Garden furniture is taking its cues from living rooms these days. Collapsible tailgate-party chairs and stackable plastic no longer seem graceful enough for back yards and porches, where substantial, good-looking furniture encourages you to take some time off from your busy world.
"I have seen outdoor spaces that look better than indoors," says Lisa Colburn of Rocky Mountain Patio Furniture in Atlanta. Her clients are especially interested in what the professionals call "deep seated" furniture, such as outdoor sofas and lounge chairs. "It's more about chilling than about dining," she says.
Colburn helps customers choose appropriate styles in the store showroom, but she makes house calls, too, stopping by to study a garden's spaces and consider the possible combinations of chairs, sofas, tables, and dining furniture with her clients. "I always ask a lot of questions," she says. "I interview them. What are they trying to accomplish? If you get the right furniture and fabrics, you can entirely change the look of your garden. You can evolve it into anything you want it to be."
Of course, you'll need to measure your porch or patio before you start to shop, but you'll also want to think about how outdoor furniture will look with the architecture of your home. You'll need to take colors, finishes, and fabrics into consideration: how will it all look in your garden landscape?
"Most people go with neutral fabrics on a bigger piece of furniture," Colburn says, and that's smart. "If they want color, I encourage them to think long term. In five years, will you be sick of the bright green sofa?" To add color and style, she suggests snappy pillows or an outdoor rug in a flashy color or a bold graphic print.
Weather is not a factor. Today's cushions and pillows hold their colors in the sun, and resist rain. "Everybody's curious, aren't they going to get filthy and destroyed" in the weather, says Brett Williams, creative director of Williams Ski and Patio in Highland Park, Illinois. The answer is "No": high-quality materials are especially resilient, and even budget pillows are rain resistant these days. You can expect a good year of wear from modestly priced cushions, and many more than that when you invest in the very best back-yard furniture.
Outdoor-furnishing shops usually carry half a dozen or more brands and cater to customers ready to make a fairly considerable purchase, spending perhaps $10,000 or more on outdoor sofas, ottomans, coffee tables and side tables designed to arrange in easy conversational groupings. Prices start at about $1,000 for a table and four chairs at Williams Ski and Patio, Williams says, and go up from there. Big-box stores and import markets are in on the trend, and also sell moderately priced sets.
The best furniture often comes with sticker shock, but these pieces are made to last, says Bew White, president of Summer Classics, a high-end outdoor furniture company that designs and manufactures outdoor furniture in more than 32 different styles and materials. Polyethylene wicker represents almost half of the company's sales, White says. It holds up to sun and rain, even in the brutal outdoor climates of Florida and Arizona. The company's wicker-look "Rustic" furniture line is a bestseller, followed closely by "Croquet," made of durable aluminum that looks like teak but weighs considerably less. Lounge chairs that can pull up to a dining table are popular, too, White says, both for their versatility and their comfort.
All-weather wicker is one of the most popular choices in the Chicago area, Williams says, but high-quality teak remains a classic. If you're on a budget, buy your garden furniture piece by piece, he suggests: you can be sure that high-end furniture will be around for years, so you can add pieces as your budget allows. If you're shopping at a big-box store, on the other hand, you can't depend on this year's designs being available in the future.
The trend in sectional seating is actually very practical, Williams says. These versatile pieces can be re-arranged for large or small groups. He also likes to recommend ottomans, which serve as additional seating in a pinch, and suggests buying side tables and end tables, "because those kinds of accessories help finish the space." A comfortably furnished porch or garden draws you outdoors to relax, even when you're too busy to stop and smell the roses. Just being outside is the main thing.
-- Summer Classics has stores across the South and Southeast, and the company's furniture is available through patio and outdoor furniture shops in the U.S. and Canada and through and mail-order specialists, summerclassics.com
-- Gloster outdoor furniture is available at many porch- and patio-furniture specialists, gloster.us
-- Kingsley-Bate garden furniture is also available at outdoor furniture shops, kingsleybate.com
-- Williams Ski and Patio, Highland Park, Illinois, williamsskiandpatio.com
-- Rocky Mountain Patio Furniture, Sandy Springs, Georgia, rockymountainpatiofurniture.com
(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at firstname.lastname@example.org.)