What is the perfect summer day? For many, it's one lost in reverie. In a daydream, just reminiscing over that last trip to the south of France, the Greek Isles, Tuscany or the Caribbean. Or just soaking in the rays, the breeze, savoring a glorious vista. Outdoors -- ideally, just the other side of your back door.
More than ever, travel, Instagram shots and Pinterest boards, design publications and blogs are helping to shape outdoor lifestyles. Recreating experiences or settings, especially from luxury venues, is a prime instigator. In fact, retailers and manufacturers such as Restoration Hardware and Kohler Co. are even getting into the hospitality business with hotels and restaurants -- a value added for shopability.
"The luxury of travel is in tune with what it means to have an outdoor lifestyle," says New York designer Stephen Burks. "I consider outdoors as an extension of our interior lives. It represents how you love to live."
The focus is seduction, drawing your eye to products that will help you fashion your own al fresco sanctuary. A place for decompressing, entertaining, chillaxing.
RH, known for its signature hefty catalogs, of course has one entirely devoted to outdoors, with one scrumptious image after another. Furniture touches all categories -- teak, weaves, metals -- and hits all the essential design notes with distinctive shapes, often seriously large-scale. Fire tables and stunning accessories, including architectural teak or brass lanterns, round out the sophisticated collections.
In a mini West Elm catalog, an outdoor shot has an exotic vibe, with a modern low-to-the-ground sofa in a setting framed by lush vegetation. And on the Frontgate website, there's an idyllic scene, lush with blooming hedges and a reflecting pool, headlined: "Paradise Found: Skip the flight: A resort-worthy oasis awaits in your own backyard."
And that has been the point since we started paying more attention to outdoor rooms and the concept of extending our living spaces and styles beyond the walls of our homes -- spilling onto terraces, patios, decks and into gardens. Five years ago, the esteemed longtime casual furniture designer Richard Frinier identified what he had seen as an emerging phenomenon.
"For me, the outdoor room was never really a trend; rather, it is a lifestyle," Frinier told us then. "People are returning to the pleasure of entertaining at home, which has been fueled not only by resort-at-home trends, but by the many food and cooking shows inspiring people. This means they have to have wonderful indoor and outdoor living spaces to complete the experience."
Today, Wayfair, one of largest online destinations for the home, touts staycations "complete with lazy days and party nights," as it showcases its outdoor wares. One Kings Lane, a shopping site that also features vintage and flea market sales, has introduced its own outdoor line with two collections. The website is a popular destination for inspiration in a range of design styles, including Hotel Luxe.
Luxurious outdoor living is more attainable than ever before. And there's no reason to compromise design aesthetics that you've embraced indoors. A new collection called Cooper from Lane Venture has overtones of Scandinavian design. Mid-century styling has been trending -- no surprise, as it has also been popular in interiors, and homeowners are looking for more seamless transitions to the outdoors.
More modern designs have been trending as well, just as they have in interior furnishings over the past few years.
Some of the prominent directions, as seen at the last Casual Furniture Market in Chicago and at Maison et Objet in Paris show more high-end applications, attention to detail, focus on flexibility and lots of options for color -- sometimes as a focal point, as a covering or as an accent like pillows, side tables or even as a starring chair.
Mad for Modular. As sectionals began to bloom outdoors, the whole idea of modules makes perfect sense. Configure to your needs, build really large seating groups when you have the space, or tighten groupings into a smaller footprint. The comfort, style and appeal of performance fabrics have many consumers craving these outdoor pieces for indoors, too.
Got it covered. Many more fully upholstered styles are available, with slipcovered looks as well. Fills mimic the fluffiness of indoor, so this seating is designed for you to linger.
Wicked weaves. From finely woven resins, some with patterns, to chunky weaves, often with Sunbrella or performance fibers, the range is considerable. Some weaves look like sweater knits or crochets; others are woven in wide strips or strung up with thinner fibers in stripey styles. Some are subtle, like herringbones or weaves in multiple hues, using one to three different strands.
