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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2005

Outdoor elegance: Deck, patio furniture features new styles, materials

Lori Fletcher of Myers Hearth
& Casual with granite tabletop. Lori Fletcher of Myers Hearth & Casual with granite tabletop.

Hope springs eternal - how else to explain shopping for patio furniture while wearing a winter coat?

People have been looking and buying for more than a month, said Andy Mossing, sales manager of Mossing Spas & More on North McCord Road. And there are plenty of great products to see this year, said Mr. Mossing and other retailers of outdoor furniture and accessories.

Some new items reflect the growing status of decks and patios as an extension of indoor spaces - one aspect of a trend that's been termed "fusion living" by Homecrest, a manufacturer of outdoor furniture based in Wadena, Minn.

Outdoor kitchens featuring grills built into concrete bases and solid-surface bars are becoming more common, noted Dawn Maly of Artcrest Dinette & Patio Shop, which has locations in West Toledo and Maumee.

On a more affordable scale, some patio table umbrellas are now equipped with electrical outlets. "All-weather" lamps and area rugs are advertised for outdoor use. And some outdoor furniture collections have the elegant lines of Chippendale, Sheridan, and other classic designs normally found indoors.

Customers are looking for outdoor furniture color schemes that complement their home's siding and the deck, and they're asking for advice on furnishing and arranging the space, just as they do for interiors, Mrs. Maly said.

"Because of the economy, because of what's happening in the world today, people are opting to spend more time at home, so they're gearing their decks more to entertainment than I've ever seen," she added.

Manufacturers are responding with a greater variety of outdoor furniture pieces, materials, and designs that mimic indoor furniture. One such new piece is a "conversation table" - as big around or square as a dining table but at coffee-table height - that's intended to be at the center of a group of four to six chairs.

A  conversation table  has a large top at coffee-table height and is intended to be at the center of a group of chairs. A conversation table has a large top at coffee-table height and is intended to be at the center of a group of chairs.

Although a lot of outdoor furniture is sold as a set, some retailers and manufacturers are offering "mix-and-match" pieces. Buyers can customize by choosing a table from one collection, for example, and chairs from another, or substituting a stone table top, perhaps, for glass.

Depending on such variables as frame material, quality, and style, an outdoor dining set ranges from about $500 to $2,500, although sets can be found at low- and high-end extremes. The $500 set might have a glass-top table and four chairs; the $2,500 set might have a larger table with faux-stone top and six high-back rocker chairs.

Increasing numbers of buyers are choosing outdoor furniture made of solid cast aluminum, because of the material's heft and its life span of as much as 25 years, said Mr. Mossing. Unlike the lighter-weight aluminum frame sets that have dominated the market for years, solid cast aluminum pieces won't blow across the yard or into the pool, he pointed out. "I've been selling a ton of it," he added.

Wood and wrought iron also will stay put on a windy day, but both require regular maintenance.

Also growing in popularity is three-season wicker - not the real thing but a weather-friendly material such as vinyl woven tightly over an aluminum frame. "It feels just like real wicker," Mr. Mossing said.

Glass is giving way to what are called "alternative tabletops" made of tile, granite, slate, marble, faux stone, and other materials, said Lori Fletcher, manager of Myers Hearth & Casual on North Reynolds Road. "Those are the biggest new thing that's out," she added.

One trend shoppers can't miss is color: tangerine, mustard yellow, lime green, and their highlighter-hued siblings. "It's kind of refreshing, because it reminds me of summer - bright and fun and cheerful," Mrs. Fletcher said. Colors are splashed on umbrellas, chair cushions, and slings.

Also brightening up umbrellas is a new type of light that is powered by a solar or rechargeable battery, Mrs. Fletcher said. The fixture has four lights and clamps onto the umbrella pole.

"People are going toward the larger tables - 72, 76, 84 inches," she continued. "I think a lot of the new homes have large decks or patios and they want seating for more people." An oval-shaped large table is especially popular, she said.

At Dinettes & Patio Plus in Monroe, Mich., owner/vice president Jim Shea said he has already sold out of a tile-top, U-shaped outdoor bar and will be ordering more. He's also bumped up his order on a bamboo Tiki bar that he sold out of early in the season last year.

"Bars are just fun items," he said. "It's more fun sitting around a bar than a table and chairs."

Despite all the new offerings on the market, "your typical ultra high-back rocker with mesh sling material is still No. 1, and probably always will be," Mr. Shea said. "It's comfortable, maintenance-free, and more affordable."

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6126.

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