Inside Out

Back yards are becoming more like indoor rooms, with outsize chairs, snazzy fabrics and loads of style.

Focus On Decor

May 16, 2004|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

This summer, some of the best seats in the house may, in fact, be out in the yard. As back yards morph into veritable outdoor rooms, complete with such indoor amenities as fireplaces, lamps, rugs and other accessories, the demand for stylish and comfortable furnishings has never been greater.

You can expect to sink into chairs with deep seats plumped with comfy down-like cushions. Stretch out on chaises whose coverings fit like skin over the frames. You'll find styles from updated Victorian to sleek contemporary. And there's a huge choice of materials that will stand up to the elements and won't fade or mildew. (We doubt the cicadas will pay much attention.)

Beefy scale, casual and dressed-up elegance, and elements of fantasy characterize this season's crop of outdoor furniture. More than ever, the goal is to match the style inside the home.

"People want their outdoor spaces to mirror the level of elegance of their interiors," says Jackie Hirschhaut, executive vice president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association.

And just as a home's architecture influences the furnishings of its rooms, the structure of the landscape affects the scale of outdoor furnishings -- something Hirsch-haut refers to as "supersizing."

That means wide and deep seats with thick cushions and oversized chaises-and-a-half. Or make that a double.

"In some new homes there are grand pavilions," said Ed Tashjian of Century Furniture. As a result, the landscape suddenly seems to dwarf conventionally sized outdoor furniture, which Tashjian says makes it look "inappropriate and cheap."

And the pavilions may not be simple gazebo-like structures.

"Architects are building outdoor rooms with roofs or ceilings," says designer Richard Frinier. Areas are divided by screens or draperies rather than walls, he says.

Even lacking Taj Mahal settings, a good-sized deck is better served with more generously proportioned furnishings -- and the extra width, depth and plushness will be welcomed by guests as well as family.

Shapes work together

At the side of the pool, a substantial teak chaise longue and matching chairs with a complementary proportioned cocktail table might anchor a terrace with equally large-scale stone pavers, balancing plantings and sculpture. The blocky geometry of Sutherland's Peninsula Blue collection mirrors square and rectangular shapes such as the pool and planters, and a selection of clear blue fabric for cushions reflects the sky and water.

Curvier shapes may soften the "hardscape" -- that is, nonliving elements, especially concrete and stone -- just as lush plantings do. One of Brown Jordan's new oversized chairs, Bamboo Reef, hugs the body with wide, woven arms that wrap around like a shawl. That shapely feature is echoed in the ottoman, framing the cushion.

Recognize the tropical fabric? It's by none other than Tommy Bahama, and this group is part of a licensed furniture collection. The teaming of a dark, more delicate weave with a lighter, chunkier bamboo-like material is a handsome combination, grabbing the eye of a consumer who likes mixing materials.

Some of the newer synthetics, such as Hularo, an extruded material in the Teflon family, allow the creation of shapely, structural pieces. The Barcelona chaise that Frinier designed for Dedon (pronounced "day-don"), available through JANUS et Cie, is a standout.

"It's like architecture that you'd sit on," says Frinier, a 23-year veteran of the casual furniture industry. "It's tailored, and though it's one color, you can see the relief in the surface, which has a metallic bronze finish, like woven metal."

Some say this newest focus on the outdoors is a logical progression of outside-in, inside-out decorating. Century Furniture created a new leisure division to address the evolving definition of home.

Citing a trend toward giving "parties intended to spill into elegantly designed, romantically lit outdoor spaces after dark," Century Leisure is addressing a need for more refined craftsmanship and finishes outdoors. Its first collection was designed by Oscar de la Renta, who lives with upscale leisure furniture throughout his home in the Dominican Republic.

"We've pretty much finished our kitchen and our bathrooms," Frinier says. "We've done our bedrooms and baths. For me, moving outdoors opens my kind of [design] perspective, which is to translate the same level of quality to the outdoors."

At the high end, he says, it's no longer pool or garden furniture, but "really indoors furniture quite suitable and weather-resistant for the outdoors." And expensive: the Bamboo Reef chair by Tommy Bahama costs $2,120, for example.

More colorful fabrics

Color and pattern signify another update in outdoor furnishings. Brighter colors (more of a range, reflecting indoor and clothing fashions) and patterns now are available.

Sunbrella, Perennials and Glen Raven are raising the bar with fabric offerings.

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