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Hearth & Home February 2018

Nettleton 198 project sitting high above Clifton in Cape Town, South Africa.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Saota. www.saota.com

Interiors Inspire Exteriors

By Mark Brock

More and more, homeowners want their Outdoor Room®(s) to blend seamlessly with their interior decor.

When it comes to understanding the creative inspirations for Outdoor Rooms, and all of the amenities that adorn them, you probably should step back inside the home for a minute or two. That’s because when it comes to creating outdoor spaces that are beautiful and chock full of creature comforts, much of the inspiration is coming from inside the home.

  • Are you a foodie who loves cooking in your dream kitchen? Create a kitchen with those same bells and whistles outdoors.
  • Does your family enjoy college football Saturdays in front of your flat screen TV in the media room? You can enjoy those same games in a widescreen vista while basking in the warm fall sun and reveling in a tailgate atmosphere of food and beverage.
  • When it comes to managing all of the technology in your home, from security systems to energy consumption, do you find yourself glued to your smartphone? That same smartphone can control amenities in your Outdoor Room.

“Outdoor living spaces that are being designed today actually replicate virtually every aspect of home interiors,” said Maxine Lauer, CEO of Sphere Trending, a Michigan-based firm specializing in trend forecasting. “There are many reasons for this trend, including the use of expansive windows in newer homes that provide views to the outside. Homeowners not only want those views to be attractive, they also want the outside to blend seamlessly with everything inside the home.”

Furnishings from Restoration Hardware Modern (RH Modern); home is located at Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Minervini Interiors. www.minerviniinteriors.com.

Inside Inspiring Outside

A Hearth & Home reader recently sent an inquiry into the magazine asking the question: “How are designers taking inspiration from the indoors to the outdoors?” We decided to explore this question with Maxine Lauer, along with landscape architects, interior designers, furniture and fabric makers, and consumer product specialists, to gain insights into this question that could be relevant to specialty retailers. The major take-away is that interiors are a strong influence on outdoor spaces, and specialty retailers will be well advised to look, not just in the backyard, but also inside their customers’ homes to unearth sales and marketing opportunities.

Trends Point to Integration of Home Interiors and Exteriors

Maxine Lauer and her team work closely with leading international brands analyzing research and consumer insights to forecast trends that have a direct bearing on the products and services we see in the marketplace. In terms of home interiors and outdoor living spaces, the lines are definitely blurring; Lauer cites a recent survey by the American Institute of Architects that reported more than 60% of homeowners want to see a blending of interior and exterior spaces.

“An important trend that is bringing interior décor and outdoor spaces closer together is the fact that new homes today are trending smaller,” Lauer said. “By creating an outdoor space that reflects the look inside the home, with many interior-like amenities, you are increasing useful living space and giving the home a feeling of being much larger.”

Additional factors in the blurring of interiors and exteriors include technology, which is creating new and better weather resistant materials that are being used in outdoor products ranging from fabrics, furniture and outdoor kitchens to large screen TVs. There is also a basic human desire for a sense of wellbeing, and an outdoor living space seamlessly connected to the interior of a home can contribute to a feeling of nature to nurture.

According to Lauer, all income levels and all demographics, from Baby Boomers to the Millennial generation, are gravitating toward outdoor living spaces that reflect their sense of style and taste inside the home. It’s an opportunity and a challenge for specialty retailers.

“What we’re seeing today are not just Outdoor Rooms, but essentially outdoor homes,” Lauer said. “There’s a cooking space, a relaxing space, a dining space, a kid’s space – every area inside the home is being replicated outside the home. Retailers need to understand this trend so they can offer products that complement décor inside the home. A consumer is not just looking for an outdoor piece; they are looking for something that fits with everything inside the home.”

Outdoor kitchen from Georgie Award-winning home, “Dunlin Shore,” built by Balandra Development on the seaside in Richmond, British Columbia.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Provoke Studios. www.provokestudios.com.
built by Balandra Development. www.balandra.ca.

Landscape Architect Begins Outside Design Process Inside

Don Nesmith is a landscape architect based in Haymarket, Virginia, and a specialist in the design and construction management of Outdoor Rooms, many of which have budgets well into six figures. One of the most important steps in the planning process for outdoor spaces, he says, is spending time inside the home to find inspirations.

“You can learn a lot about what a homeowner is looking for in an outdoor space by spending time inside their home,” he said. “If they have lots of plants indoors, then you can be confident that they’ll appreciate planted areas in their Outdoor Room. If the interior décor is traditional, then it’s likely they’ll want the Outdoor Room to have a traditional feel. If there are young kids in the household, then the Outdoor Room may need to include a kid’s play area separate from the adult play areas.”

With a career in landscape architecture that spans more than 30 years, Nesmith says that the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, were a watershed in the creation of Outdoor Rooms as homeowners began to prefer staying close to home rather than venturing into an increasingly dangerous world. This surge of interest in outdoor spaces at home is continuing today, he says, because of concerns over safe environments for children, and because of a desire by homeowners to elevate the entertainment of friends and family – also known as “keeping up with the Joneses.”

