In summertime a designer's thoughts turn to the subject of outdoor furniture. But seldom do I like what I see.
Isn't it odd that furniture intended for festive occasions like al fresco dining is so often uncomfortable and downright ugly?
Of course, part of the answer is that outdoor pieces are usually exposed to rain, strong sunlight and high humidity. And in parts of the country subject to freezing, outdoor furniture can suffer yet another form of meteorological abuse, particularly when storage space is in short supply.
But even in those cases, winter's extremes need not be a problem if the furniture can appropriately be placed inside, in the living room. A variety of styles are now made to be used indoors as well as out.
Some extra effort and expense thus makes a lot of sense for furniture good enough to be used year-round, indoors and out. The available materials include functionally styled teak which, if not oiled, will weather beautifully in the summertime air, turning a soft silver gray. Rust-proof iron pieces with decorative enameling can be as colorful-looking when placed in a solarium as when they grace a terrace.
Reed Brothers of Northern California produces another attractive option. Its hand-carved redwood pieces come in weathered stains of silver or white or in a natural finish.
In choosing outdoor furniture of this quality, it's wise to select colors and styles that will complement indoor pieces. You can apply the same basic criteria whether pieces are to be used indoors, outdoors or both. Appearance, cost and durability all need to be considered. So does function, of course, with preference being given, I should think, to pieces that can serve more than one purpose.
And who says everything has to match? Your living room doesn't look like a furniture showroom, so why should your patio? Don't be afraid to mix colors and patterns -- not just in the fabrics but in the furniture itself. Just because you fell in love with a decorative metal chair doesn't mean you can't make the acquaintance of a teak server or a redwood table.
Group the furniture in clusters the same way as in a room. Remember, too, that outdoor backgrounds can be as important as an indoor surround. Trellising, for instance, makes a wonderful backdrop for a seating group.
The exterior wall of a house can be surfaced with attractive tiles or painted with a trompe l'oeil mural. However the perimeter may be defined, outdoor furniture always looks better -- and users always feel more psychologically comfortable -- when the pieces are situated within a distinct space.