January 2012
On The Outs By Don Eberly, Jeff Collard and Dominique de Bruin

The recent Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in Chicago revealed top trends and the latest innovations in outdoor furnishings and accessories.

Following insights about what is trending in the outdoor room industry lends valuable knowledge to retailers about what is driving consumer purchases. Ultimately, monitoring trends affords a priceless opportunity to learn how developing and changing factors affect the marketplaces in which retailers conduct business and sell products.

This year’s International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market (www.casualmarket.com), held in Chicago during September and managed by MMPI, showcased the latest trends in the industry. From popular color palettes and shade devices to luxury deep seating and fire features, the market event was rife with innovation.

“The Casual Market features the most comprehensive collection of outdoor furnishings and accessories, and many manufacturers unveil their products for the first time each year at the event,” says senior director of marketing Jaclyn Kelly. With the latest product, design and technology advancements emerging from the event, retailers have new opportunities to capture consumer attention. In addition, these product advancements can be put to use in diversifying retailers’ inventories and marketability to customers.

The following are some of the most popular and resourceful trends that were on display at the market, with product examples for each. Look to these trends in 2012 for ways to transform your specialty merchandise and yield new customer interest.

Easy Does It

Addressing the still-popular trend of easy maintenance for homeowners, Flexible Storage Group introduced the company’s new, revolutionary Duck Covers (www.flexiblesg.com) at this year’s Casual Market. The creative line of outdoor and patio furniture covers prevents pools of water and debris from forming on the surfaces. Used with the covers, the patented Duck Dome is an integrated air bag which aids in reducing the contact between the cover and furniture, keeping dirt and mildew at bay.

Plenty Of Comfort

O.W. Lee’s Vista Club Chair (www.owlee.com) offers both deep- and wide-seating comfort, and is a trend example of ultra-comfort in casual furnishings. With soft, pillow-backs and deep-seating, the chair features upholstered “roll over” armrests, allowing for total relaxation. The hexagonal wrought-aluminum tube frame offers superior strength as well as elegance and style. Also trending toward design uniformity, the Vista collection includes a corresponding loveseat, sofa, spring-base club chair, and other selections.

Made Right Here

Durable, long-lasting outdoor furniture made in the United States was another noticeable find at this year’s market. For example, the Lehigh bench from Highwood USA (www.highwood-usa.com) is well-suited to this trend. A new addition to the Highwood USA products line, this elegant bench is hand-crafted in Pennsylvania and made from synthetic wood in the form of eco-friendly recycled plastic. The bench’s wood-like appearance and optional Sunbrella fabric cushions make this versatile, multi-person seat ideal for residential and commercial outdoor spaces. Available in five colors and built-in UV protection, the all-season bench comes with a hard-to-beat 12-year residential warranty.

Well Lit & Weathered

In exterior lighting and outdoor accessories, curled or shaped wicker and mesh wire styling were dominant influences displayed by exhibitors. For example, Kenroy Home’s Brent outdoor lamp (www.kenroyhome.com) stood out with an eclectic combination of elements for an artistic appeal. Finished in oil-rubbed bronze, the unique layered shade effect unified with a beautifully styled base gives the Brent outdoor lamp a traditional feel for broad applications. Brent is available in two heights, 30″ and 60″, making it a good fit for customers with balconies to larger outdoor spaces.

Heavy Without The Weight

Many consumers are turning to outdoor furnishings that perform double-duty, such as having an appearance of girth and age while providing ease-of-use and flexible placement. Tabletops with stone appearances, yet light enough for moving from place to place, were possibly no better seen than in Gensun Casual Living’s Paradise Table Top (www.gensuncasual.com). This tabletop is made from solid aluminum with all the durability and beauty of real stone, but without the weight and maintenance. Tabletops are available in caramel and taffy colors, and come in a variety of sizes and shapes for dining tables, end tables, fire pits, and lazy susans.

Rocking Outdoors

This year, swivel and rocker chairs were a sizzling new trend at Casual Market. For example, Padma’s Plantation (www.padmasplantation.com) showcased the Palm Beach Outdoor Swivel Rocker. Bringing the same comfort usually predominant in living rooms and dens to the outdoors, this swivel rocker is hand-crafted from all-weather rattan peel over heavy-gauge vinyl tubing. The natural, high-end appearance combined with outdoor foam cushions featuring Sunbrella fabric adds to its appeal. Marketable features for retailers, the Palm Beach Swivel Rocker rotates 360 degrees and includes a spring rocking mechanism for maximum comfort.

What’s Hot, Literally

Casual Market always exhibits what’s hot in outdoor fire places and fire tables, and a prime example is O.W. Lee’s Ziggurat Chat Pit (www.owlee.com). Inspired by the distinct lines of a Mesopotamian Ziggurat, the fire table provides a cozy, contemporary style. Its bold, straightforward appearance reflects design trends from Art-Deco to Mid-Century, proving classics never go out of style. The Ziggurat Chat Pit uses a stainless-steel, custom-designed burner to create a distinct spiral flame. Availability is comprehensive with 10 standard finishes and a choice of table top surrounds such as Emperadora, Noche Honed Marble, Brazilian Slate, Rainforest Mosaic, and Galaxy Black Granite.

Traditional Style

Market goers were seen in every corner eyeing furnishings with weathered and antiqued finishes. Manufacturers and distributors boasted several new examples of this traditional style, yet with features of modern accents and flair. The Torbay outdoor collection from Oxford Garden (www.oxfordgarden.com) fits this trend. It is a sturdy, all-weather resin wicker collection of chairs, designed for use with all Oxford Garden tables. Available in a handsome antique finish, the chairs also feature powder-coated frames and sculpted backs for extra comfort.

Grilling All Year Long

Outdoor grill trends at the market leaned towards adding precision and refinement to outdoor cooking through new technology. Hearthland Products’ award-winning Memphis 3-in-1 Outdoor Cooking Centers (www.hearthlandproducts.com) took center stage. These Memphis Wood Fire Grills have a one-touch digital Intelligent Temperature Control (ITC), which automatically sets and maintains precise temperatures from 180 to 650 degrees. Retailers or dealers selling these grills can promote them as year-round items, since the technology and wide-ranging use equate to cooking just about anything that could be made in an indoor oven.

The Transitional Umbrella

Among shade umbrellas and devices, the trend was obvious in the form of versatility, with many being fashioned for traditional, contemporary and the ever-popular transitional settings. This was illustrated in Caravita’s Belvedere (www.michaelcaravita.com), a structural and sleek umbrella with a distinct folding mechanism. When closed, it stands upright and saves space with a sleek, middle-mast shape. With a smooth opening lever, the shade can be opened and closed with a single-arm movement. This umbrella can also shift from modern to classic with a few simple design details. From a traditional design of flowing or attached valances to venting details like wind roofs and hoods, the Belvedere can be designed to fit any outdoor living space.

Don Eberly, Jeff Collard and Dominique de Bruin

Don Eberly, Jeff Collard and Dominique de Bruin of Eberly & Collard Public Relations (www.eberlycollardpr.com), a public relations firm specializing in the home, garden and design industries, can be reached at 404.574.2900, [email protected]


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