Outdoor Retreats

By Mary James

May 2, 2008 7 min read


Exterior furnishing options offer comfort and style

By Mary James

Copley News Service

Whether it's a sunny balcony, a rooftop hideaway, a poolside patio or a rose-garden niche, Americans love their piece of the outdoors.

Now more than ever, these coveted spaces are being outfitted into outdoor rooms high on comfort and style. Backyards once home to a couple Adirondack chairs on a patch of lawn are now family-friendly oases with all the amenities of a high-end resort.

"These days, if you visit showcase houses or model homes, as much attention is going into the the perimeter of the home as to the design of the structure," says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA), an industry group based in High Point, N.C. "The styling of products for these spaces continues to amaze me. They are so appealing and give people more reasons to enjoy their time outdoors."

A new national survey commissioned by AHFA revealed that 91 percent of Americans had some type of outdoor space in their home, ranging from a front porch to a swimming pool. "That number shocked me," Hirschhaut says. "I never believed it was as high as that ... And it's clear people want to utilize these areas to the utmost."

Fueled by more choices and innovations, spending on outdoor furnishings has been "very strong," Hirschhaut says, in contrast to slower growth in other categories affected by the deepening national housing slump and slowing economy.

In recent years, outdoor decor options have exploded, but, as the AHFA survey showed, consumers prize comfort more than style. No wonder lounge chairs placed first when AHFA survey respondents were asked to name their most important piece of outdoor furniture.

But, as Hirschhaut points out, "there's absolutely no reason to choose between style and comfort. With such an abundance of choice, you can have it all.

"We've seen improvements in seating materials and designs that give the ease of functionality out-of-doors that you need and want - all with designer appeal."

When asked to pick a favorite outdoor look, more than a third of the AHFA survey-takers named rustic mountain retreat. Runners up, in order of preference, were coastal casual, garden sanctuary, poolside posh and metro mod.

"It seems logical," Hirschhaut says of the mountain style, with its wood or iron furnishings and forest-inspired color palette. "It parallels indoor design trends that are bringing nature-inspired looks and colors inside.

"To me the mountains signal a cool place, relief from the heat. I have twig furniture on my back porch that I fell in love with as a symbol of being shaded by trees, of being outside."

Fans of this look might like Century Leisure's new Estancia collection by designer Richard Frinier, which updates the classic Spanish Colonial furnishings in antiqued teak; or Meadowcraft's Durango line, which mixes wrought iron and faux leather for a Western take on "sling" seating.

Coastal casual implies a windswept waterfront where, Hirschhaut says, a cool blue palette, washed finishes and wicker would be at home. The St. Lucia white wicker rocker from Telescope Casual, with throw pillows in ocean blue florals and graphic prints, embodies this style.

In contrast, garden sanctuary evokes a sunny spot surrounded by greenery and fragrant flowers, and somewhat secluded from more public spots like pools and patios. "In these places, the furniture can either be secondary to the setting, or it can be stunning, making a connection between the design and the garden," Hirschhaut says.

For a formal garden, Laneventure's Rocker Lounge Chair from the Leeds Castle Collection features a cast aluminum frame patterned after heat registers in the stately British castle. In a cottage garden, Tropitone's Lakeside swivel seating with red-rose colored deep cushions invites lazy afternoon sun-tea parties.

As centers of activity, pools require furnishings that are "easy care and functional," Hirschhaut notes. "You want towels, food and drinks at your fingertips, and you want to be able to hose it all down at the end of the day."

New outdoor bars, like Jensen Jarrah's Asian-influenced Sunset Bar, are ideal for poolside entertaining. Equally poolside posh is Brown Jordan's Tamiami arm chair with the company's new blue-red metallic-finished frame and white strap seat and back, and Outback Chair's sinuous Urban Balance collection of updated hammock-style lounges.

If a city balcony is your bit of country, size probably matters. "The scale needs to be light if you're furnishing a small space," Hirschhaut says. "And overall, with metro mod, the look is hip and contemporary."

A good option is Woodard's Torino collection, with tables and chairs of woven mesh protected from rust with "Metal Guard" finish. Colorful fabric seat cushions keep the look clean yet comfortable.


Landscape designer Michael Glassman, host of Discovery Home's "Garden Police," offers these tips for picking outdoor furnishings:

- Test-drive each piece for comfort before you buy. "Sit in it, lie on it and envision it in your personal space," he says.

- Make sure the furniture fits the scale of your space. The Room Planner at findyourfurniture.com will help you plan and try out different arrangements.

- The style of outdoor furniture should fit the ambience and style of your setting. New options from furniture manufacturers make this easier today to achieve.

- Think quality. "You may pay more for better quality, but in the long run, quality furniture will last for many years, and you will save money by not having to replace it frequently," Glassman says.

- Pick multifunctional furniture to solve design challenges. A storage bench can double as seating. An outdoor kitchen sink can hold ice to chill drinks.

- Plan for a focal point. "An interesting piece of art, an unusual fountain, a vibrant sofa ... or a warm fire pit," Glassman says, "could serve as the key element that transforms your outdoor space into a special place to enjoy for years to come."

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