New Styles, Materials Revamp Patio Furniture

Christie Costanzo is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Moving into a new home or remodeling, putting in a swimming pool or planning a major outdoor party are events that trigger the purchase of patio furniture.

Nearly half of all new homeowners will buy new outdoor furniture, says George Dunn, vice president of marketing for Tropitone, a manufacturer of outdoor furniture based in Irvine and Sarasota, Fla.

"The outdoor lifestyle is definitely part of the California lifestyle. There is a longer, more consistent use of outdoor furniture here," Dunn says.

If you haven't shopped for outdoor furniture lately, you could be in for a surprise. Changes in materials, styles and colors have transformed the industry.

"The outdoor furniture industry has become a fashion industry," says George Mc Harris, owner of Village Patio in Tustin. "Now everything has to coordinate. The umbrella has to coordinate with the cushions, which have to match the frame."

Less than 10 years ago, the options were few.

Consumers had their choice of redwood picnic sets, painted steel (which rusted), rattan (which deteriorated), and a limited number of umbrella colors to match a generic selection of furniture.

The introduction of construction materials like aluminum and resin brought dramatic changes to outdoor furniture. Now customers can buy quality outdoor furniture with a distinct style just as they would indoor furniture. In fact, homeowners are using interior decorators armed with fabric swatches and color charts to select outdoor furniture that will serve as an extension of the design and color schemes of their indoor furniture.

"Outdoor furniture, up until five to 10 years ago, sort of looked like outdoor furniture," Dunn says. "It all looked the same. It was functional. It has only been recently that style and a look to choose from has been presented to the customer.

"Comfort now is the No. 1 thing a customer looks for. Because of the comfort of the swivel-tilt chair, we are seeing an increasing interest in action pieces."

Mc Harris of Village Patio agrees. "Action furniture is becoming very popular. It does something besides just sit there."

Comfort, style, color, movement and durability are all attributes of this new generation of outdoor furniture. Tropitone, Brown Jordan and Mallin produce extensive lines of extruded, powder-coated aluminum furniture.

Durability is the upshot. Aluminum doesn't rust or deteriorate, and it's lightweight. The extruded aluminum is forced through a die into specific shapes, which increases the strength and enhances the design. The powered paint is bonded to the metal and won't peel.

The product is so durable that Tropitone furniture comes with a 15-year warranty. Brown Jordan carries a limited lifetime warranty.

One hundred percent resin outdoor furniture didn't exist in the United States a decade ago. Imported from Europe, resin furniture now has a large share of the market. It is maintenance free, durable and presents a modern Euro-look design. Top-quality resin furniture is available through European designers including Grosfillex, Allibert and Kettler.

Function is another advantage of resin furniture. Products such as drop-leaf tables, folding chairs, adjustable chairs, tables with an extra leaf and even a table with a hidden ice chest are features you won't find with other furniture.

Consumers pay a premium for such features. The price of the most popular outdoor set--a table with four chairs--from Tropitone costs from $600 to more than $3,000 compared to a four-piece set from Sunbeam purchased from Sears that runs from $400 to $800.

The two largest retailers of quality casual furniture in Orange County are Village Patio in Tustin and Anaheim Patio in Anaheim.

Kurt Lorig, president of Anaheim Patio, has been in the business since 1956. Lorig sees a trend toward the more traditionally styled pieces such as wrought iron, cast aluminum and print materials.

"Thirty-four years ago we sold flowered umbrellas with matching cushions. That (style) lasted about 15 years. It's a trend that is returning," Lorig says.

Although white is still the dominant color in patio furniture, customers make a statement with cushions and matching umbrellas in bold colors, patterns and stripes.

"The vivid colors in the acrylics are the next generation in fabrics," Mc Harris says. "Customers haven't really accepted the acrylics yet. It feels too soft. They are afraid it won't hold up. But it's a true outdoor fabric. You can hose it down, scrub it, pour bleach on it. Nothing affects it."

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