“When we are working with a homeowner, we start by going inside the home to determine the focal points from the interior,” he said. “If a Great Room is a focal point of the home, then we try to visualize the look of an Outdoor Room and a pool from that vantage point. Everything relates to the visual appeal of the outdoor space from inside the home.”

Through the use of hardscape materials and designs, Nesmith is able to create Outdoor Rooms with specific functions, ranging from kitchens and pools to putting greens and relaxation zones. Outdoor accessories, from kitchens to audiovisuals, mean that these spaces are a direct reflection of the home’s interior.

“Architects, landscape architects and interior designers – we all bring a different perspective to creating an outdoor space,” said Nesmith, whose firm specializes in pools and water features. “Landscaping is really the icing on the cake; it’s how we put all of the hardscape together to create the perfect setting around the pool or whatever outdoor spaces we’re building.”

Veranda series from SunBrite TV.

Interior Designers Applying Creativity to the Great Outdoors

Interior designers are also leading the trend of interior inspirations for the great outdoors, creating cohesive, total-home décor. By applying their well-honed skills with interiors, designers are infusing decks, patios and Outdoor Rooms with luxurious lifestyles and seamless transitions from inside to out. Advances in fabrics, furniture and accessories mean there are virtually no limits to creativity.

Lazaro Merzer, an interior designer with Robb & Stucky in Coral Gables, Florida, is in an ideal position to help lead this transformative process for his customers. Merzer has more than 25 years of experience in the profession, along with access to Robb & Stucky product offerings that span both interior and outdoor furnishings. He has had first-hand experience throughout his career with the trend of interiors inspiring exteriors, a movement that shows no signs of diminishing.

“People have become tired of what outdoor furniture and outdoor spaces used to be like many years ago, which was plain and uninspiring,” he said. “The trend now is toward extending the comfort of indoor furnishings to the outdoors. Homeowners want their outdoor spaces to be beautiful, livable, comfortable and useful. With all the materials we have available to us now, such as performance fabrics, innovative furniture designs and even synthetic down, we can create an outdoor setting that gives you the same plush feeling you have inside the home.”

In working with new customers, Lazaro’s first step is to gain insights into their tastes and lifestyles that he can translate into every aspect of home décor both inside and out. Many selections that have traditionally been limited to interiors can breathe new life into outdoor spaces.

“Sectional sofas have long been popular for home interiors and can be a great choice for outdoors as well because of the flexibility in how they can be configured,” he said. “If a homeowner is having a large party, they can separate the sections and create small groups through the outdoor space. Or, if it’s a small, intimate gathering, the sectional can be staged as a single piece for bringing everyone closer together.”

Other interior furnishings traditionally associated with interiors, such as rugs, daybeds and slip-covered furniture, also can be used in outdoor settings as a result of fast-drying performance fabrics and furniture designs that channel water from the frames. The goal is to create comfortable outdoor spaces that mirror a home’s overall look and feel.

“We bring style and comfort to the outside, not as an exact match of the interior, but with a complementary look,” he said. “The most important thing I tell my customers is that the design is all about you, your lifestyle and how you will use the space. We learn about the customer’s needs and go from there to find just the right pieces.”

As an interior designer, Lazaro is energized by the opportunities for creating beautiful décor for outdoor spaces inspired by plush interiors. It’s a trend that he says is full of opportunities for retailers.

“I love working with outdoor spaces; it’s fun and exciting when we can create such beautiful areas that transition from inside the home to the outside; there are so many choices,” he said. “I see these choices expanding each year with increased use of bright colors and with new items continually being introduced, such as small accent tables. There are great opportunities for specialty retailers who gain the essential product knowledge and who recognize that every customer is different and you have to cater to many different lifestyles.”

An Outdoor Room with decorative pillows in Sunbrella fabric.
Photo courtesy: ©2018 Sunbrella. www.sunbrella.com. Steve Mason. www.masonimage.com.

Performance Fabrics Lead the Way on Integrated Home Décor

Out of all the product categories for home décor, performance fabrics have had perhaps the single greatest influence in bringing home interiors and Outdoor Rooms together into a cohesive whole. Fabric designers and manufacturers have made tremendous strides in creating performance fabrics with the look and feel of the finest interior fabrics while assuring durability, fade resistance and easy care. Today’s performance fabrics have, in fact, become so soft, comfortable and elegant that they have found their way inside of homes as well, further blurring the lines between interior and exterior home decoration.

“The goal has been to bring a level of design sophistication and comfort to outdoor fabrics that had been traditionally associated exclusively with fabrics inside the home,” said Greg Voorhis, Design director for Sunbrella fabrics. “We’ve achieved this goal through a collaborative effort among designers, research and development, and manufacturing.”

With jacquard weaving now an industry standard for premium performance fabrics, and with continual innovations in novelty yarns and fabric constructions, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell whether a performance fabric belongs inside the home, outside the home or both.

“Performance fabrics with a greater sense of style and increased comfort have given specialty retailers and their customers hundreds of different choices in creating individualized home décor inside and out,” Voorhis said. “When we named our latest collection of fabrics the ‘Makers’ collection, it was our intent to offer an invitation to designers, retailers and homeowners to become ‘Makers’ in their own right, using our fabrics to create unique, highly personalized spaces.”

