How do you decorate the great outdoor room? Cast-metal furniture can be prohibitively heavy and costly, plastic can topple in heavy winds and teak and other woods are bulky, expensive and need to be oiled.
For many consumers, the most portable, durable and easy-to-clean alfresco furniture for the money begins with a frame made of stainless steel or aluminum with a weather-resistant coating. As tables, they can be topped with glass, stone or wood. On seats, woven synthetics or solution-dyed acrylic fabric upholstery can add comfort when metal slats or mesh needs a softer touch.
The appeal of outdoor living has spurred innovation from designers around the world. In Australia, the firm Luxxbox uses a continuous loop of aluminum tubing to create the frame for South SL chairs, $320 each, with metal slat seats and backs. Jean Claude Cardiet of 2222 Edition Design in Paris mixes tubular and laser-cut steel to create intricate cane-patterned and loop-backed chairs. The Dutch design duo Studio Job updates traditional cast-iron garden furniture with provocative decorative motifs of peace signs and gas masks for the Industry collection for Seletti, to be released in the U.S. in 2016.
Italian manufacturer Moroso has teamed with designers, including Ayse Birsel and Bibi Seck, to produce M'Afrique, a line of furniture wrapped in colorful patterns by artisans in West Africa. In Milan, Italy, designer Paola Navone created the Ivy metal furniture collection for Emu to interact with nature. The large-scale metal mesh she uses allows grass and vines to grow through tables and chairs, and her Ivy Pouf, $719, available through Coalesse, cleverly incorporates a solar panel to illuminate the piece and the surrounding landscape at night. Other Italian manufacturers, such as Kartell's Battery and Paola Lenti's Agadir, shed a flattering light on outdoor spaces with portable rechargeable LED lanterns and lamps.
The concept of mass-produced metal dining and lounging sets has deep roots in Southern California, dating to when aircraft production facilities were reengineered to pump out patio furniture after World War II. Now, however, those basic versions have gotten a colorful update.
Brown Jordan, the 70-year-old outdoor furnishings company founded in Los Angeles, is offering its signature 1961 Tamiami design for chairs, from $295, with aluminum frame and vinyl cross-laced straps in 12 colors and has a website tool for designing your own color combinations from 144 possibilities. The company has also teamed with local interior designer Michael Berman to produce the Luna Collection, which is newly offered in a vivid green.
Another classic design, Richard Schultz's 1966 Leisure Collection, has been given a new look with boldly colored frames. Created from cast aluminum to withstand the salty air of Florida, the highly collectible pieces are more of an investment, however, with Armless Dining chairs, now available in six colors, starting at $1,299 each.
Color is playing a larger part in enticing customers. U.S. retailers such as Crate & Barrel are going for bright reds and blues for the outdoor Kruger Turkish Tile chair and Union counter stool. Even Restoration Hardware — known for its neutral tones — has added a rainbow of brightly colored upholstered cushions in a linen-textured outdoor fabric to its metal-framed Aegean chaises.
Los Angeles interior designer Heather Ashton has made bright hues a feature of her debut outdoor furniture collection. "This is a nod toward modernist 1960s design," she says of her Sunbrella-upholstered Fay chair, $595, which has powder-coated steel legs in vivid orange and turquoise and is sold at Empiric in Los Angeles. "I wanted it to have a lightness and airiness, but be tough enough to last for a long time. And the colors make me happy every day."