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November/December 2023
Crafting an outdoor oasis By Abby McGarry

Americans want more stylish outdoor living spaces with both big-ticket pieces and economical accents.

The past three years have seen a huge demand for garden and outdoor living products, and this trend to continue upgrading outside is not slowing down. Americans are averaging nine hours per week at home outdoors this year versus seven hours per week last year, and they want their yards to be a retreat.

This is according to research conducted by the International Casual Furnishings Association (ICFA) and the American Home Furnishing Alliance, in which 80% of people also said their outdoor living space is more valuable to them than ever before.

Naturally, plants play an important role in these retreats, but the research found top priorities also included: lighting (36%); shade (27%); fire pit or feature (26%); throw pillows, cushions and rugs (26%); seating (21%); water features (19%); and outdoor kitchen or bar (17%).

All these categories were on display in July when Casual Market Atlanta debuted at AmericasMart with more than 150 permanent showrooms and temporary exhibitors, seminars, tours and celebrations.

Walking the show floor and catching up with Jackie Hirschhaut, executive director of ICFA, was the perfect recipe for finding out what’s trending in outdoor living.

All About Functionality 

“An evolving thing coming out of the pandemic is: how can we maximize the use of the furnishings we have for the outside like we do on the inside,” Hirschhaut said.

One way to do that is with slipcovers. “You can have a basic chair with cushions that has a slipcover you can throw on it to change the look or just give it a dressier feel,” she said.

Synthetic wood patio furniture also continues to solve the functionality equation for many consumers, while being low maintenance and virtually weatherproof. Options on display included tables with foldable sides, benches with storage and everything from deep seating to bar height chairs.

“Even the Adirondack chairs are getting more functional in that there’s a lot of versatility in the design,” Hirschhaut said. “If you go into Poly-Wood, you can look at four to six different styles of Adirondack chairs — how they shape the back, the pitch of the seat, where the ottoman goes.”

Polly-Wood continues to upgrade its Adirondack chairs. This Modern Curveback Adirondack Chair has a spacious contour seat and waterfall front.
Poly-Wood continues to upgrade its Adirondack chairs. This Modern Curveback Adirondack Chair has a spacious contour seat and waterfall front. Photos courtesy of Jackie Hirschhaut.

Poly-Wood product arrives ready to assemble, so retailers don’t have to allocate excessive space for the inventory.

“I think Poly-Wood is an easier buy for a garden center,” Hirschhaut said. “It’s relatively simple, they can be as adventurous in color as suits the personality of the store, and it’s not burdensome from a warehousing point of view.”

Tactile Fabrics, Natural Looks

Exhibitors at Casual Market Atlanta featured a lot of woven materials, both authentic and synthetic, but produced and designed in a way that’s very natural looking.

“Overall, I really got a sense that natural looks are preferred,” Hirschhaut said. “There’s lots of strapping — different widths, lots of color options, but all in acrylic fiber, so it’s going to stand up well to wear and easy care.”

Although some companies offer vibrant colors, far and away a more tempered-down palette prevailed. Textured fabrics are an effective way to add visual interest to more muted tones, along with a lower-cost, big-impact option: pillows.

“There are some stores that are just a sea of beige, and I think people are finally recognizing that accent pillows make a big difference,” Hirschhaut said. “They’re easy for a consumer to mix and match, making them a little more personalized and a little more visually interesting.”

Ready to Entertain

Outdoor lighting plays a huge role in making sure customers can enjoy their furnishings day or night. At Casual Market Atlanta, solar reigned supreme in this space, saving the electricity challenge and many of the regulatory concerns companies have for something that’s safe to be plugged in outside.

Think solar cocktail tables in addition to wall lights and lanterns.

Hirschhaut also found what she calls “the ultimate umbrella accessory” — Treasure Garden’s EVO with Bluetooth and solar.

“It’s about the size of a dinner plate with a hole in the middle, and it’s on a hinge, so you open it up and you click it toward the top inside of the umbrella,” she explained. “You buy the basic umbrella and then you can forget about it, not having to worry about lighting or music if you’re entertaining.”

At a higher price point, the new Above smart patio umbrella uses solar to raise and lower the umbrella with a remote and has a wind sensor that allows the product to automatically close before it’s blown over or damaged.

Fire features have also seen major upgrades. They now come in all heights — from close to the ground to bar height dining tables with a fire feature down the center, all elevating the outdoor oasis.

For an enhanced reading experience, view this article in our digital edition.