Lounging Around

March 19, 1995|By Elizabeth Large

Forget the poolside chaises with cheap aluminum frames.

Forget the bright plastic cushions that stick to you when it gets hot.

Forget the woven straps that rot away by the end of summer.

Today's chaises are lounge lizards extraordinaire -- handsome, high-style creations that seduce you into spending more time by the pool.

The lines have blurred between outdoor and indoor furniture. In the industry the collections are known inclusively as "casual furniture," and the chaises look equally good on your deck or in your bedroom.

Technology has made this multipurpose use possible. Treated wicker can stay outdoors all summer long. PVC plastic and acrylic weaves mimic the appearance and feel of fabrics meant for indoors. Cast aluminum has the good looks of wrought iron, but it's lighter and doesn't rust.

With so many weather-resistant materials to choose from, designers can create chaises that are high style as well as low maintenance.

"The market is demanding more sophisticated looks," says Tommy Moore of Winston Furniture. The newest frame finishes are textured, although glossy white never goes out of style. (The popularity of other glossy colors is waning.) Finishes like verdigris and pewter are now available on durable outdoor frames.

As fabrics and finishes become more compatible with those of indoor furniture, decorators are actually coordinating their clients' decks and yards with their interiors.

The casual-furniture industry was hard hit by the recession, says Nancy High, spokeswoman for the American Furniture Manufacturers Association. "But now it's coming back strong. People are using interior designers to fashion exterior spaces."

Once manufacturers developed fabric-covered cushions that could withstand the elements, outdoor furniture took on the look of upholstered pieces. The newest cushions are filled with an open-cell foam. Water can filter through, and inhibitors resist mildew and mold. These cushions can be left out all season, although they will have to be cleaned periodically.

In spite of its durability, the fabric covering those cushions has the "hand," or soft feel, of material designed for indoor use. You won't see just cabana stripes and tropical florals but flowery French country prints, tone on tone geometrics, prints on a textural background, patterns on patterns -- even a tapestry look.

"A lot is happening with [these weather-resistant] fabrics," says Margo Smith of the Casual Furnishings Council. "There's a growing interest in the traditional and classic, even though for a while the action was toward contemporary." When most chaise frames were made of plastic pipe or aluminum tubing, styles almost by necessity were modern.

The eco-look, with its natural materials and nature-inspired designs, continues to be just as big outdoors as in -- maybe more so. Teak and African woods in the teak family -- like shorea -- are becoming more and more popular. (Manufacturers are careful not to use endangered woods.)

"It's a hot category," says Richard Frinier of Brown Jordan, a leading high-end casual-furniture company. "Teak has been growing for us every year for the last five."

All-weather wicker is being used everywhere. With a wicker chaise you can get Victorian charm and high style in your garden. It blends well with a natural setting. Lloyd/Flanders was the first company to produce weatherproof wicker, but now several manufacturers offer it.

Even if the chaise is aluminum or plastic, it can look "natural." The most popular frame color right now (other than white) is a nature-inspired green. Hunter green, bottle green, leprechaun green -- whatever the company decides to call the color, it's a deep forest green, not lime or mint. The newest finishes also include earthy neutrals with names like limestone, putty and sand.

(Trend watchers take note, though: Several manufacturers say that navy is coming on strong.)

Here are some other highlights of this season's chaises:

* Triconfort, a high-end French manufacturer, offers the Riviera chaise, with a multi-position handle on the side so you don't have to get up to adjust your position.

* Going Triconfort one better, the Samsonite line of the Lineal Group offers a self-adjusting chaise. Made of PVC-covered steel, the frame goes where your body wants it to.

* Slings (as opposed to strapping or cushions) are coming back in a big way. They're made from the new all-weather fabric that feels like sofa material -- if a bit stiffer -- and is so durable. (Regular fabrics would droop.) Fifty percent of Tropitone's lines are slings.

* A hot, new alternative to chaises is the adjustable lounge chair and ottoman -- good for small decks and balconies where space is at a premium.

* Brown Jordan's "Roma" features a chaise with vinyl strapping that's the same color, texture and finish as the frame. It's comfortable but has the look of metal.

* And finally, Lloyd/Flanders has developed an acrylic fringe. It looks like ordinary fringe, but it's so durable it can be cleaned with straight bleach. The fringe can pull together the look of the chaise by coordinating with the fabric print or the frame color.

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