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.
"You don't see it as much as traditional furniture," says Gamliel. "It has a great look and it wows you. It's for people who want something rare in their yards."
Fred and Susan Beckman of Mount Washington visited the store this summer and purchased a 1950s-era "orange slice" wrought-iron settee and chair with tufted cushions. The set was created by John B. Salterini, the Italian craftsman who migrated to Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1920s and gained fame for his ornate furniture; among his pieces are 5-foot tall "peacock" chairs.
"It looks beautiful in the garden patio area," says Susan Beckman, adding that her husband is a stonemason who has transformed their backyard into an oasis.
The couple liked the settee so much that they also decided to buy a 1950s black-iron hoop chair set with an attached side table and umbrella holder. "They were designed by Maurizio Tempestini of Florence for Salterini, New York," says Gamliel.
While a large yard typically provides a suitable backdrop to showcase outdoor furniture, Crosby says lots of space isn't a requirement.
"One of my clients with an apartment had a small balcony in an urban setting," she says. "We did an iron sofa, a nice chaise longue with cushions, urns she'd collected, marble tabletops, and plants. When we finished, it was lovely."
5 tips for finding the perfect seat
The right seating can enliven your outdoor space and provide an additional multiseason "room." Here are five tips to get you started:
1. Go for low-maintenance. Interior designer Katherine Crosby suggests selecting furniture that looks beautiful but is easy to care for. "Unless it's a covered space," she advises, go with weatherproof or weather-resistant items.
2. Add color and pizazz with cushions. "Cushions freshen up the look without too much investment," says Eri Hino, a product manager with Plow & Hearth. "The trend colors are everything bright — designs with a pop: purples, oranges, yellows and greens."
Jennifer McQuaid of Watson's Fireplace and Patio, who recently attended the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in Chicago, says cushions are getting plumper. "They're more plush and cushy — some were six inches thick."
3. Refurbish older furniture. Add a fresh coat of paint, then use a sealant to help protect it from the elements. Experts note that an all-surface enamel oil base will work well on metal furniture, for instance, and automotive paint works well, too. "It has a really nice gloss," says Crosby.
4. Shop around. Consider vintage patio pieces. Check out thrift stores, antique shops, estate sales or auctions.
5. Hang with the pros. Unless you're an expert, have porch swings, hammocks, hanging beds and the like professionally installed. "You need the right hardware, and it has to be hooked onto something strong," says Crosby. "And the seat height must be comfortable, not too high or low — typically about 18 to 20 inches from the floor."
Watson's Fireplace and Patio, 1616 York Road, Lutherville, 410-321-5855, watsonsfireplaceandpatio.net
Paradiso Hampden, 1015 W. 36th St., Baltimore, 410-243-1317, paradisohampden.com
Anthropologie, with locations in Maryland, including Towson Town Center and a new store in Harbor East. Online at anthropologie.com
Plow & Hearth, with various locations, including Jennifer Square Shopping Center in Annapolis and Hunt Valley Towne Center in Cockeysville. Online at plowhearth.com.