Design & Remodeling

Outdoor Furnishings

STORY BY Kaitlin Motley

It used to be that a yard was just a yard: something to rake, something to mow, somewhere to play catch with the kids. But homeowners these days are using their yards as the foundation on which to build extensions of their homes in the form of outdoor living spaces.

“We’re entertaining in our homes again,” says Carla Rieke, a designer at Madden-McFarland. And it seems to be a trend that will outlast the recession or any passing fads. Not just a few lawn chairs thrown around a fire pit, the modern outdoor living space is crafted with careful consideration of design and functionality and is furnished with high-quality pieces more akin to those of an interior space.

In fact, many homeowners transition outdoor pieces inside when the weather changes. Manufacturers have taken note of the growing interest in outdoor spaces and responded with beautifully designed pieces that incorporate the comforts of home.

Outdoor Furniture
“Outdoor entertaining, or ‘stay-at-home vacations,’ is currently the big thing in outdoor furniture,” says Donna Smith, sales manager at Seasonal Concepts (10430 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park). “The trend of stone patios, fireplaces, waterfalls and kitchens lends itself to creating a comfortable, relaxing patio furniture vignette.” That environment naturally calls for deep-seating with plush cushions and aesthetics much more refined than the lawn furniture of yesteryear.

Smith says the first step in choosing outdoor furniture is to select a fabric. Sunbrella and Crypton waterproof fabrics are durable and come in a variety of colors and patterns. “Fabrics are getting prettier and prettier,” Rieke says. Typically, designers carry out the color scheme from inside, but as Rieke adds, “Mixing styles is more interesting,” so she likes to play with patterns and shades of similar colors.

The Lee Furniture Exterior Collection, available locally at Twigs Interiors (8012 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park), is a set of sofas, chairs, teak tables and drum stools that can live indoors and out. The line’s prototype was left in a lake for three years to prove its durability, says Twigs owner Lisa Mermis. The line even includes a “faux mo” fabric made to look like mohair but able to withstand use by kids in wet swimsuits and grassy toes.

To keep things updated, inexpensive details like throw pillows can be switched out from season to season. “Cushions and pillows can play an important part,” says Kenneth Sherman of Trapp and Company (4110 Main St.). “They’re decorative enough that you’re not limited, and they’re easily mobile. Whether you’re on a wooden or iron bench, there are so many wonderful fabrics today that you’re not just limited to black-and-white stripes.”

Even outdoor fabrics will fade eventually if left outside for too long, but one way to mitigate the sun’s effect is with cantilever umbrellas, which also come in a vast array of colors and patterns.

An outdoor space that includes a kitchen requires designers to simultaneously think about cooking, serving and gathering. For example, in a project Rieke recently designed, she swapped an 18-inch table for a 22-inch to better accommodate dining.

Outdoor kitchen surfaces can be equipped with kegs, refrigerators and other appliances. Geri Higgins, president of Portfolio Kitchen & Home, says an outdoor gas grill is “the cornerstone piece of equipment for any outdoor kitchen. Today, there are even more fabulous outdoor appliances such as pizza ovens, fryers and tepanyakis for interactive cooking.” Outdoor cabinetry and storage space should also be considered, as well as ample space for food preparation.

Sherman says dining ware, too, has become more refined in style. “Serve ware, flatware and silverware are more upscale than the old days of melmac,” he says. “There are lots of patterns and colors going on.”

For easy cleanup, homeowners often elect tile floors for kitchen spaces. Rieke has helped clients install heated tile in outdoor spaces, and outdoor rugs can also help warm up exterior flooring. Mermis notes that many rugs are made of recycled plastic that, consistent with the overall trend, also features striking designs.

To round out a kitchen space, Higgins says don’t overlook lighting. Especially in food prep areas, both general lighting and task lighting are important. “A beautiful chandelier over your dining table, mood lighting in your gathering spaces, and you truly have a beautiful outdoor living space with lots of style,” she says.

Beyond beautiful patterns and comfortable seating, perhaps the most notable development to come out of the indoor/outdoor trend is the incorporation of refined accessories in outdoor spaces. Homeowners add clocks, table lamps, chandeliers, artwork and even wallpaper to their outdoor spaces.

Chinese garden stools are a particularly popular item because of their easy mobility and quick dramatic effect. Many homeowners choose stools in bright colors, says Mermis, and some use the stools as side tables or extra seating. Sherman says the stools come in ceramic, porcelain, wood and metal. Their versatility makes them a worthy addition to both inside and outside spaces, and they’re easy to yank inside from a rainstorm.

Mermis also has noticed homeowners rigging up intricate lighting fixtures like chandeliers and especially lanterns. “They have sheet moss, which they layer inside [the lanterns] with flameless candles and it becomes spring instantly,” she says. In her designs, Rieke has used wall sconces on exterior walls. Also, many table and floor lamps are approved for outdoor use—with lampshades and interesting silhouettes, they’re a far cry from tiki torches.

Designers even find artwork for their clients’ outdoor spaces. “Artwork is covered in a plastic coating so it can live outdoors,” Mermis says. Durable wallpapers and flat metal sculptures also can cover the walls so that the space is hardly recognizable as being outdoors.

A successful design will be able connect any number of points on the property to create a singular flow from inside to out and beyond. Rieke has designed outdoor spaces to connect interior rooms to pool areas in the backyard. Whatever the function, outdoor living spaces are yet another area to call home.

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