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Outdoor spaces reflecting regional loyalties

Outdoor spaces reflecting regional loyalties

Fielding questions from consumers who log onto the Glen Raven Web site in search of design tips is one of Gina Wicker's multitude of responsibilities as design and creative director for Glen Raven Custom Fabrics-Americas, makers of Sunbrella.

As she answered question after question throughout 2009, Wicker noticed a pattern. Those who were embracing the "staycation" trend and spending more time at home were also showing provincial tendencies. They wanted their outdoor space to reflect where they lived.

"I was e-mailing a lady who didn't tell me where she was from at first, but asked for recommendations for stripes to go with solids," Wicker said. "I gave her a whole list of colors that could work. Many were bright colors. She replied that she didn't want her outdoor room to look like Miami. She lived in Scottsdale and wanted a desert palette."

Wicker recalled similar exchanges with consumers from other regions of the country. She finds regionalism particularly strong in the desert Southwest, the deep South and the Northeast.

Regionalism isn't a brand-new trend, but it certainly has become more pronounced in the last year, said Natalie Scott, vice president of sales and marketing for Shuford Mills, maker of Outdura fabrics.

"People want to try to capture a style that may be older and more authentic to their area," Scott said. "In the 1980s, you could look at neighborhoods and see that all the homes looked very new. Now you're seeing a lot of interesting designs that reflect David McAlpine's architecture, which is very Old World and European. Architects are trying to make homes look like they've been there forever."

Consumers who live in those homes want their outdoor spaces to fit with the historically popular styles of the area, Scott said. In Florida, for instance, fabrics with bright colors and palm-leaf designs are all the rage. In New England, it's all about khaki, old-school navy, burgundy and white.

"Regionalism has truly has been one of the motivations behind designing new lines," Scott said. "We constantly ask ourselves, 'Regionally, what is happening?'"

California designers want the clean and neutral white color story, Scott said. Then there is that pocket of the population around New York City, full of people with very different tastes from their peers to the north.

Dottie Simons, general manager of Dodds & Eder, a multiple Apollo Award-nominated outdoor retailer on Long Island, said her store's customer base used to be traditional only because it was limited by the breadth — or lack thereof — of outdoor furniture designs. Now, she said, her fashion-forward customers are thinking outside the box, even in an economy that encourages conservatism.

"They'll go to hotels and see the big outdoor beds and the sleek deep seating chairs by the pool, and they'll want it for their backyards," Simons said. "They want big statement pieces."

Many of these pieces reflect the contemporary and urban design sensibilities New Yorkers are known for.

Wicker, Scott and Simons agreed the regionalism trend promises to be stronger in outdoor living this year, based on its strengths in other categories. Wicker related it to the food industry, where farmer's markets have become all the rage with both seasoned and weekend gourmands.

"The whole regionalism thing in furniture is just another offshoot of consumers' desire to buy local and keep things close to home," Wicker said.

The trend has even deeper underpinnings, she added. Regionalism gives a sense of history and stability for a society of increasingly transient people. Day after day, Wicker sees it coming through in the e-mailed questions she fields from consumers. They love where they live, and they want to show it in every possible way.

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