Sumptuous outdoor decor evokes memories of travel

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal Uclick

What is the perfect summer day? For many, it’s one lost in reverie. In a daydream, reminiscing over that trip to the south of France, the Greek Isles, Tuscany or the Caribbean. Or soaking in the rays, the breeze, savoring a glorious vista. Outdoors — ideally, just the other side of your back door.

“The luxury of travel is in tune with what it means to have an outdoor lifestyle,” says New York designer Stephen Burks. “I consider outdoors as an extension of our interior lives. It represents how you love to live.”

The focus is seduction, drawing your eye to products that will help you fashion your own al fresco sanctuary. A place for decompressing, entertaining, chillaxing.

In a mini West Elm catalog, an outdoor shot has an exotic vibe, with a modern low-to-the-ground sofa in a setting framed by lush vegetation. And on the Frontgate website, there’s an idyllic scene, lush with blooming hedges and a reflecting pool, headlined: “Paradise Found: Skip the flight: A resort-worthy oasis awaits in your own backyard.”

And that has been the point since we started paying more attention to outdoor rooms and the concept of extending our living spaces and styles beyond the walls of our homes — spilling onto terraces, patios, decks and into gardens. Five years ago, the esteemed longtime casual furniture designer Richard Frinier identified what he had seen as an emerging phenomenon.

“For me, the outdoor room was never really a trend; rather, it is a lifestyle,” Frinier told us then. “People are returning to the pleasure of entertaining at home, which has been fueled not only by resort-at-home trends, but by the many food and cooking shows inspiring people. This means they have to have wonderful indoor and outdoor living spaces to complete the experience.”

Some of the prominent directions, as seen at the last Casual Furniture Market in Chicago and at Maison et Objet in Paris show more high-end applications, attention to detail, focus on flexibility and lots of options for color — sometimes as a focal point, as a covering or as an accent like pillows, side tables or even as a starring chair.

■Mad for Modular. As sectionals began to bloom outdoors, the whole idea of modules makes perfect sense. Configure to your needs, build really large seating groups when you have the space, or tighten groupings into a smaller footprint. The comfort, style and appeal of performance fabrics have many consumers craving these outdoor pieces for indoors, too.

Got it covered. Many more fully upholstered styles are available, with slipcovered looks as well. Fills mimic the fluffiness of indoor, so this seating is designed for you to linger.

Wicked weaves. From finely woven resins, some with patterns, to chunky weaves, often with Sunbrella or performance fibers, the range is considerable. Some weaves look like sweater knits or crochets; others are woven in wide strips or strung up with thinner fibers in stripey styles. Some are subtle, like herringbones or weaves in multiple hues, using one to three different strands.

■Mixed media. More and more, there are fetching combinations, like concrete or stainless steel with teak, wicker and teak, which clearly lend a more modern feel as they also encourage more eclectic styles that don’t stick to one suite. Some manufacturers like Jonathan Charles, which launched its first outdoor line at the High Point market in October, introduced a breakfast table with an antique brass and marble top for a contemporary touch.

■Artisanal looks. Again, parallel to interiors themes, there’s a growing desire for craftsmanship, even in outdoor living. Burks, who has done collections for Roche Bobois and Dedon, is a champion of this cause. “I believe in bringing the hand to industry,” he says. He has worked with artisans in Senegal, Kenya and Haiti to create colorful woven products that are suitable for outdoor use.

■Chroma is key. Neutrals still are favored, and they’re especially impactful when they’re nuanced, often with the emerging textures we’re now seeing in performance fabrics — things like chenille, velvet, boucle and other nubby surfaces. But some color themes are prevalent. Ranges of blue seem to be a perennial favorite, especially in coastal areas, where they reflect the ocean, the shore or a lake. Denim and indigo shades in ikat-like patterns are as appealing as they are fashionable. Fun prints, like animal patterns, are lively, while upscaling imagery such as flowers makes it more modern. But smaller patterns also work, especially in vibrant combinations like orange and pink. Strong yellow is making a showing, and although the limey greens that seemed to be everywhere a few years back still can be found, more grassy hues and blue-greens are emerging.

One thing is clear: Indoor sophistication and style are stepping out. And with that, a whole lot of modern style.

“It’s not a flash-in-the-pan thing,” says Waynette Goodson, editor of Casual Living, a trade publication, and a new trade magazine that caters to upscale products called Exterior Design. “ It’s a style that can be successfully combined with other styles.

“Modern is going to be around for a long time.”