When the weather heats up, the idea of snuggling up inside goes out the door. The focus shifts to creating a cozy haven outdoors -- on a porch, a deck, a patio or terrace -- just about anywhere you can plop a chair and a little something extra to provide the ambience you seek.
Translating that feeling of comfort and style to an outdoor space is becoming easier as manufacturers offer an increasing array of choices each season.
When planning what to buy, think of the space as you would a room in the house. The basic difference between furnishing an indoor room and an outdoor one comes down to practical considerations: How well will the furnishings stand up to weather?
Beyond that, it's just like furnishing an interior room. How much space is available? What suits your needs and desires? Make the spot a haven where you can escape, a place to be alone with your thoughts, to put your feet up and soak in the summer air, or a place where you can enjoy dining or the company of family and friends.
Next, consider the elements you can introduce that will effect a change. A dash of color can add instant spark. Any tired furniture is a candidate for a paint job. An old bench might be transformed with a coat of bold cobalt blue. Just about everything stands out against it -- just-picked tomatoes, a bunch of sunflowers. Indoors, your backdrop is walls or wall covering. Outdoors, with all the colors of nature surrounding you, you can afford to be a little more adventurous with hue.
Draw from your flower beds for color inspiration. Find a tablecloth and napkins in those rich hues. Then accent the table setting with a vase filled with the very flowers that suggested the palette.
Changing the look of outdoor furniture also is an easy way to make it stylish. The same tricks you use indoors travel well outdoors slipcovers or new upholstery can rejuvenate furniture. Update older redwood, teak or cast aluminum furniture with plump cushions for chaises and ottomans in attractive patterns and hues.
Simple, undistinguished folding chairs get a new attitude when cloaked in soft white slipcovers, just as a cloth dresses a table. The covers look pristine when set against a brick wall laced with ivy and punctuated with lanterns set on brick tile floors edged in moss.
A single smashing piece of furniture, of course, can also go a long way toward breathing life into a well-weathered outdoor space. The demand for stylish outdoor pieces has risen dramatically, and manufacturers are scrambling to meet it.
This spring, for example, Ethan Allen is introducing a collection of indoor/outdoor furniture for the first time in the company's 65-year-history. The Home & Garden collection has four distinct looks. The most contemporary is Spa, which mixes warm-toned teak with silver aluminum. The lounge chair and ottoman are especially dramatic, connecting an ellipsis of flowing curves. The seat and back of each piece are composed of contoured teak slats supported by an aluminum framework.
Mixing materials is a very indoor concept that just now is starting to make an impact outdoors. One of the most engaging images in Smith & Hawken's spring catalog is a slatted teak table teamed with galvanized steel chairs. All forms of silver metals -- aluminum, steel, pewter, chrome -- have been extremely popular in home furnishings in the past year, so it's no surprise that the look has gravitated to the outdoors. From utilitarian buckets to furniture, the choices have expanded.
Still, the straight-lined Hamstead Table, which seats six comfortably, takes on a fresh contemporary look with the arched back galvanized chairs. They are dipped in a zinc bath to make them rust resistant, and the surface is textured. Holes in the seat drain rain, rubber feet protect floors and the chairs stack for convenience.
Integrating different textures is another decorating concept that can work well outside. Wicker and rattan, of course, are old-fashioned choices for introducing texture. A rocker finished in yellow to look slightly worn, teamed with an old table in marine blue, is like a welcome mat on a front porch. A metal pitcher filled with hydrangeas adds a loving touch. Rustic pieces -- flea market and garage sale finds, with chipping or bleached-out paint that gives them a craggy look -- also are eye-catching and tactile additions. So are quilts or chenille pillows.
Fabrics, of course, add a softness that enhances ambience as well as color and pattern. What a difference a breezy blue stripe makes on a cushion and pillows cozying a wicker porch swing. Add a gingham pillow in saffron and white for punch. An old green bench and a red lantern add more color and texture.
Use fabrics in creative ways. Curtains, for example, are an unexpected and effective feature outdoors. Umbrellas can add color as they screen an area from the sun, but curtains at the corners of a porch do the same thing a gauzy drape will do for a four-poster bed -- add romance and charm. Waverly recently teamed with Sunbrella to create weather and fade-resistant fabrics that correspond to patterns already in their lines.
Pub Date: 5/31/98