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Outside looking in: Patio gear boasts the comfort and good looks of indoor furniture

An unsuspecting meteorologist might cringe at the sight of today's breed of patios. Many look like a surgically precise tornado has swooped down on the house and blown off the walls of an outlying family room. Given patio furniture's drab, pared-...

An unsuspecting meteorologist might cringe at the sight of today's breed of patios.

Many look like a surgically precise tornado has swooped down on the house and blown off the walls of an outlying family room.

Given patio furniture's drab, pared-down past, how else would one explain that cushy sectional sofa, in a sleek white color no less? Or the chic patterns on the gleaming tile table top? And what's with the area rug?

If you haven't picked up an outdoor furniture catalog or peeked in a store in the past few years, you're in for a major update. Patio furniture has been growing bigger, plusher, more colorful and sophisticated - kind of like living room furniture.

Sprinkle in an assortment of accessories that a few years ago used to belong strictly indoors, and you have the modern patio - or as furniture manufacturers prefer to call it these days, the outdoor room.


Interior exports

Jodi and Brad Gebeke's patio in West Fargo takes after their sumptuous living room, and that's not a coincidence.

On their spacious backyard deck, they have set off, with some help from an area rug or two, a dining area (a tile top table with seating for six and a billowing umbrella), a sunbathing area (two chaises with throw pillows, end table embellished with a mosaic outdoor lantern and a spray of faux ferns and palms) and a wine-sipping area of sorts (a cast-iron bench, which they refer to as a love seat, and a coffee table).

The curving cast-iron frames and the brown seat cushions, custom-ordered from a catalog at Scheels on South University Drive in Fargo, tie all the pieces together. But they also echo the subdued good looks of the Gebekes' home: The browns match the hues of the living room leather couch and walls, and the ethnic-print throw pillows are the petite look-alikes of those inside.

"I was looking for something that goes with the décor of the home," says Jodi, who selected the patio pieces at Scheels in May. "Now, the deck is more of an extension of our house."

As Americans invest more lavishly in outdoor furniture - the more than $2.3 billion a year wholesale business has doubled over the past decade, says the American Home Furnishings Alliance - they tolerate less of a disconnect between what's inside and outside the patio door.

Step aside, hammocks and homey plastic chairs, and make room for slick sectional sofas, dainty end tables and other such exports from indoor furnishing. Chairs, chaises and benches (or love seats, if you like) now come with ever-cushier padded seats, and dining chairs are bouncy swivel-rockers.

"Customers are asking that chairs be as comfortable outside as they are inside," says Heather Egenes, outdoor furniture buyer at Country Furniture in Fargo.


A wide variety of high-tech and faux table tops are threatening the old-style glass top with extinction: marble, granite, stone, tile. Homeowners also have options when it comes to table height, from the low, "chat" fire-pit tables and chairs - "It's kind of like sitting around a camp fire in your lawn chair," says Egenes - to bar-height sets.

"You have your indoor entertaining, and you bring it outdoors," she says.

Accessories galore

Right across from the entrance of the Country Furniture showroom, a patio set sprawls in all its plushness, a completely different species from the basic plastic table and chairs set that was once the patio norm.

A love seat with two cushy seat pillows in the trendy palm and fern print is topped off with fringe-lined throw pillows. Then, there are the marble-top coffee and end tables, the cushy armchair, the table and floor lamps with crimson shades and the black vase with a twig arrangement.

These days, homeowners are accessorizing their patios with the same zeal as their living room. Area rugs, throw pillows and floor lamps are standard. A recent catalog by Homecrest, the Minnesota manufacturer whose products you can find at Country Furniture, features an exquisite eight-candle chandelier hanging over an outdoor table.

Julie Erickson and Linda Birmingham, interior designers at Visual Coordinations Inc. in Fargo, suggest lining up a battery of votive candles on the deck railing for instant ambience, or hanging luminary balls from trees to provide track lighting. Fake foliage is definitely in.

With the explosion of outdoor accessories and the richer furniture color palette, color coordination for the patio is more of a priority. "I've had people bring in a set of tableware to make sure it matches the table they love," says Reece Anderson, outdoor living buyer at Scheels.


In fact, the growing aesthetic demands of patio furnishing are driving some homeowners to seek the help of interior designers, an assignment the Visual Coordinations team says was unusual a few years ago.

They were recently hired to outfit the backyard porch of a lake cabin just outside Detroit Lakes, Minn., and they went with a "shabby chic cottage kind of look," as Birmingham puts it. They attached legs to a distressed window frame to convert it into a coffee table. They picked out resin wicker chairs, a mosaic top table and a bench.

And of course they accessorized abundantly: area rug, chandelier made out of an old garden wire fence, lots of candles and throw pillows. The grungy, found-object feel to the pieces tied the décor together, and so did the South Beach flavor of their color solutions, a burst of lime, turquoise and other brights.

"It's all about feeding our senses, both indoors and outdoors," says Birmingham.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529

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