Outdoor living: What’s new in patio furnishings?

Universal UclickApril 18, 2014 

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    We’d love to see and hear about your outdoor space. Tell what makes your porch, patio or sunroom a favorite spot, and include a JPEG photo, along with your name, address and daytime phone number. We’ll feature some of your spaces in an upcoming Home & Garden.

    The deadline is April 30. Send your entry by email to cmiller@newsobserver.com, and put OUTDOOR SPACES in the subject line. Or if you prefer postal mail: Home & Garden, The News & Observer, 215 S. McDowell St., Raleigh, N.C. 27601. (Submitting your space gives us permission to publish it.)

  • Personalize with color and texture

    As more upscale manufacturers look outdoors to expand their product lines, the bar has been raised with regard to quality, style and hand, especially because of technology that enables replication of most types of materials that wouldn’t normally be associated with exposure to the elements – everything from lookalike leathers to velvets to convincing linens.

    Boussac is new to the outdoor arena, and its introduction in January during Paris Deco Off, an annual showing of textiles, did not disappoint. Some patterns are inspired by 1950s-style geometrics that transcend the era. Palettes include vivid, happy hues.

    At Beacon Hill, another direction is a tapestry-like material in rich hues woven in the Chinese province of Guizhou, known for its intricate batiks, detailed embroideries, complex appliques and saturated tie-dyes.

    Such diversity and wealth of design goes a long way to boost the personalization of outdoor spaces.

    Elaine Markoutsas/Universal Uclick

What’s new in outdoor furnishings?

Better question: What isn’t?

The U.S. market for outdoor furniture, one of the most rapidly growing segments of home design, is projected to exceed $5 billion by 2017, according to a new report by Global Industry Analysts Inc.

The concept of outdoor living, according to the report, is being expressed in lavish outdoor living spaces with comfortable seating and elaborate lighting. More than ever, it’s driven by style, color, pattern and a wide range of materials, as well as technology that makes things sturdy, water-resistant, fade-proof and mold-proof. Add music, flat screens and kitchens, as well as ambience – water and fire features.

Whether you’re looking to add to existing pieces or start fresh, focus on making a big impression. As in big scale, big statement or the next big thing.

Shop around and you’ll find that a lot of seating is upsized – not only in the frame itself, but even in the proportion of some of the components, such as wood and outdoor wicker weaves. One new wood chair at Restoration Hardware features unusually broad rustic slats, much like wide plank flooring. This won’t work on a small balcony, but it does lend itself well to a generous terrace or roof deck, where more delicate pieces might read like postage stamps.

Modern style seems to be making the most noise because of its simplicity and clean lines. That parallels the trend inside – both in furnishings and in the kitchen.

“Contemporary styling is at the forefront of high-end design today,” said Phil Haney, president and CEO of Thomasville, N.C.-based Lexington Home Brands. “It is redefining the look of luxury living, with bold lines and an exuberant sense of style. At the same time, affluent consumers are looking for outdoor living spaces that mirror the styling and sophistication of their interior decor.”

Synthetic weaves are making a strong case for high visibility. They’re appreciated because of the texture they add, especially if you mix in other materials, like metals and woods. Chunkier sweater-like weaves or mega-scaled ribbon or crocheted looks still look fresh, as do sheer, opaque weaves that stretch over frames like upholstery and more delicate, spider-web weaves.

Slipcover looks also are gaining traction. Most are indistinguishable from seating that might be in the family room. Cushions that feel like they’re plumped with down express the idea of comfort outdoors as well as in. The spring Arhaus catalog has several slipcover offerings, including menswear gray with white stripes.

Wide-ranging choices in performance fabrics that are stain- and sun-resistant from well-known high-end companies such as Donghia, Robert Allen and Boussac, are boosting widespread use indoors as well, not only for upholstery, but also for drapery. Ethnic-inspired geometrics, lively palettes and tapestry looks also are informing outdoor fabric designs.

Although most of the fully upholstered pieces still are neutral, we’re starting to see some overblown patterns, especially out of Europe. Missoni, an Italian company, recently launched a large-scale floral. These big blooms are particularly edgy on poufs, this year’s go-to accessory. These stylish ottomans can serve as cocktail tables or extra seating and can be low-key or high-octane, depending on color.

“Furniture enhances the room-like quality of an outdoor space, just as it transforms empty rooms indoors,” said New York designer Bunny Williams. “It makes a space more welcoming. I find complete suites of garden furniture to be heavy looking and overdone. On the other hand, too many disparate pieces mixed together look cluttered and distract from the garden.”

Williams’ collection for Century Furniture does deliver a mix of materials, such as handwoven resin, solid raw teak and powder-coated aluminum. Some tabletops have a zinc finish.

“The pieces are beautiful on their own,” said Comer Wear, marketing director for Century, “yet work together to create settings that feel lived in the way we would think of outdoor living.”

Tarlow’s Arabesque collection for Sutherland nods to 18th-century Georgian style. It’s Sutherland’s first mahogany group, and it’s finished in a proprietary antiqued ivory crackle.

White also is re-emerging as a strong option in contemporary design (sometimes in a glossy finish and particularly effective when teamed with black). Although gray still reigns as the new loved neutral, in frames from weathered wood to glossy powder-coated aluminum and even in upholstery, color still is the obvious catalyst for energizing a space.

Gray teams well with most hues. But a tropical punch – vivid hues across the spectrum – can really shake things up. A single rogue chair frame or even multiples (seating around a dining table, for example), ottomans, pillows, throws, planters and small-scale tables in strong colors can all add drama.

Just as it does indoors, color unifies the design as it draws the eye into a setting and visually connects the dots. You might start with a pot of fuchsia petunias or dahlias and pick up the color in pillows and a sassy striped rug.

Creating ambience is key, since entertaining is so much a part of outdoor living. This is why fire pits have been blazing hot – not only for the warmth they deliver, but for the same reasons people like to sit around the fireplace inside: It’s cozy.

And even if you don’t have a full outdoor kitchen, there are new hybrid grills, pizza ovens and smokers to heat up summer fare.

Grills and water features rate highly on the 2014 residential landscape architecture trends survey.

“Homeowners are interested in livable, open spaces that are both stylish and earth friendly,” said Nancy Somerville, executive vice president for the American Society of Landscape Architects, which conducted the survey. “Homeowners know that designed landscapes add value to their lives – as well as their property values.”

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