Outdoor furnishing's fabrics, styles make modern advances

Need to relax? Can't get away? There's always the closest retreat -- the backyard, terrace or even the rooftop.

If that works for you -- as it apparently does for millions of Americans -- and if you're also into decorating, then this column is for you.

Those who keep current with design trends already know about alternatives to old-fashioned outdoor furnishings made of plastic strapping, teak or redwood. In fact, today's outdoor furniture styles, whether sophisticated or casual, often resemble those found indoors.

That's true of fabrics as well. They're now color-coordinated within specific collections, just as has long been the case with fabrics intended for use in living rooms. Manufacturers of outdoor materials have also greatly enhanced fabric performance, a term referring to resistance to soiling and fading.

Responding to growing consumer demand for top-quality products, the outdoor-furnishing industry has "continually raised the bar on comfort and found innovative options for creating private sanctuaries just outside our back doors," says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance (www.findyourfurniture.com).

Q: We're considering building a patio adjacent to our contemporary-style living room. The outdoor space would be reached through sliding glass doors. Should the patio furniture therefore be in the same style as the pieces in the living room?

A: It's hard to know what you mean by "contemporary." To some, it denotes a mix of styles in a relaxed setting. Others think of it as the latest version of what used to be called "modern."

But whatever your definition, here are a few thoughts in response to your question.

Outdoor furnishings should generally be compatible with a home's architecture as well as with the design of a room from which they're seen. In your case, many styles would qualify as appropriate choices, regardless of what type of contemporary furniture you have.

Some possibilities are more striking than others.

Consider, for example, the combined ottoman and seating piece shown in the accompanying photo. Barlow Tyrie, a company once known primarily for its teak furniture, commissioned this piece from Vladimir Kagan, an experienced avant-garde designer.

What you see here is actually part of a 30-piece collection of outdoor furniture -- the first designed by Kagan. And that's further proof of how chic this design genre has become.

The aluminum frame of this particular piece is coated with all-weather resin fiber and can be covered in any appropriate fabric. For more information, visit www.teak.com.

Should you prefer something more classical, a style that often goes well with contemporary, then you might want to consult The Ladies Association of Mount Vernon. These overseers of the museum that was once the home of George and Martha Washington have introduced a licensed collection of outdoor furniture. It can be viewed at www.mountvernon.org by following the shopping links to "garden furniture."

These pieces were inspired by an eclectic set of sources, including England's Twickenham Rugby Stadium, the Adirondack National Park and British-Chinese Chippendale furniture.

Rita St. Clair is a syndicated columnist with Tribune Media Services Inc. E-mail general interior design questions to her at rsca@ritastclair.com.