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May 01, 2009

Picture Perfect Patios

Select outdoor furniture that sets the mood for summer

L. Sara Bysterveld

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From May through September, Canadian homes grow by a few square-feet. As per design trends, the yard, the balcony, the porch and the patio become extensions of the home, whole separate rooms to be utilized during those few precious months of warm weather.

Flimsy plastic chairs no longer cut it in these outdoor rooms—the goal is to create a space for dining, relaxing and entertaining and, as such, appropriate furnishings are called for.

“We’ve really blurred the lines between indoor and outdoor space,” says Katherine Kinch, designer and owner of Your Space by Design. “Before, you saw a patio set and knew it was a patio set. Now people are really creating an outdoor room.”

This outdoor room can be designed for dining, lounging or drinks or be adaptable for all three. People are moving away from strictly dining set-ups and more toward comfort, deep seating and pieces that are more conducive to overall entertaining.

Pieces like deep sling chairs, low couches, low platform tables, firepit tables, cushions and even hammocks lend comfort and also bring summer revelers face to face for dining and drinks. Patio pieces are lower (between coffee and dining table height) and more relaxed, with sling or reclined seating. As Kinch puts it, “the more comfortable and inviting it is, the more likely you’re going to use it.”

A new big thing this year is the firepit table, a stone-topped table with a glass bowl in the centre within which a natural gas-fuelled fire burns. As Marie Svindt, owner of Patioline puts it, “you can sit (at the table) at night and have a very nice, warm, ambient dining experience.”

Cushions contribute to this relaxing set-up but also add a splash of colour to the typical 2009 neutral patio. Cushions pop in summer brights such as parrot green and tangerine orange, or accent colours pulled from the interior of the home.

Eco-friendly, recycled plastic furniture is also adding colour to yards and decks in North America these days. The recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) for the chairs and table comes from municipal recycling programs around North America and has been remade into sleek, stylish outdoor furniture in a wide range of colours.

Loll Designs is an American manufacturer of recycled plastic furniture, which can be ordered online at The modern pieces, ranging from Adirondack chairs to satellite tables to alfresco benches, come in standard colours like black, white and chocolate brown but are also available in bright colours like red, lime green and turquoise.

Working with recycled plastic has its advantages and disadvantages, explains Loll Designs sales and marketing director Nate Heydt. He points out that while HDPE is not a structural material and therefore there are constraints on what can be produced from it (you won’t be seeing HDPE bar stools any time soon), it is easy to work with and comes with a built-in finish, unlike wood. HDPE is the same plastic used to build playgrounds and will not fade. The lack of needed maintenance adds to its ecological benefit by increasing its longevity.

Of course, there is the simple fact that the plastic used in Loll’s furnishings is being put to good use rather than sitting in a landfill—or worse. Says Heydt, “ We keep learning more about plastics and ways to upcycle it into new things rather than letting it go out to sea.”

Svindt has also noted that customers are seeking out pieces with more longevity. “People are moving away from the disposable, and spending more on pieces that will last,” she says. This fact on its own spells reduced consumption which is, in turn, a positive for the earth.

Another material that is relatively popular thanks to being low-maintenance as well as comfortable is all-weather wicker. Vinyl loom wicker has taken the place of traditional wicker because it can be left outside and lasts a long time. The addition of cushions means comfort to go with the ease of maintenance.

The good news for condo dwellers is that there are options for smaller spaces such as the terrace, patio or balcony. Randy Kurta, owner of Porch and Patio, recommends sets that tuck away within themselves (chairs into the table, for instance) or compact pieces that still offer style and functionality.

“Not everyone has a huge deck,” he says, advising shoppers to watch for unique pieces that will work well in smaller spaces.

For homeowners looking for a table that takes up minimal space but can expand to meet their needs when entertaining larger groups, there are extension tables in which two table leaves float up to expand the oval or rectangular table.

No matter the size of the space, shade is always an important consideration. Awnings and umbrellas are two options for providing shade. As an alternative to traditional umbrellas that sprout from the centre of the table, cantilevered umbrellas offer the flexibility of placement anywhere around the shaded area.

What is important, of course, is being outdoors for the limited duration of hot, sunny Alberta weather. If the right patio furniture helps you to achieve that, then it is more than worth it.

Says Svindt: “People are cooped up indoors in the winter, so when spring comes they want to be outside all the time.”  CL

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