It's almost spring, when thoughts turn to baseball, gardening -- and decorating. As you dust off the grill, you might want to rethink your al fresco spaces and how you furnish them.
The outdoor room is not just the hottest design buzzword, the figment of a decorator's fertile imagination. It's value-added real estate, a bonus space that may afford many of the same creature comforts as are inside. It boosts property value as much as 30 percent, some experts say.
"A population shift is a catalyst for the explosive growth in the outdoor segment" of home furnishings, says Mayer Rus, design editor for House & Garden. "The Sunbelt is among the fastest-growing regions in the country. There's a market that needs to be filled."
But the investment in outdoor spaces stretches beyond regional.
"Even in places that aren't warm throughout the year, there's an intent to push the season so you can entertain outside," Rus says. "People are investing more in the outdoor experience."
That investment goes beyond lush landscapes with water features to structures such as pergolas, pavilions, fireplaces and full kitchens with built-in grills, refrigerators and sinks. Add to the outdoor-remodeling wish list stylish furnishings to flesh out this gracious, idyllic lifestyle.
The seasonal room isn't a novel concept. The Victorians enjoyed screened porches and summer rooms that were shuttered for the winter. Bringing the outdoors in through year-round sun or garden rooms was the next step.
But bringing the indoors out wasn't as seamless until technology and style merged to produce fabrics, materials and finishes that protect from fading, mildew, chipping, scratching and corrosion. Now the products on the market are so fetching, the dilemma is whether to leave them out or bring them in -- permanently.
Creating an ambience
If our home reflects our lifestyle, it makes sense that its interior personality be extended to outdoor living. The quality of furnishings and the architectural style should flow logically.
There are plenty of ways to create ambience. Try a freestanding or built-in fireplace if you have the space. Outdoor fireplaces are great for real and symbolic warmth.
The hearth is a natural magnet for a cozy grouping of sofa and chairs. In the evening, you might want to turn on some lights. Candles are great for mood, but manufacturers such as Shady Lady and Frederick Cooper, among others, are making outdoor table lamps, floor lamps and chandeliers with colorful shades.
Sheer or opaque curtains might be hung to screen unpleasant views or simply create an intimate niche. You might frame a space with a pavilion or define the deck or stone "floor" with an area rug. Add a throw to snuggle in. One company even produces art on weatherproof canvases.
Have a seat
It's all about comfort. Among the enriched range of weatherproof fabrics available, even luxe chenilles, boucles (a pebbly fabric) and breezy sheers are available in a range of fashionable hues. (Sunbrella, Glen Raven, Perennials and Donghia are among sources.) Cushions are plump with downlike fills, and seat depths have been beefed up. They are deeper and often wider, too.
In fact, some collections are obviously heftier, better to suit larger-scale architecture. Double chaises and tented daybeds expand spots for midday slumber. That has paved the way for sectionals to settle onto patios and decks.
One innovative collection from Richard Frinier for Century called Gulf Stream evokes images of railings from early 20th-century luxury liners. Frinier chose heavy marine-grade stainless steel buffed to the brightest sheen for his frames. The clean-lined sectional would be equally stunning in an urban loft. Companion tables have a frost-finished aquatint tempered glass top.
Lloyd Flanders' more traditional sectional in its signature weatherproof wicker features end sections that swing in to form a conversation group, exposing wedge-shaped granite tables at the corners.
As far as palette and patterns go, fabrics sport bold stripes, polka dots, paisleys and fashion-forward color combinations such as baby blue and espresso. But construction and dressmaker details set apart the most stylish cushions, including simple placement of stripes, mitered to create an eye-catching concentric pattern, along with fluffy fringe, multicolored cording and flanges.
Similar punctuation such as tassels, contrast piping and even beads are showing up on table umbrellas, a natural for decoration.
Contrast piping clearly adds punch, like the tomato red edging of Oscar de la Renta's crisp white cotton pique on a Hularo cane (synthetic wicker) chaise for Century Furniture.