In the casual furniture market, this is a pivotal time for retailers.
Thanks to more active research and development departments, the
products live up to customers’ needs, says Petey Fleischut,
owner of Casual Marketplace in Hockessin, Del.
“This year, I felt that manufacturers came to market well
prepared for our industry and gave us so many tools to work with to
be successful for next year,” she says. “They were
dedicated to what they offered to us, just by their diversity of
product, new introductions and new designs.”
Read on to learn more about the latest in consumer desires and
1Deeper cushions, more motion and supersized chaise lounges.
past, ease of maintenance was the deciding factor for consumers
when it came to outdoor furniture. But that’s no longer the
case. Today, comfort comes first.
“People are spending time in their outdoor rooms or
living areas, and they want to be as comfortable as
possible,” says Joseph P. Logan, executive
director of the Summer and Casual Furniture Manufacturers
Association in Highpoint, N.C.
That’s why anything with thick, fluffy cushions —
called deep seating — rules the roost. These product lines
approximate indoor furniture in terms of comfort. “Anything
that’s deep seating is selling like crazy,” says Cathy
Galbreath-Watson, co-owner of ABSCO Fireplace & Patio in
Deep seating can be found on just about any type of frame,
including cast aluminum, wicker, wrought iron and wood.
You’ll often find it in sofas, love seats, and lounge chairs
with ottomans and chaises. Some manufacturers have even rolled out
modular groups with deep cushions. “I personally would have
it in my own living room,” says Jennifer Bement, director of
advertising and marketing for Carter Grandle in Sarasota,
Besides deep seating, people gravitate toward anything with
motion. “It’s more exciting when something
moves,” says Dino Luckino, president/CEO of Georgia Backyard
Inc., a Suwanee, Ga.-based company with eight stores throughout its
namesake state and Texas. “Everybody likes to glide, swing or
Furthermore, people are lounging larger. Chaises that are wide
enough to accommodate two people are selling like hot cakes.
“It’s almost like you have a bed to lie on,” says
David Ghiz, president of retail operations at Paddock Pools &
Spas in Scottsdale, Ariz. “You could even sleep outside if
you wanted to.”
2Vibrant colors and new fabrics.
comes to fashion, people want their exterior designs to compete
with their living rooms.
“People are spending thousands and thousands of dollars
on these outdoor rooms, and they want the furniture there to look
as fine as it does in their living room,” Bement says.
“So there’s a lot of call for the upscale
Manufacturers have obliged with colors that are more vibrant
and selections that have increased in patterns and
Manufacturers can offer more choices, Bement says, because of
the emergence of new color-fast dyes and protective coatings.
They’re using digital photography to replicate them, which
allows them to provide more variety, according to
This year, imitation leathers made an entrance at the Casual
Marketplace — a trade show specializing in the category
— and enjoyed a happy reception. “I’ve sat on it,
and it has the feel of the real thing,” Logan says. And
producers still make many of these fabrics easy to
Interestingly, fashion trends often migrate from clothing to
indoor furniture to the exterior. “What you see in fashion
now, it’ll be a year before that’s in indoor
furniture,” Bement says. “Then it’ll be another
year before it hits the outdoors.”
Fads are no exception. Two years ago, vibrant, yellow-based
colors hit the display windows of the Gap and Banana Republic, and
now they have found their way into outdoor styling. Experts report
a trend toward burnt oranges, spicy reds, lime greens, yellows,
teals and even pink. “In the past, there were a lot of greens
and darker colors, but now you’re seeing consumers be much
more daring and expressive in their choices of fabrics,”
Brown and blue combinations have moved from the living room to
backyard decks. Never dismiss primary colors either, for they
remain on most manufacturers’ rosters.
past, homeowners don’t view their backyard as a place to eat
and run. They want to stay a while and relax.
“People want that little bench in the garden where you
can have your child or grandchild read to you in the morning, or a
little bistro table off the master bedroom where you can have
coffee and read The Wall Street Journal,” Luckino
Casual furniture specialists say the hottest news in outdoor
arrangements are chat groups. Also called conversation pits, these
configurations usually include a few chairs, perhaps a sofa or love
seat, all surrounding a fire pit, fireplace or cocktail-height
table — taller than a coffee table, but lower than one used
for dining. It’s an area designed for people to linger and
The chat group provides a place to hunker down for the evening.
