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How Consumers Are Optimizing Outdoor Spaces in a Time of Coronavirus

The indoor/outdoor connection is more important now than ever before.

Diane Falvey
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Madcap Cottage
This cheerful Catskills, NY, screen porch designed by Madcap Cottage mixes patterns and materials.

Whether a sun porch, patio or balcony, taking advantage of outdoor living spaces has never been more on the radar than now, as the coronavirus pandemic around the globe has canceled travel and consumers are opting to shelter at home. There’s nothing more inviting  — or instagrammable — than a well-designed outdoor space that packs all of the comfort of indoors with nature’s style inspiration. 

“Consumers’ private outdoor spaces will become even more important to their overall lifestyle,” says Candy Chase, National Sales Manager at outdoor furnishings and shade supplier Treasure Garden. “Consumers are truly learning the value of ‘home.’”

While a scenic view can certainly add to an outdoor space, as the weather warms across the country, even an urban balcony can be a sunny respite. The key, say designers, is adding the creature comforts of an indoor environment to outdoor spaces and bringing some of the more natural elements in, blending style and functionality to extend living space. 

Laurence Carr
Designer Laurence Carr says natural, green elements are key to calming outdoor spaces. 

“It’s all about the indoor/outdoor connection,” says interior designer Laurence Carr, founder of Laurence Carr Design. Carr, who focuses on health and wellness in her design through biophilia, continues that a green focus is important for good outdoor — and indoor — design. “Make sure there is as much green as possible through plants and natural materials for a calming space. Colors that reflect nature, such as greens, browns —  representing woods — and whites create a soothing environment.” Other colors trending for outdoor design include blues, corals and grays, with a focus on pattern and a more eclectic style that strays from “same style, same color” furnishings and decor. Mixed styles and bold patterns punctuate the appeal of outdoor living. Consumers see these areas as spaces to redesign more often than indoors as well.

“In outdoor collections that are coming, you’re seeing less of the full-suite look,” says Jason Oliver Nixon, Co-founder of Madcap Cottage. “We’re seeing more about individual pieces that have been put together. That’s what gives an outdoor space a personality. People are having fun. Let’s bring in a wild pattern or color. It feels eclectic, as though you picked these pieces up along the way.”

Lindsay Schleis, Vice President of Business Development at Polywood, adds, “We have seen a lot of corals, blues and pistachio greens in all sorts of combinations. We are seeing patterns mixed with large scale stripes and also unique animal prints being incorporated into the outdoors.”

To achieve an outdoor living space that blends nature with the comforts of indoor living, beyond style that takes it cues from  outdoor elements, a focus on natural materials takes center stage in furnishings. And in bringing outdoors into the home, natural materials have been trending there for some time as well. Bamboo, rattan and more have been seen across the spectrum. 

“Any natural material brings in a lived-in look,” says John Loecke, Co-founder of Madcap Cottage. “Rattan is having a big moment,” adds Nixon. “It has a very chic, relaxed quality.” 

In addition to natural materials, sustainability has become a talking point for both indoor and outdoor furnishings. Pieces that can perform double duty inside and outside of the home, recycled and repurposed materials and sustainable natural materials, such as bamboo and cotton, are on trend as consumers continue to take more responsibility as to their environmental impact. 

The patterns and styles that epitomize outdoors that consumers are craving, however, are not complete without a measure of convenience and functionality that mirrors indoor living as well.

Good, easily managed lighting, air flow and durable, easy-to-clean furnishings and decor are all key to swoon-worthy outdoor spaces. Today’s outdoor furniture and decor offerings include performance fabrics that are water, stain and sunlight resistant in beautiful patterns and vibrant colors. These fabrics and rugs for outdoor patios can even stand up to bleach in some cases, or can be hosed off to keep spaces fresh. 

Light It Up 

As for lighting, layered lighting, as you would find inside the home, allows the consumer to change up the ambience of a space and utilize outdoor spaces around the clock. “Just like inside the home, properly layering light is a necessity outdoors,” shares Jennifer Kis, Director of Marketing Communications at Progress Lighting. “The first layer is ambient light — the use of overhead light fixtures to provide a soft wash of general, balanced illumination. Ceiling fans that incorporate light kits work well as general light sources, as do recessed or can lights installed in porch ceilings. Then, task lighting like wall sconces and pendants over workspaces such as cooking and grilling areas provide focused light. Finally, install accent lighting to dramatically illuminate points of interest, like beautiful architectural features on the home’s exterior.”

“You want to light the space as you would with a room. You’ll want to use your outdoor space in the evening,” adds Madcap’s Loecke. “You need overall lighting for security, mid-level lighting if you want to sit out there and read. You don’t necessarily have a ceiling. You have to think about wall-mounted pieces.”

Being able to control the lighting easily — high in a tree or ceiling fans that are possibly on high patio ceilings ­— is another consideration when designing outdoor spaces that consumers will gravitate toward. Many lighting suppliers are offering solutions for these issues via automated, voice-controlled or WiFi-enabled devices that create smart connections and make lighting up the patio or backyard easy and safe. For example, iDevices, part of the Hubbel family with Progress Lighting, offers such products designed for indoor and outdoor use.

“For homeowners looking to schedule, automate or control their exterior/landscape lighting from anywhere via an app or through voice control, the iDevices Wall Switch, Dimmer Switch or Instinct are great options,” says Andrew Ragali, Senior Marketing Manager for iDevices LLC. “These smart light switches replace any traditional switch receptacle and provide the same manual control people usually rely on, even when they’re not ‘connected’ to the internet.”

Mixing It Up

Whether bringing the outdoors in or the indoors out, maximizing outdoor spaces requires a bit of ingenuity and imagination to utilize furnishings in multiple settings. 

“There really is no differentiation between indoor and outdoor,” says Oliver Nixon. “We’ll bring our indoor furniture out, and wipe off the feet of the furniture before bringing it back in. It doesn’t live out there all the time. As you go into season, style up your outdoor spaces. Bring pieces out that go back in.” 

Outdoor spaces can encompass far more than the back deck or patio as well. Consider the furnishings on front porches, at backyard fire pits and those urban balconies. Dress these spaces up with greenery and soothing furnishings. Giving outside the style and functionality that mirrors indoors expands the living space and creates an additional oasis that doesn’t require jumping on a plane. In this time of social distancing, outdoors is where the connections can happen. 

Polywood front yard
Consumers are designing front yard spaces for socializing, says Polywood.

“People are missing each other, and hanging out in the front yard is a way to promote being social,” says Polywood’s Schleis. “We are actually seeing a revival of the front yard. The front porch is a true American ideal, and we are seeing that reflected as people are yearning for a feeling of community.”

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