For years, designers have reported their clients’ desires for functional outdoor living spaces designed as an extension of the indoors and often included as part of an overall design project from the outset. But these outdoor spaces have become more important now than ever before as the pandemic continues to impact the way homeowners live, lounge and entertain.
“Homeowners are no longer casually creating outdoor spaces,” says Sarah Dooley, Director of Upholstery for Sunbrella. “They view these areas as critical extensions of their homes and to support their overall wellbeing. We are all learning to appreciate our backyards, porches, patios and beyond as they provide new forums for work, play, learning and connection.”
As the U.S. approaches the one-year mark of stay at home orders, quarantining and social distancing, functional outdoor spaces can be the antidote to COVID-19-induced cabin fever. The ability to step outside, get fresh air and relax in an environment outside the four walls of one’s home can affect one’s overall wellbeing.
“Spending more time outdoors can lower stress levels and boost mental health,” says Jess Flanders, Vice President of Marketing for Lloyd Flanders. “Over the last year, the outdoors has been a sanctuary for escaping the monotony of spending all your time in one place.”
According to a pre-coronavirus focus group done by residential home products marketing firm Kleber & Associates, 74 percent of participants invested in outdoor living because it enhances the environment of their home, while 64 percent said outdoor living is a way to find refuge or escape every day. This refuge is more important now than ever before, and outdoor furnishings makers are stepping up to meet customer needs.
As time outside increases, so too do the demands for high-functioning furnishings. Durability, comfort and convenience are all driving outdoor living product trends.
“Manufacturers are taking advantage of new technologies, allowing architects and designers alike to create outdoor spaces with boundless design in mind,” says Daniel Germani, Creative Director of Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens and Danver, manufacturer of Trex Outdoor Kitchens.
“Years ago, we’d never have thought of having sleek furniture or cabinetry options outside — now we are seeing outdoor sofas and kitchens that look just like what we have indoors.”
Much like the way the inside of a home is now a place for work, school and entertainment, outdoor spaces also are serving multiple purposes.
“When creating their outdoor living areas, homeowners want spaces designed around entertaining,” Germani says. “We’re seeing many prioritizing spaces where they can gather with loved ones, like areas for lounging and cooking.”
Those missing the pre-pandemic social connections are using front porches and backyards as venues to connect with friends and family. Because of ongoing coronavirus concerns, many are wary of indoor entertaining and are opting to bring guests outside. Large outdoor dining tables with room to safely entertain guests, and spacious and versatile lounge seating for conversation and more casual dining are all options for spending time with loved ones when being inside is not.
“As homeowners look at their outdoor spaces as an extension of their indoor areas, they are making these spaces more functional as well — adding kitchens, lounge areas and even technology devices such as televisions or projectors,” Dooley says.
Outdoor kitchens in particular are becoming increasingly popular — and the technology is evolving. Wayfair Professional’s 2020 Trend Watch reported a 66 percent increase in customer searches for modular outdoor kitchens and a 155 percent increase in searches for outdoor bars. Outdoor cooking technology has advanced past the simple backyard grill. Now homeowners can take advantage of outdoor kitchen appliances and cabinetry with the same functionality of those indoors.
“Manufacturers, like Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens, Danver and Trex Outdoor Kitchens, have developed outdoor cabinets to help store all the tools and accessories needed for outdoor cooking and entertaining,” Germani says. “Many have also created refrigerators, sinks, trash cabinets, countertop spaces and even dishwashers manufactured for outdoor use to help hosts reduce trips inside.”
These outdoor spaces also have to be functional year-round, no matter the weather.
“Anecdotally, we’re seeing people recast their routines and reprioritize time outdoors, regardless of the season or climate,” Dooley says. “While the concept isn’t new, many people are taking this to heart and finding new ways to embrace their surroundings and invest more thoughtfully in outdoor spaces that feel comfortable year-round.”
Durable materials such as powder coatings and performance fabrics help outdoor furnishings and appliances stand up to the elements. Accessories such as heaters and fire pits and tables can help provide comfort in cooler temperatures, while ceiling fans and awnings provide relief from the heat.
Because of the new demands placed on outdoor living, manufacturers are having to step up in new ways.
“Manufacturers are responding by providing as much customization as possible, while delivering durable furniture with the style and comfort of indoor furniture,” says Flanders. She says versatility and functionality will continue to be important for consumers, and manufacturers will need to focus on furnishings that meet the demands of today’s changing lifestyles while also looking good.
The ability to shop for furnishings has also changed during this time.
“In general, the industry has moved quickly as manufacturers, retailers and suppliers have come together to meet new demands and challenges safely,” Dooley says. “Some retailers adjusted their online experience with curbside pickup. Other manufacturers created virtual showrooms to enhance the online shopping experience.” For their part, Sunbrella has launched a new website with easier navigation to help customers find what they need, especially in a time when in-person browsing isn’t alway viable.
Eventually, coronavirus will be a thing of the past and people will feel more comfortable venturing out beyond their yards. For now, consumers are investing in making outdoor spaces comfortable, functional and enjoyable places to be.