Alex Lemonde-Gray -- Casual Living, May 6, 2011
Interior designers are extending their work outdoors in response to homeowners' needs and desires to beautify living spaces beyond the walls of their homes.
"When you're in a limited space, you want to increase that space, and oft en that means going outside," 2011 Interior Design Society National President Domnick Minella said.
Margi Kyle, 2009-2010 IDS national president, explained that world events over the past decade helped push people toward staying home and creating comfortable outdoor living areas. "After 9/11 we realized it wasn't just ‘home sweet home,' it was ‘home safe home.' In our little fenced-in areas we felt safe," she said. "That was the start of expanding, growing and staying home, and that's what was driving the market."
The two speakers joined IDS Triangle Chapter President Loretta Bell in an Alfresco Design panel discussion hosted by Casual Living. The two-part seminar featured Casual Living Publisher Norman Hamilton's presentation of research data concerning the outdoor furnishings market, and a panel discussion of various topics relating to outdoor design, moderated by Cinde Ingram, editor-in-chief of Casual Living.
Hamilton cited overall trends in the outdoor furnishings market and personal observations, requests and desires of survey participants.
Noting that homeowners were previously stuck in a "mansion phase," Bell said, "The [outdoor room] was the forgotten area - it was done by the landscape architect or ‘Joe's Trees' down the road. Now, people with more money are building smaller homes and making the outside design the focus."
Each of the panelists stressed that outdoor areas should be comfortable, distinct from the rest of the house and reflect the owner's personal tastes. These qualities help create a backyard retreat.
"You should try to establish with your client the idea of a retreat area," Minella told the designer-heavy audience. "Bringing the outdoors into your little space is good for the mind and soul. Establish that with your client."
Kyle added, "The outdoors is a fun feeling - it's not as serious as the indoors. Start slow, be eclectic, let it build and show who you are through your personality."
The panel encouraged designers and retailers to expand beyond the standard dining table and chairs offerings. Lighting, fans, rugs, screens, plants and umbrellas are some of the complementary furnishings and accessories the panel suggested.
"Lighting is critical," Minella said. "You must use subtle lighting to give a setting that appropriate comfort level."
Expanding on the outdoor lighting concept, Kyle tied it back into her explanation of fear factors that are driving growth of outdoor living areas. "If you have lighting outside all around at night in different pockets that makes you feel safe," she said.
Minella encouraged attendees to consider using indoor furnishings in outside areas. Such furnishings will inevitably wear though, he reminded the audience.
"You have to be careful with some of the finishes on the wood," Minella said. "But now, we have pieces that look like they have been outside, so that's a new look, and you can incorporate some of that."
The panelists detailed the importance of sales staff s and designers staying knowledgeable about the products they're selling. For instance, knowing woven fabric is more durable than printed fabric can help designers guide clients to better quality products. Knowledge about products will enable designers to create an outdoor space suitable for their clients, regardless of criterion.
"If you have a Lowe's client, honor that budget," Bell said, encouraging designers to use products across various price points.
Kyle emphasized that outdoor buyers will be more willing to spend money on outdoor furnishings the second time around. "They bought the cheap stuff the first time around, and it just won't work. I did it myself," she said.
Bell suggested the use of temperature controlling devices to make outdoor spaces more comfortable year round. "If possible, use means of temperature control, whether it's a heating lamp or a fan so you can use that outdoor space 365 days a year," Bell said.
Casual Living Editor Cinde Ingram moderates Alfresco Design panelists Margi Kyle, Loretta Bell and Domnick Minella at High Point Market.
Assistant Editor Jesse Burkhart contributed to this report.