TRENDS : The Awning of a Shady, New Age


Now that few people want to sit out in the noonday sun, and tans areneither healthy nor fashionable, shade is chic. And awnings, in beautiful materials molded over windows and patios and in all shapes and sizes and designs, have it made in the shade.

New fabrics, new construction designs, new gadgetry--such as the self-retractable awning that automatically rolls up when the weather is foul and rolls out again when the sun shines--are expanding the awning market in new directions.

“The two primary things awnings can do for your home are reduce heat significantly and help block out the ultraviolet rays so curtains, furniture and carpets will not fade and be damaged,” says Andy Stack of Accent Industries, a residential and commercial awning company in Santa Ana. “In Europe, energy costs are so much higher, and thus awnings are extremely popular. Here, people don’t think about it quite as much. But more and more awnings are going up here in Orange County, and people seem to be very pleased with their choice.”


Stack says that awnings can block out a whopping 82% of all ultraviolet rays and approximately 82% of the heat (if all windows are covered). “It’s the difference between leaving your car in the shade under a tree or in the sun,” he said. “With awnings, you’re effectively putting your house in the shade.”

J. Miller Canvas in Costa Mesa installs both commercial and residential awnings, and owner Jim Miller says he’s seen a great increase in awnings popularity in Orange County in the past five years.

“First up, it’s a great way to add a whole new color to your house without the expense and difficulties of a paint job.” He notes that the life-span of a typical awning is about eight to 10 years and says color changes for the home are perfect at the decade mark.

“The traditional Pacific blue is still a strong color,” he says, “but in the last two to three years, the neutral colors have really taken off.”

He says that beiges and natural cotton colors are extremely popular. “We’ve even done black and the Moroccan white, though we do discourage pure white because of its inclination to get dirty rather quickly.”

Miller’s home is painted white and has solid black awnings--both frames and canvas. “It’s quite dramatic and looks great,” he says. “People comment on it all the time.”


Among the places awnings are being used is above French doors, because they protect the wood from the damage of intense sunlight without blocking the view.

Architects and designers are beginning to look more favorably at awnings for their potential for adding structural color and distinction as well as weather protection. One example is the Irvine Company’s Villa Point condominium project in Newport Beach. After the design was completed, it went back to the boards and forest green awnings were added, altering and enhancing the look of the project.


Upkeep of awnings is fairly simple--like boat coverings, they just need a good hosing down or water wash job every so often.

Where you live--on a busy street with heavy traffic, near the airport or out by the ocean--will determine how often and in what way you’ll need to clean them. Awning makers advise against using soap because residue can cause fabric problems.

New welding techniques along with a new power-paint process (whereby the paint is baked onto the fabric) make for stronger and longer-lasting awnings.

“Fabrics don’t fade like they used to,” Miller says. “It’s not unusual for the threads to actually go before the color fades.” He says most awnings come with a non-fade five-year guarantee but that most last much longer.


There are numerous styles of awnings, from the traditional gable frame to the bow or hipped frame. Awning companies help guide and direct buyers to the styles best suited for their homes.

There are many variations--some modern and some timeless.

“We did an old awning style recently, a reverse curve where the support comes with the old metal spears, and the results were great,” Miller said. “Style, color, fabric and placement, these are the keys to a good result with your awnings.”


Eight primary generic fabrics are used in today’s awning market--painted Army duck, vinyl-coated cotton, vinyl-laminated polyester, vinyl-coated poly-cotton blend and solution-dyed modacrylic.

The fabrics come in stripes, solids and patterns; surfaces can be matte, smooth or woven; transparency ranges from opaque to translucent.

While there are scores of designer colors to choose from, Stack sees the most popular colors being beiges, forest green, Pacific blue, and--the newest--aqua.

Early in the century, canvas awnings were simple, utilitarian affairs, typically cotton sailcloth nailed to a wooden frame.


By the late 1800s, awning hardware was developing quickly, and instead of nailing cloth to the frames, fabric was laced on, permitting a better fit and look.

Fabric was taking a new spin, as well. The traditional pearl gray boat duck could be painted different colors. Painted duck is still available today and is known by its pearl gray back color, due to mineral-dyeing.

This availability of colors was the springboard for more architectural uses of awnings; they were no longer mere shade devices, but contributed to the look and style of a house.


The retractable awning--a 1920s American innovation--was transplanted to Europe, where retractable awnings are now the largest segment of the market and are known as the American or California-style awnings.

They were reintroduced to the U.S. market more than a decade ago, and they are now known as the European-style retractable awnings.

In retractable awnings, prices vary according to hardware involved, Stack said. A crank awning covering a 12-by-8-foot area starts at about $1,150; a same-size motorized awning with a three-way switch that can be stopped anywhere along the awning’s path is about $1,550; a wind sensor awning that automatically brings the awning in when the wind kicks up can cost closer to $2,000.


While it is not inexpensive to install quality awnings, increased energy costs have made them more cost-effective compared to air conditioning.

“Europe, particularly the sun belt, knows well not only how fashionable, but how functional and also highly practical awnings are,” Stack says.

“It seems Americans here on the West Coast are beginning to catch on.”