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HOME DESIGN : A SPECIAL ISSUE OF ORANGE COUNTY LIFE : Patio Furniture Brings Indoor Comfort to the Great Outdoors

There’s more to furnishing a patio than setting up a couple of folding chairs, a table and an umbrella.

Orange County residents probably know this better than most, because they are likely to spend as much time outside as they do inside. And whatever outdoor space they have--be it a townhouse balcony, a landscaped area around a pool or a wind-swept deck overlooking the ocean--becomes an extension of their indoor living space.

In fact, says Randy Boyd, president of Thurston-Boyd, a Newport Beach interior design firm, most of his clients see the outdoor space as another room and want to furnish it accordingly. “On almost every job,” Boyd says, “if I’m doing the complete home, clients will ask me to be involved in the patio furniture selection.”

And some of them will spend thousands of dollars on the furniture to get the look they want.

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It could be contemporary high-tech resin pieces, aluminum furniture, an updated version of old-fashioned redwood furniture, expensive teak items or English garden benches.

“The hottest thing right now,” Boyd says, is a line of handcrafted teak tables, chairs and chaise lounges from Asia. He attributes the line’s popularity to its versatility. “It will really go with any kind of look. It has very simple lines” that can blend with either contemporary or traditional styles. It also can be used without a finish because it weathers to a “beautiful gray shade,” he says. It is probably not, however, something for the budget-minded. A bar cart will run $4,100, and a chaise lounge about $2,700. Boyd says, though, that there are less expensive lines of teak featuring a chaise lounge for around $300.

Boyd recently completed an installation of the handcrafted line at Mary Newman’s home overlooking the ocean in Corona del Mar.

“We spend a lot of time outdoors,” Newman says, “so in a sense the outside is almost as important as the inside. We haven’t had it very long,” she said of the furniture, “but we certainly like it very much.” She adds that she particularly likes the way the furniture blends in with the home’s cliff-side setting and its natural landscaping style.

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The lines of the Newman pieces are fairly straight, with slats of teak forming seats and backs of chairs, which are covered in canvas cushions. Pieces are also available with a Chippendale flair, a camelback look or with legs that are carved to resemble bamboo.

Interior designer Fred Wiedenback of Casella West in Corona del Mar also favors the expensive teak and likes to use canvas for cushions. He suggests a weatherized canvas that doesn’t mildew and “comes in a lot of great colors and stripes,” as well as neutral natural tones.

Cushions can add to the comfort of patio furniture and Tom Gary, retail sales manager of Tropitone Furniture Co. in Irvine, says outdoor furniture with mesh-upholstered cushions is especially popular now.

“People are primarily now looking for comfort outdoors, almost the concept of taking your easy chair outdoors with you,” he says. “In addition to cushions we are selling a lot of chairs that are on a swivel-and-tilt system, rather than the stationary four legs.”

The upholstered cushions do require an occasional hosing off and washing. But they dry quickly and Gary says most people are willing to deal with extra maintenance to gain the comfort the cushions provide.

Tropitone’s line of aluminum furniture is available in a variety of styles and is “powder coated” with a polyester material to resist peeling and bubbling. Prices range from $800 to $2,000 for a set of a table and four chairs, which still may seem a bit pricey to the average bargain hunter. But, Gary says: “Many people are enjoying the outdoors more with pools and spas and the like and are willing to spend a little bit extra to get nicer quality, stylish furniture.”

And it would seem that price is not a factor to many people in the market for quality outdoor furniture. Interior designer Mae Martin realized that when she launched her own line of furniture with three models of white-enameled, wooden English garden benches. Mae Martin Designs in Irvine now has a line of 32 pieces, including seven bench designs, tables, chairs and hand-carved planter boxes.

Her most popular design features a lyre carved into the back of a bench and another has a spider-web design. The benches are priced from $945 to $1,650. Martin says her line has been successful because it was something not readily available elsewhere on the West Coast and “mainly because the design is newer.”

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The more economy-minded shopper, however, might be interested in an updated version of old-fashioned redwood furniture. The new look of this old favorite includes a gray wash for a lighter look. Randy Boyd used this style for his own cabin at Lake Arrowhead and says four chairs, two chaise lounges, a dining table and a cocktail table cost about $1,200.

“The chaise lounges are wonderful,” says Boyd of the redwood and springs that make them “extremely comfortable.”

Lenny Small, owner of Charlie’s Patio Warehouse (where patio sets range from $400 to $1,000), also admires the new redwood. “When I lived back East . . . we all had redwood, but it was very big and bulky. But out here in California, people have smaller patios and smaller lots, so they redesigned it so it looks very modern and very contemporary.”

New features include narrower arms, replacing large bolts with less noticeable fasteners, and high-backed, adjustable chairs.

Small says a white-stained redwood line is also new. “They’ve sort of taken some of the very expensive teak furniture and copied it into redwood, but used it with a white stain,” Small says. “It’s very beautiful and also very contemporary looking.”

Resin patio furniture is also popular, according to Small, who says it constitutes about one-third of his sales. Resin is a specially formulated plastic that resists the effects of ultraviolet rays, doesn’t get brittle and doesn’t turn yellow. It’s also easy to maintain and doesn’t corrode, Small says.

However, aluminum furniture that is powder coated to resist pitting and chipping is still Small’s biggest seller.

Yet, some people reject the high-tech look and choose something more rustic or whimsical like bent-willow furniture. This furniture is constructed of willow branches with the bark left on. Wiedenback says “it’s a wonderful line” for courtyards or a special garden setting.

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And its durable. “I’ve seen that used up at Lake Arrowhead and left out year-round in the snow and everything else and it still looks great,” Boyd says. Prices range from $200 to $500.

Whatever the style of patio furniture, decorators say it is most important to blend it with a home’s interior.

Mary Swift of Swift Interiors, Laguna Hills, says patio areas can be “an extension of the interior space” and by “drawing the eye outside, you tend to make the interior space a little bit larger.”

Interior designer Elsa Rosene of Kasden/Rosene in Newport Beach, for instance, recently completed an installation at a Newport Beach home with a rooftop deck. She selected aluminum furniture with a white finish and mesh cushions with a weave of white and gray. The idea was to blend the furniture with the rooftop, which has gray shingles along the side and a gray floor, and the interior of the house, also done in gray and white tones.


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