Decor: Bringing the indoors outside

Homeowners don’t want their lawn furniture to look like lawn furniture anymore, says Dino Luckino, owner of American Backyard and Georgia Backyard furniture stores and immediate past president of the Casual Furniture Retailers Association.

At least four factors have conspired to produce this trend. The birth of the outdoor room is foremost, but improved durability, price reductions and a proliferation of weather-resistant fabric choices have played a role as well.

“With the advent of the outdoor room, outdoor furniture has changed tremendously,” says Luckino, who owns nine stores in Georgia, Dallas and Jacksonville, Florida. Homeowners are trading the traditional patio table, four chairs and umbrella for “deep seating,” a term used to describe thick-cushioned sofas, loveseats, armchairs and ottomans similar to those you would find in an indoor family room.

Thick cushions now work outside thanks to innovative filling materials and open-weave fabrics that allow them to dry 35 to 40 minutes after a rain shower, says Greg Rosendale, Sunbrella furniture fabrics manager.

Designer Matt Lorenz, who won Bravo TV’s “Top Design” competition this year, says his clients want “lounge-type living” outdoors and are less focused on patio furniture. “It’s not so much about having a barbeque anymore, but creating an affect, a mood with foliage and unique furniture,” he says.

Cast aluminum, wicker lead market
The two fastest-growing types of outdoor furniture are cast aluminum and wicker, Luckino says. His customers have always liked the timeless appeal of cast aluminum, which is rust resistant and never goes out of style, but until five years ago, most couldn’t afford it. “It’s such beautiful furniture,” Luckino says. “The artistry of it is fantastic; and it’s strong.”

Casting aluminum is a labor-intensive process done the same way today as it was 200 years ago. Before the early 1990s, most cast aluminum furniture for the U.S. market was made in El Paso, Texas, and a typical set cost $5,000 to $6,000, Luckino says. About 1992, manufacturing shifted to Mexico, and the price dropped to about $2,000 a set. Now the products are being made in Vietnam, China and Costa Rica, Luckino says, and you can purchase a top-end set for $1,000 to $2,000. He compares it to buying a Mercedes for less than $20,000. “It’s in everybody’s price range,” he says.

Mixing furniture materials of all types is increasingly popular. Sticking to just one is akin to decorating the inside of a house with the same type of fabric on every chair, curtain and pillow, Luckino says. “People don’t want a department store look,” he says. “People don’t want their entire backyard to be one thing.” Using a teak table with a wicker sofa or a terra cotta tabletop with a cast iron base creates an eclectic, designer look for the outdoors, he says.

Wicker has also evolved significantly in recent years. When the phrase “outdoor room” was coined in the ’90s, many people, especially in the South, envisioned their grandparents’ wicker couch on a screened porch, Luckino says. While the wicker pieces of that era were nice to look at, the woven-wood furniture was fragile and dainty, and people were reluctant to sit on it. During the past five years, however, wicker furniture manufacturers transitioned to a resin material that’s strong, durable and fade resistant. Wicker is arguably the strongest furniture you can put outside today, Luckino says, yet it retains the quality and style his customers remember from childhood. And because indoor furniture companies have started making it, “wicker furniture today has become extremely comfortable,” Luckino says.

High-fashion fabrics
Phenomenally strong materials originally used to make boat covers and awnings are now available in a plethora of indoor-looking fabrics that are resistant to fading, staining and mildew. The variety of outdoor fabric colors, patterns and textures has exploded. Sunbrella, for example, added more new colors in the past three years than it did in the previous 16 years. In addition to solids and broad stripes, your clients can choose from jacquard woven fabrics, chenille and even velvet.

Earth tones from natural canvas to antique beiges and browns continue to be the most popular, Rosendale says. Homeowners and designers tend to spice things up with decorative pillows in brighter colors. Solid-colored, textured fabrics find favor with many homeowners because they’re interesting to look at without being too bold.

Luckino says it’s important to take into account colors in the landscape and hardscape when selecting furniture fabrics. “The most important component is the marriage between the three,” he says. TLC

Softscaping opportunities
If you aren’t offering your clients outdoor furniture, doing so could be a good way to expand your business. “I definitely see a tremendous opportunity for landscapers,” says Greg Rosendale with Sunbrella. “Why stop at the patio? Why not continue to make suggestions to your client?”

Dino Luckino of American Backyard and Georgia Backyard furniture stores says integrating decisions about landscapes, hardscapes and softscapes – outdoor furniture – makes sense and is necessary. As the three components of any outdoor space, they have to work together, he says. Outdoor space arrangement now requires as much planning and thought as goes into interior layouts. When this doesn’t happen, the position of fireplaces and other hardscape elements can force furniture to face the back of a house rather than a beautiful landscape, or seating can end up in the most attractive part of a backyard – the area people should be looking at rather than sitting in.

Both Luckino and Rosendale recommend partnering with an outdoor furniture store in your area. Many have designers who will go to your clients’ properties and make suggestions for free. “It’s pretty hard for someone planting trees and bushes to have this kind of expertise,” Luckino says.

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