The casual living spaces of the home, indoors and out, hav become the focus for living in the '90s. That's part of a lifestyle shift predicted just a few seasons ago by George Dunn, a vice president at Tropitone, a leading casual furniture manufacturer.
"People have begun to focus on relaxing and entertaining more at home, especially in their back yards," Mr. Dunn says. "It used to be that people sat on their front porches watching the world go by, and that the social place was the front of the home. Now people are rushing out the front door to go to work, to school, out to eat, etc. When they get home, they lock the front door to keep the world out and instead gravitate toward the back of the home for entertaining and relaxing."
The whole movement has prompted a trend toward more casual architecture and remodeling. It began with bringing the outdoors in, and now a room with lots of windows, a view and access to a deck, patio, terrace or garden are on most homeowners' wish lists.
This trend has also led to the indoors moving out, with the influence of interior fashions on outdoor furniture design. It has all come full circle.
Much of the furniture designed today for outdoor use has such style that it can be brought indoors with no embarrassment. Indeed, a certain formality and traditional sensibility have crept into these new outdoor pieces. Today, a stylish chair or table goes anywhere. In addition to porches, kitchens and family rooms, even living rooms can be accented with casual furniture.
The new directions in casual furniture are obvious as the latest models surface at designer showrooms, department stores and special retailers all over the country:
*There's never been a wider selection of furniture styles. Even within the categories of aluminum, wicker, redwood, teak, resin and iron, the choices have blossomed. If you crave Biedermeier, it's yours from Veneman, interpreted in cast aluminum. For tastes that are more '30s, there's Tropitone's "Hollywood," described as "art deco gone high tech," a collection made of extruded aluminum, with wide-ribbed, flat, ribbonlike arms that are wide enough for a gin fizz.
If English country is what you want, you'll go mad for the classic Lutyens bench, crafted in traditional teak by BarlowTyrie, a British-based company that has been producing architect Sir Edwin Lutyens' Edwardian designs since the '20s. And neoclassic, Southwest, country, Victorian and contemporary styles are all represented.
*Detail, the kind typical of ornate turn-of-the-century ironwork, is back, revealing the fine craftsmanship that marks a Louis XV-style console. Brass finials on Meadowcraft's "Summertime" bench of garden spice (dark green) wrought iron or Woodard's French rocker now embellish outdoor furniture in a way once reserved for more formal pieces. More sophisticated finishes -- the kinds of textures, such as mottling and washing that have been popular in iron and wood -- are being employed on these pieces as well. Upholstery is highlighted with dressmaker detailing such as contrast cording and ties.
*Choice of color and fabric closely echoes what is happening inside the house. Furniture frames are not limited to white, black, vanilla and pastels. Concern over the environment is reflected in lots of green (forest and sage) and earthy shades. And a variety of colored stains are giving wood a fresh look.
Resin, a medium that heretofore had been limited to black and white, is now available in new shades including dark green and charcoal gray.
Some materials allow multiple use of colors. Wicker, for example, can be woven so that patterns or borders stand out in contrast.
*Outdoor fabrics have been improved, both in wearability and design. Garden prints are available in many styles -- from English florals and paisleys to tropicals to what some are calling salsa-Southwest. More formal patterns, such as Jacquards and damasks, are not neglected, and fine suede and leather look-alikes are manufactured to withstand the elements. Or you can consider a change of upholstery to spruce up your outdoor furniture. Take a hint from Lloyd/Flanders' interpretation of the classic porch spring that has added a twist to tradition with the color and print of the cushion.
*New furniture designs are bringing exciting results. Even gliders (chairs or settees that move back and forth like swings) and motion chairs (a trade term for a chair that rocks or tilts) have benefited from design improvements. Like the recliner, the motion chair is being streamlined, and the telltale mechanisms are visually minimized. Samsonite's Regatta collection is a good example.
Another example is the patio set from Brown Jordan's Infinity Collection, which includes flex, or motion chairs that the set's designer, Fred Doughty, says "have no strings or gizmos that call attention to it." This set demonstrates the sophistication that is possible with extruded aluminum.