“A dining chair is OK, but it’s not a great thing to
sit and relax in once you’re done eating,” Ghiz says.
“Homeowners like the concept of having the ability to sit
around a table and eat, but then when they’re done, kick back
The key for the furniture is that it’s designed to be
lower and has fat cushions. “These chairs are usually more
club-chair sized: They’re big and deep,” Ghiz says.
“When you add motion or action to the chair, it makes it a
comfortable way to sit outside.”
The settings can be assembled by the user out of separate
pieces, but more manufacturers are rolling out whole chat groups,
some even with gas fire pits to go with them.
looks for wicker and wrought-iron, and inexpensive rollouts of
A few years
ago, wrought-iron furniture was struggling. “It took a
beating because you can do things in cast aluminum that you
couldn’t do in wrought iron,” Luckino says. Plus, cast
aluminum prices went down approximately 50 percent.
“[Wrought-iron sales] were probably dropping 30 percent a
year,” Luckino adds.
The traditional flower patterns on the metal had largely played
out, he says. People wanted something different. A year or so ago,
manufacturers responded with new methods for turning the metal and,
as a result, designs were created that compete with cast aluminum.
“The neoclassic look is still at the forefront because
it’s what people want when they’re looking at a metal
product,” Luckino says. “But it’s not the same
old flowers that wrought iron used to be.”
Scrolls may rule the day, but you can also find some more
contemporary looks with straight slats on the back of the chair, or
eclectic mesh pieces. Last year, Luckino reports, wrought iron
sales ended an approximately five-year down trend and started an
upswing. “I think it increased in our stores almost 22
percent last year,” he says.
The transformation of wicker hasn’t been as economically
dramatic, but it has been broader. Stylistically, the pieces are
more versatile. No longer typecast in a tropical décor, they
can also be found in more classic designs that even fit in the
Tuscan environments so popular in Phoenix and Las Vegas, Ghiz
“It isn’t the traditional sort of wicker that you
might think in your mind,” he says. “There are so many
different ways that it’s woven.” The materials range in
color from the old school tan and white to deep, rich
With new synthetic materials, the pieces also last longer.
“You can keep it out in the sun, rain and snow and nothing
affects it,” Ghiz says. “The material itself is
These products, however, don’t look exactly like the
traditional wood-based ones, Luckino says. That throws some people
off. “People tell me, ‘It’s not real
wicker,’” he says. “Everybody thinks it’s a
plant, but wicker means to weave. There’s no material called
wicker.” Once he explains it, consumers usually come on
More options also have opened up as overseas production has
dropped price points in cast-aluminum and high-quality woods.
“At one time, teak or cast aluminum was so expensive, just
the top people bought it,” Luckino says. “But today
they can make the products so we can retail it at one-third of the
price that we used to.” Some manufacturers have introduced
alternative woods that are more durable than redwood, but less
expensive than teak, as well.
Moreover, wood collections have expanded to include more sofas
and loveseats, in addition to the traditional rockers, benches,
tables and chairs.
materials, looks and sizes for tables.
accommodate the many ways that people use their backyard furniture,
tables are appearing in different sizes more than ever. The
cocktail-height pieces at the center of many chat groups, for
instance, tend to be longer than you’d normally expect. And
homeowners are beginning to shy away from the traditional
four-person dining table.
“Many of the manufacturers have introduced larger tables
that seat six, eight, 10 or more people, and tables in many
different shapes as well,” Logan says. “With the shift
toward more outdoor living, consumers want to have flexibility and
the option to host a large group outside.”
The tables come in every conceivable look. The world of outdoor
furniture is talking long and hard about “alternative-top
tables” — meaning pieces made of anything besides glass
or aluminum. Some tables have been taken to the level of art,
topped with premium materials such as marble, granite, tile mosaic,
teak and even the hammered copper model that Carter Grandle
introduced at this year’s Casual
For a lower cost, manufacturers offer “faux tables”
in resins that mimic stone or mosaic, or in aluminum that looks
like higher-priced metals.