Anthropologie

Summer seating options from Anthropologie include the Melati Hanging Chair, available in blue, orange and neutral colors ($498). (Credit Anthropologie, Baltimore Sun / March 17, 2011)

When Katie Byram and her family moved to a 1920s farmhouse in Baltimore County, they were charmed by its old-fashioned wraparound porch. Only one thing would make it even better: a porch swing.

"I knew our kids would enjoy it," said Byram, who tapped interior designer Katherine Crosby to sketch plans for a "bohemian" seating area. They envisioned teak furniture from Thailand, outdoor rugs, potted plants — and a dark wooden swing.

While the project is still in the early stages, Byram is already dreaming of relaxing in the swing as it sways in the summer breeze.

"There's something about a porch swing," she says. "And now they have so many different looks. I found all types of swings using a new design app on my iPad."

Lazy summer days and a comfy perch go hand in hand. And given today's array of outdoor seating — swings, gliders, hammocks, Adirondack chairs, rockers and even hanging beds — it's a cinch to kick back in style.

"More people are really treating their backyards and balconies as three-season rooms," says Crosby, a designer with Jenkins Baer Associates in Baltimore.

"With the right seating, cushions and plantings, you can make these areas look beautiful," Crosby says. "I strive to help my clients find outdoor pieces that look good but aren't too high-maintenance."

Outdoor seating has evolved across the board, say design pros.

While oak, pine and other woods have been staples, some manufacturers are now using recycled plastics, polyresins and other materials that mimic the look and feel of wood. Wicker, long a favorite in outdoor furniture, is sturdier and thicker, according to furniture makers, and some brands have weather-resistant, powder-coated aluminum frames.

A variety of design motifs exist, too. Expect all types of cushions in exotic, classic and nouveau patterns. And Crosby notes bold color trends such as orange. Case in point: The national retailer Anthropologie, which recently opened a new store in Harbor East, offers a pod-shaped macrame hanging chair in citrus hues. The retailer's Tayrona hammock has a long beaded fringe that exudes a hippie-chic vibe.

For a dramatic seating — and sleeping — option, there are hanging beds by the Floating Bed Co., an online purveyor, whose round beds can be suspended from an outdoor gazebo, tree branch or portable stand. The company's website describes the bed alternately as a "relaxation device" and a "natural gathering place for friends or a special guest." The bed costs about $3,000 to $5,000, depending on size.

Several locally owned retailers in the Baltimore region specialize in al fresco seating. Among them is Watson's Fireplace and Patio in Lutherville, where store manager Jennifer McQuaid notes that couches and sectionals are top sellers this season. Sales have also been brisk for "motion" furniture.

"Porch swings, gliders, swivel lounge chairs and hammocks are popular," says McQuaid. "Many people want pieces that coordinate with their outdoor dining sets for entertaining."

At Plow & Hearth, which has stores nationwide and Maryland locations in Hunt Valley, Rockville and Annapolis, the company sources its furniture from all over the world.

For outdoor products, the company primarily uses eucalyptus certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, as well as metal and wicker. The wicker comes in shades that include antique white, green, tan and chocolate.

The merchandise includes nostalgia pieces, such as the solid Appalachian white oak porch swing, and more modern items like a eucalyptus outdoor rocking lounger with undulating curves. The line also includes rope hammocks and Adirondack furniture, some with traditional appeal and other styles amplified by a jolt of color: orange, red, yellow and aqua.

"We update our designs every year to stay on trend," says Eri Hino, product manager of outdoor furniture. "The market trend is leaning toward sectionals, but those can be really expensive and really bulky. Our customer gravitates more toward easy seating which is movable and affordable."

Of course, not every customer is seeking brand-new outdoor furniture. At Paradiso, a home-furnishings boutique in Hampden, antique and vintage finds are a key part of the inventory, which also includes art, jewelry and contemporary home accessories.

Sharona Gamliel, who co-owns the store with her husband, Ric Martinkus, says they scour estate sales and attend auctions hoping to discover unusual midcentury patio furniture.