After all, it's only natural

April 09, 1995|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

The nature theme that has been blossoming throughout the home furnishing industry in recent years reflects our desire to be in harmony with the environment. Outdoor-related decorating accessories are now a $22 million-a-year business.

It's not just that people are putting out sundials, bird feeders, birdbaths and statuary with a nature motif. They're also putting out decorative doormats, pillows, throws, candle holders, sconces for exterior walls, arty sculptural pieces to stick in the ground around the patio, planters, and colorful accent pieces such as a single chair or table for impact.

Not only do the new accessories for the outdoor "room" share a nature theme, but they're being crafted in bold colors and unusual styling. That means lamps shaped like tulips, chairs like flowers, and fabric patterns dominated by vibrant florals, from exotic tropical lilies to the ever-popular rose, in a wider range than before or in new applications.

A striking spin on the familiar director's chair featured in the Touchstone catalog shows a giant white magnolia on white, machine-washable, polyester canvas. The chair, 23 inches wide by 36 inches high by 16 inches deep, is $40. Magnolia seat-backs and covers for this style chair are sold separately for $20.

A patch of giant red tulips scattered across a vivid doormat is a wonderful harbinger of spring. The coco fiber mat, hand-woven of weather-resistant acrylic, is available in two sizes, 18 by 30 inches for $19.95 and 22 by 36 inches for $29.95, from David Kay.

To complement the floral theme, you might choose a throw blanketed with birdhouses and birds. The Jacquard-woven, 100 percent cotton, three-layer throw will add a -- of color and warmth to a favorite chair. The 48-by-58-inch throw is machine-washable and sells for $59 from Sugar Hill.

Besides cozying up our outdoor spaces and making them feel more homelike, we're also taking a few liberties with the nature theme. In some instances, that translates as more flamboyant color and more playful design.

Consider as an accent table, for example, a table and chair shaped and colored like a sunflower. Forged of iron and hand-painted for use in a sheltered area, the pieces have exuberant golden yellow petals with orange centers; legs and table pedestals are green like stems. The table measures 20 1/2 inches in diameter and stands 21 1/2 inches tall; it sells for $99.95. The chair is $139.95 from David Kay.

Another playful accent piece is a contemporary table inspired by gardening chores, created by sculptor Ernest Shaw in hand-cut steel. The silhouette of a woman in a dress decorated with a pierced flower forms the base. The woman holds a watering can and carries a tray -- the table top -- with a snail on it. The piece stands 31 inches tall and is $495 from Plummer-McCutcheon.

Or you might add a whimsical touch to a chair you already own. Seat covers from Touchstone will draw smiles. The hand-hooked cotton covers, which attach securely to most chairs with 20-inch long ties, are available in a sunflower or watermelon motif. The sunflower seat covers are sold in sets of four for $76; a set of four in the watermelon design is $62.

Sunflower and watermelon motifs abound, and you'll find them embellishing fabrics, doormats, watering cans, baskets, ceramic or metal candle holders, and tableware. A bright example is a set of hand-painted wood bowls that look like the inside of a watermelon -- and napkin rings, coasters and the tops of glass swizzle sticks that look like watermelon slices, from Le Coleccion, a catalog specializing in products from Mexico. A set of two nesting bowls (8 inches and 10 1/2 inches long) is $29.95, and a large 12-inch bowl is $34.95. A set of six swizzle sticks, napkin rings and coasters is $24.95.

The sun, sky and flowers of the European countryside, specifically the south of France, are the inspiration for some fabrics used for place mats, tablecloths and napkins. A set of four Provencal-patterned, lined and backed place mats, 20 by 14 inches, available from Williams-Sonoma, is $14. A set of four coordinating 20-inch napkins is $10.

Among the most festive serving pieces are those in the Le Coleccion catalog. The zesty patterned Mexican pottery called Talavera is available in square-, round- and oval-shaped serving platters and octagonal bowls in bold yellow-golds, blues, greens and oranges in strong geometric and floral designs. Prices range from $75 for a 13 1/2 -inch-round platter to $149.95 for a 13-by-18-inch oval platter.

An attractive dinnerware set combines colorful berries and green leaves on the rims of oversized plates. The microwave- and dishwasher-safe set of four includes 10 1/2 -inch dinner plates, 7 1/2 -inch salad/dessert plates, 8 1/2 -inch soup/cereal bowls, and cups and saucers. The 20-piece set is $89.90 from Kitchen & Home. A five-piece completer set, with oversized platter and bowl, creamer and covered sugar bowl, is $69.95.

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