Airy elegance: Outdoor décor comes into its own

Universal UclickMay 24, 2013 

  • Outdoor redo

    The choices in outdoor furniture have never been greater or more stylish. There are so many ways to spruce up what you have, as well as to accessorize a new outdoor room.


    A rug can anchor a seating group, and one with a kicky pattern, such as a striking black and white chevron, can bring solids to life. Classic geometrics, such as motifs characteristic of wool kilims, go a long way to add character to the outdoor space. Some outdoor rugs are hand-tufted and soft, dense and plush enough to surprise that they are synthetic. They all can be hosed down for easy maintenance.


    New covers can revive tired cushions. Sunbrella fabrics are widely available by the yard on websites including Frontgate, Ballard Designs and Grandinroad. Calico Corners features a considerable selection of outdoor fabrics, and high-end companies such as Janus et Cie have their own fashion-forward textiles in unexpected palettes, including hot pink, orchid, orange and olive, some in arresting stripes, from awning to skinny – and even in teamings of the two. Pillows

    Among the easiest difference-makers are pillows. Popping prints with strong graphics are making the most noise. Both solid-color and patterned pillows in square or elongated lumber forms also may sport dressmaker details such as contrast piping, buttons and fringe.


    Hanging from a pergola or framing it, as the backdrop to a seating area, curtains lend a softness. If you’re handy, you can stitch them up yourself (with tabbed or a shirred top), or purchase them ready-made.


    Bring in color and utility with an ottoman, pouf or small table that doubles as a place to put a drink or snack or to put up your feet. The choices range from porcelain garden stools in orange, lime and turquoise to embellished ones such as one at Pottery Barn that adds a nautical note with oversized “netting” detail. Also at Pottery Barn are cast aluminum drum tables with the look of wrought iron or bronze and relief patterns detailed with frogs. Glass mosaic-topped tables at West Elm lend another handcrafted look – one that also features color and pattern. Mix several different styles and materials for the most impact.


    Planters come in a variety of shapes that add interest to a grouping, especially when used in tandem or in multiples. Some taller pieces lend an architectural structure. Modern, tapered metal planters can frame the entry to a garden or to a door on a deck. Curvier shapes also can be embellished, like one plaster lookalike from Janus et Cie, which adds texture.


    Lighting offers another opportunity to add a warm touch. Candles do this romantically, and there are any number of lanterns and decorative containers, including porcelain, some with pierced surfaces like that of metal, which allow the light to dance through. Some sculptural floor lamps feature LED lights that can be set to change colors, offering still another engaging element to the landscape.

A well-designed garden, like an interior, reflects the balancing of color, texture, scale and use of materials. And whether a garden, terrace, deck or the house itself is the backdrop for an outdoor room, keeping it simple is key to furnishing.

Which is why when the media are mixed, the message, more and more, is modern. Not modern for the sake of being edgy, or even minimal. It has more to do with clean lines – straight, curved, sometimes tailored.

Wovens, some with the desired look of something hand crafted, show an exciting range, stretching in new directions beyond wicker and rattan clones. There’s also a bit of retro styling, in some instances actually revisiting a previously introduced design and tweaking it for today. Even slipcovered looks feature updated upholstered silhouettes with squarish or curvy shapes.

Increasingly, consumers are mixing materials and even styles. In other words, the idea of totally matched sets can be as boring outdoors as it is indoors. Not coincidentally, some of what’s driving the expression of more modern designs is advancing technology – both in terms of how indoor items have been adapted for outdoor use as well as how the building blocks themselves have evolved with new sophistication.

“Virtually anything that was previously used exclusively indoors has been adapted for the outside,” says designer Richard Frinier. “Kitchens, TVs, rugs, lighting, sculpture, artwork.”

Frinier is particularly excited about textiles because technology now allows such innovations as stretch and tight mesh weaves, as well as hybrids like a linen and burlap that he recently designed for Glen Raven. His Origins collection has recycled yarns with a rich, mottled color palette. Fabrics, of course, can introduce color and texture, in solids or bold or subtle patterns. In addition, dressmaker details such as piping (especially contrast), fringe and buttons (tufted looks) add more of the touches we’re accustomed to seeing indoors.

But form is especially compelling with some of the newest designs.

Gloster’s modular collection has a familiarity, yet is oh so fresh with its overscale weave. Add to that a rich curved shape with deep seating, all on a powder-coated frame, which makes it cocoonlike. Not surprisingly, the concept was imagined by German textile designer Mathias Hoffmann, as its wide straps channel fabric more than synthetic wicker.

Also cradling is the chair from Gloster’s new Dansk collection. Designers Povl Eskildsen and Philip Behrens nod to 1950s Danish style for inspiration in frames that are solid teak with tapering legs and upholstered in faux leather.

Outdoor furniture designers also are taking note of interiors trends. In some instances, as with the Marin dining and lounge collection from Brown Jordan, its credenza is handsome and stylish enough to be welcome inside. Designed by Michael Berman, who calls his signature style “American Trans-Modern,” in natural plantation teak wood, the chairs feature striking details, such as cording through stainless steel eyelets on the sides of the chairs.

A move to warmer metals, particularly a burnished brass, is reflected in a collection that actually is a new iteration of the iconic Kantan, which was designed in 1956 by Tadao Inouye for Brown Jordan. Richard Frinier reimagined the mid-century pieces in brass frames with the company’s proprietary Suncloth straps.

One style that embodies the cozy factor is the Nomad seating from Gloster. The armless chairs are wide and serpentine, and they draw style points with horizontal striped fabric cladding.

Skinny horizontal stripes are garnering attention in mesh as well. Mamagreen, a Belgian manufacturer, introduced a striped collection whose upholstery is quick drying mesh, made from a strong polyester or hemp nonstretch yarn coated with vinyl, all mold and UV-resistant. The design actually was inspired by Navajo textiles.

Mesh as upholstery also is part of the innovative design for the Luna group from Lloyd Flanders. Its taut form is relieved with gentle curves, but even more intriguing is the material’s sheerness, with a peekaboo to the frame. Shown in a shade of taupe, the hue signals a strong color shift to grays that’s also happening in kitchens and surfaces, for example.

The other potentially seismic shift is to white. In Paris, at the twice-yearly international furniture show, Maison et Objet, white was more than a blip in exterior furnishings. In the U.S., it is starting to show up both in frames and in upholstery.

The teaming of marine blue and white is especially crisp. An updated classic strap design called Flex from Brown Jordan features Suncloth straps hand-woven over a sleek white powder-coated aluminum frame – a design from Richard Frinier.

At Tropitone, white faux leather is a sexy entree into the contemporary category. Even more drop-dead, is a chair that combines white cushions in a supple frame of rich red faux leather on polished stainless-steel legs.

Splashes of color can lift neutral groupings. In showing off two of its slipcover looks, Lane Venture teamed an armless chair with a wide seat in raspberry and a beige sofa, highlighted with a touch of yellow and raspberry accent pillows. It’s a simple design concept borrowed from interiors that resonates equally in the al fresco landscape.

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