Back yards traditionally are the domain of gardens, play sets and impromptu barbecues. Now make room for . . . a second living room?
Many homeowners are maximizing their backyards by creating seating that looks less like lawn chairs and more like living-room furniture.
The trend is most powerful in California.
"Our weather leads us to having a second living area outdoors," says Jan Booth, the manager of Patioworld in Fresno, Calif. "The most that people are wanting now are sitting areas and dining areas outdoors."
To accommodate growing demand, patio furniture also has changed. The plastic-strapped chairs and chaises have given way to furniture pieces you might mistake for belonging inside of a house. In 2007, you'll see even more patio furniture readily available from specialty patio stores to your local home-improvement store.
The shift to outdoor spaces began about five years ago, say several manufacturers and stores that sell patio furniture, but it has especially taken off in the last couple of years.
"Even three years ago, in most mass-retail stores, what customers were used to seeing were dining sets, with a glass tabletop in a five-piece or seven-piece dining set," says Aaron Bonham, the national outdoor living merchant for both Hampton Bay and The Home Depot. "It was a place where people had dinner and ran back inside.
"Now, when you talk to the customers, they want to be spending more time outside. They want it to be a place where they can entertain and just hang out with the family."
If people are going to be sitting around and relaxing, they want conversational or deep seating, he says. Chairs, love seats and sectionals that you often see in a living room can now be found outdoors.
Often made of aluminum or cast aluminum frames, these outside furniture pieces usually are made of resin and have cushions designed for the sun and weather. They also tend to be bigger in size than your basic patio furniture, and many more can swivel, rock or glide.
"Outdoor furniture now has the look of indoor furniture, but with weatherproof materials," writes Jennifer Wilson, a spokesperson for Lowe's, based in Mooresville, N.C., in an e-mail. "An outdoor living space can be finished with a completed set of furniture such as couches, chairs, end tables and coffee tables, dining sets and even outdoor rugs."
While clear, tempered glass tabletops still are available, they've given way to other options.
"This year, materials that are popular for inside the home, such as granite, marble and faux stone, have been integrated into outdoor tabletops," Wilson writes.
In recent years, outdoor fabric selections have greatly increased. You can find fabrics that look and feel like indoor furniture materials such as leather, linen, silk and chenille, but are actually solution-dyed acrylic for outdoor use, says Gina Wicker, the design director at Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, the makers of Sunbrella fabrics.
One that has been attracting interest is faux velvet, she says. When it was initially introduced last year, it came in six colors. Now, there are three more.
"It looks like real velvet," she says.
The cost of outdoor patio sets vary. For example, outdoor sectional sofas can cost $3,000 to $5,000, Patioworld's Booth says.
Many of the fabrics are used with cushions on seating that resemble wicker. The appearance of outdoor furniture has improved, and the wicker look is still "a huge trend," Home Depot merchant Bonham says.
"As we move to the outdoor living-room seating, it lends itself to wicker. It's the feel, the look, the casual, comfortable look."
John Farugia, the regional vice president of West Coast stores and operations in Los Angeles for Levitz, agrees. His company is introducing patio furniture in its stores nationwide for the first time.
"It used to be true wicker," he says.
Synthetic wicker, which can be made of resin or vinyl, "looks just like the wonderful wicker we knew years ago, but it's truly a maintenance-free product and has longevity," he says.
"The true wicker would get brittle as it got older. It would crack."
The cost of faux wicker can vary. For example, the six-piece, dark brown faux wicker deep-seating set from the Kampar Collection at The Home Depot costs $799 online.
A five-piece dark brown, faux wicker set from the Barbados Collection at Levitz costs $899 online.
Sling furniture, airy mesh fabric wrapped around aluminum frames, also has been updated.
"I think the biggest difference today is their durability and ergonomic shape," Farugia says. "Slingbacks, in the past, they'd rip or break."
Many sling furniture pieces feature lumbar curves and taller backs, he says. Some chairs also swivel or have a slight rocking motion and can be stacked.
"One of the things that's interesting about sling furniture is that it's something that customers can feel just cozy in," Lowe's Wilson says.
A set of six sling chairs from Lowe's Baja Collection costs $349 online. At Patioworld, stationary sling chairs start at $99.
Canopies, cabanas and pavilions are now larger and have additional features.
"We've seen them get bigger just as patio furniture has gotten bigger," Bonham says.
A 10-by-10-foot canopy used to be the biggest size offered, but now you can find 12-by-10-foot or 14-by-10-foot ones, he says.
Square and rectangular also aren't the only shapes.
"They're not just pyramids," says Wilson of Lowe's. "They're round. They're more whimsical."
Canopies, cabanas and pavilions also now come with side insect netting or privacy curtains. A 12-by-14-foot screened aluminum pavilion that includes removable windows and bottom privacy panels costs $1,490 at The Home Depot online.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times