Mixed media. More and more, there are fetching combinations, like concrete or stainless steel with teak, wicker and teak, which clearly lend a more modern feel as they also encourage more eclectic styles that don't stick to one suite. Some manufacturers like Jonathan Charles, which launched its first outdoor line at the High Point market in October, introduced a breakfast table with an antique brass and marble top for a contemporary touch.
Artisanal looks. Again, parallel to interiors themes, there's a growing desire for craftsmanship, even in outdoor living. Burks, who has done collections for Roche Bobois and Dedon, is a champion of this cause. "I believe in bringing the hand to industry," he says. He has worked with artisans in Senegal, Kenya and Haiti to create colorful woven products that are suitable for outdoor use.
Chroma is key. Neutrals still are favored, and they're especially impactful when they're nuanced, often with the emerging textures we're now seeing in performance fabrics -- things like chenille, velvet, boucle and other nubby surfaces. But some color themes are prevalent. Ranges of blue seem to be a perennial favorite, especially in coastal areas, where they reflect the ocean, the shore or a lake. Denim and indigo shades in ikat-like patterns are as appealing as they are fashionable. Fun prints, like animal patterns, are lively, while upscaling imagery such as flowers makes it more modern. But smaller patterns also work, especially in vibrant combinations like orange and pink. Strong yellow is making a showing, and although the limey greens that seemed to be everywhere a few years back still can be found, more grassy hues and blue-greens are emerging.
Fresh, sophisticated brights are different from the neon hues that shook up housewares several years back. One example is the Portico collection from Thibaut. While its main hues are strong pinks and oranges, their pairing with white and the types of patterns -- basket weaves, trellises -- make them more serious, while still playful. Also, note that you'll be seeing more and more of "indoor/outdoor fabric" on labels, because more homeowners have come to appreciate the wearbility, fade-proof and no-stain properties.
Patterns. Designers are taking cues from fashion (like Missoni's signature flamestitch), retro prints on a larger scale (think splashy florals or bold cabana stripes), paisleys and zigzags are some of the motifs.
Bold black and white is emerging as a graphic look, simply with contrasting frames and upholstery, but now with some amazing geometric prints. The graphic nature of the combination, especially in a stripe or geometric pattern is a winner. The simplicity of black or white frames with the contrasting solid fabric has a classic appeal.
Fire tables are more of a go-to, for obvious reasons like warmth -- both physical and visual. People love to gather around the fire, and if the piece does double-duty, all the better. Materials, shapes and sizes offer abundant selections, with concrete looks as well as metals available for eclectic mixes.
Accessories such as lighting, particularly lanterns, are becoming a force. The range in metal finishes, from bronze to black to burnished brass, as well as scale and architectural form, has added to the allure.
One thing is clear: Indoor sophistication and style are stepping out. And with that, a whole lot of modern style.
"It's not a flash in the pan thing," says Waynette Goodson, editor of Casual Living, a trade publication, and a new trade magazine that caters to upscale products called Exterior Design. "It's not a flash in the pan thing. It's a style that can be successfully combined with other styles.
"Modern is going to be around for a long time."
-- Agio, 800-416-3511, www.agio-usa.com
-- Dedon, 877-693-3366, www.dedon.de
-- Frontgate, 888-263-9850, www.frontgate.com
-- Holly Hunt Outdoor, 800-320-3145, www.hollyhunt.com
-- Kenneth Coponbue, 888-889-9005, www.kennethcobonpue.com
-- Lane Venture, 800-225-0265, www.laneventure.com
-- One Kings Lane, 855-746-7655, www.onekingslane.com
-- RH, 800-762-1005, www.restorationhardware.com
-- Roche Bobois, 312-955-0275, www.roche-bobois.com
-- Thibaut, 800-223-0704, www.thibautdesign.com
-- Tommy Bahama, Lexington Home Brands, 336-474-5300, www.lexington.com
-- West Elm, 888-922-4119, www.westelm.com
-- Woodard, 800-877-2290, www.woodard-furniture.com