade by Roche Bobois is like a sculptural, sheer beanbag.
-- Add warmth. For cool evenings, a fire table provides heat and a sizzling profile. There are many types of fire pits and bowls, and now cocktail tables with linear fire down the center. Some even come with covers to extend the surface when you're not using the fire feature.
-- Add water. Even if you don't have room for a pool or a pond, consider a water feature like an urn or a fountain with a recirculating pump. Some even have LED lights. Just the sound of trickling water is so soothing.
-- Layer in some lights. The verdict is still out on outdoor lamps -- table, floor, chandeliers. Some draw the line with this indoor-out feature, preferring the romance and glow of candles. With the burn-free variety, there's no mess or worry about the light being blown out by wind. Some light strands have decorative covers; others featuring Edison-like bulbs and the battery-operated mini LED strings so popular in cloches indoors during Christmas are finding their way outdoors, transforming the night garden on trees, umbrellas or pergolas. Lanterns also have escalated in popularity, offering a variety of materials and finishes, in stainless, rusted iron, black or powder-coated aluminum, from rustic to ethnic to sleek.
Once your new pieces are in place, settle in. Revel in the sun-kissed outdoors -- and the sheer bliss of daydreaming in your oasis all summer long.
-- CB2, 800-606-6252, www.cb2.com
-- Crate and Barrel, 800-967-6696, www.crateandbarrel.com
-- Elaine Smith, 561-863-3333, www.elainesmith.com
-- Fermob USA, 404-749-4749, www.fermob.com
-- Homecrest Outdoor Living, 218-631-1000, www.homecrest.com
-- Janus et Cie, 800-245-2687, www.janusetcie.com
-- Missoni Home, available at Mobili Mobel, 312-337-3444, www.missoni.com
-- OW Lee, 800-776-9533, www.owlee.com
-- Pottery Barn, 888-779-5176, www.potterybarn.com
-- RH, 800-762-1005, www.rh.com
-- Roche Bobois, 312-955-0275, www.roche-bobois.com/en
-- West Elm, 888-922-4119, www.westelm.com
(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at email@example.com.)