Designers give outdoor furniture indoor style

PATIO PANACHE

March 21, 1993|By Elizabeth Large

If your idea of outdoor furniture is a redwood picnic table, you haven't seen this season's newest looks -- a high-style distressed-finish chair, perhaps, with cushions that look and feel like cotton in a deep hunter green.

Sounds more like living room furniture than a patio chair, doesn'it? And that's the whole point. The line between indoor and outdoor living has blurred in recent years, as interest in the environment and natural materials has become reflected in interior design. You can hardly call it interior design anymore: interior/exterior design would be more accurate. People consider their outdoor "garden room" part of the house -- and decorate it as such.

"People are spending more time at home and therefore out in their yards as part of 'cocooning,' " says Carl Hein of Casual Furniture Gallery. "They're buying the same furniture for indoors and out."

That means wicker, rattan and wrought iron is making its way into the living room, and furniture made to be used outdoors is becoming high style. LLoyd/Flanders' wicker is more weather-proof than wrought iron for outdoor use. But David Lemerond, market services manager of the high-end casual furniture company, says that most of what Lloyd/Flanders sells -- because it's expensive -- goes indoors.

Of course, there's outdoor furniture in all price ranges; even thcheapest can be good-looking and stylish. A stackable molded-resin chair, for instance, costs as little as $16. People who don't need outdoor furniture buy such chairs for extra seating, points out Wina Burns of Stebbins-Anderson. You can buy a PVC (more about it later) table and four chairs from K mart for under $200. Or you can invest a much more substantial amount of money. If you're going to do the latter, you should

know about the summer's hottest trends:

* Traditional looks, updated in color and styling. "The mode othe day is traditional styling," says Richard Frinier of Brown Jordan, a top-of-the-line company. "Even in casual furniture. We call it 'transitional' -- traditional looks translated into current comfort."

* Wrought aluminum. It can be bent, styled and finished likwrought iron so you have the best of both worlds: a traditional look and low maintenance.

* Custom-made and handmade pieces, so that your bench otable is a work of art. Locally, you can get made-to-order wrought iron from Whitin & Oster in Wyndhurst Station, among other places. Owners Jeannie Whitin and Eleanor Oster also sell weathered-wood tables and benches of mahogany and pine made for them exclusively, and twig furniture from the Philippines.

* Wood. Weathered wood blends with its surroundings and all it needs is "benign neglect," says Bobbie Goldstein, president of Country Casual, a company in Germantown, Montgomery County, that specializes in teak and mahogany furniture. Mr. Hein, general manager of Casual Furniture Gallery, also thinks that wood is an important look this season. "A couple of groups we're carrying are made of painted cypress. It's not a redwood kind of look at all. The finish is sophisticated and it's low-maintenance." Stores aren't in complete agreement about this, though. Watson's Garden Center has seen its sales of teak drop off.

* Market umbrellas. The poles are wooden -- oak or pine or teak. The fabric is a bright acrylic in a wonderful print. You buy them for your outdoor table instead of the usual aluminum-poled ones. "It's a different look," says Wina Burns at Stebbins. "A tasteful look."

* The color of the season? Green. "Greens are very important," says Carl Hein, "especially the deep hunter greens." Ms. Burns agrees: "If it's green, it sells." And Jennifer Fischbach, buyer for Watson's, mentions teal specifically.

So now you know what's hot, but what's hot may not be right foyou. When you walk into a casual furniture store, the choices will astound you. Here's a guide to what's available:

Aluminum Designers may talk about the importance of wood and wroughiron this season, but extruded aluminum has cornered the leisure furniture market because it's lightweight and easy to maintain.

Chair frames can be made of extruded aluminum (the hollow tubes that make the patio furniture we all know and love), cast aluminum (solid metal), or wrought (which transforms wrought-iron styles into the more durable, lighter-weight material).

Extruded frames can be made of fitted (bolted) aluminum or all-welded (which is more supportive). Less expensive Telescope furniture, for instance, is fitted, while Brown Jordan, the Rolls-Royce of aluminum furniture, and Winston (with its mid-range lines) are welded. The gauge can vary, giving you more or less weight and durability.

Aluminum's finish lasts well because it's usually a powder-coat system. The paint is attracted onto the frame with a magnetic charge so it covers the frame totally, and then the piece is baked.

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