Another leader in creating performance fabrics with the look and feel of interiors is the Outdura brand. While outdoor applications were the original focus of Outdura fabrics introduced in the late 1990s, today you’ll find these fabrics gracing outdoor and indoor rooms.

“Performance fabrics are playing a major role today not only in adding comfort and style to Outdoor Rooms, but in bringing interior décor and outdoor spaces together in a cohesive look,” said Gloria Tsocos, Design manager for Outdura fabrics. “Consumers are better educated today about performance fabrics and recognize how these fabrics can contribute to comfort and style both inside and outside of the home.”

With newer homes featuring expansive windows, performance fabrics are essential to prevent fading of interior furniture from exposure to sunlight, she said. Additionally, today’s performance fabrics have a soft feel that adds comfort so that homeowners can better enjoy their outdoor kitchens and fireplaces. Ease of cleaning makes these fabrics ideal for kids, pets and messy adults.

“We’re at a point when calling a performance fabric an ‘outdoor fabric’ is no longer relevant since our fabrics work well inside and out,” said Tsocos. “In the future, we may begin to refer to performance fabrics as ‘multi-purpose’ or some other term that indicates the fabrics are designed for inside or outside.”


Joe Ruggiero.


Richard Frinier.

Two of the casual industry’s design icons, Joe Ruggiero and Richard Frinier, have for many years led increased design sophistication for performance fabrics through their signature lines for the Sunbrella brand. These fabrics have an aesthetic inspired by lifestyles of comfort, beauty and easy living, and reflective of home interiors.

Ruggiero: “Every year, as I travel and make presentations to designers in the U.S. and Canada, I realize that more and more interior designers understand the importance of using performance fabrics for their clients both inside the home and outside. The designers we work with are continually amazed at how these fabrics have advanced, especially in the ‘hand’ and ‘drape-ability,’ for many applications inside and out.”

Frinier: “Performance materials and the desire to create the outdoor living room as a natural extension of the home have inspired manufacturers to develop furnishings that provide the same comfort and functionality enjoyed indoors. And why stop there? We can now enjoy fully upholstered modular recliners, rugs and throws, lighting, music and movies, and fully equipped kitchens for entertaining. The outdoor living room is not just an extension of the house; it is now the favorite room of the home.”

A new cordless power-motion recliner by Klaussner Outdoor.

Casual Furniture Innovations Being Inspired by the Indoors

Just as the influence of home interiors is impacting the design of performance fabric, this same trend is reflected in the continual evolution of casual furniture. Items such as sectional sofas, slipcovers and deep seating, traditionally associated with interior décor, are now standard in Outdoor Rooms, thanks to performance fabrics and advances in frame designs.

An excellent recent example of how interior furniture designs are migrating to the outdoors is a cordless power-motion recliner introduced by Klaussner Outdoor. Power-motion recliners have long been popular indoors, and through a collaborative program with its suppliers of reclining mechanisms and power actuator systems, Klaussner has created a new cordless chair for the outdoors that transforms under power to a full chaise lounge.

“Reclining mechanisms for outdoors have been around for quite some time, so our breakthrough was in adding a power pack that can withstand the weather,” said Gary McCray, president of Klaussner Outdoor. “We tapped into technology from other industries to develop the motor and a battery that can power a chair outdoors.

“Power motion is a natural for outdoors where it essentially lets you convert a chair into a chaise with the touch of a button. It’s all part of a larger trend in which consumers want to take everything they enjoy inside the home to the outside. Outdoor living has evolved to a whole new level. People want beautiful, comfortable spaces; they want to create outdoor retreats.”

Klaussner’s new outdoor motion recliner can achieve between 200 to 300 cycles on one battery charge, and the battery life is estimated at 100,000 cycles. Sunbrella and Outdura fabrics are offered on the chair to add to its weather-ability outdoors.

Based in Asheboro, North Carolina, Klaussner has been in the interior furniture industry since 1963. The company began offering casual furniture in 2014 with McCray, a veteran of the casual industry, named as president of the new operation. McCray sees advantages for Klaussner in offering both interior and casual furniture as the lines between outdoors and interiors continue to blur.

“We are in a position to see all of the new things that are being developed for interior furniture,” he said. “As indoors and outdoors continue to merge, this position gives us insights into consumer trends so we can offer new products that will keep people coming into the stores. Our cordless power-motion chair is an excellent example of how having a stake in interiors and a stake in casual furniture works for our customers and for consumers.”

Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchen.

Outdoor Kitchens Reflect Dream Kitchens Inside the Home

When it comes to cooking outdoors, you can forget about the charcoal grill and the ice chest. Full-featured outdoor kitchens are one of the strongest trends in outdoor living today, inspired by the dream kitchens that homeowners cherish inside. High performance materials, innovative designs and advanced fabrication techniques allow consumers to have food and beverage preparation areas, and high-tech appliances, outside that rival everything indoors.

One of the leaders in this trend is Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens of Wallingford, Connecticut, which has been fabricating stainless-steel cabinetry for outdoor kitchens since the late 1990s. More recently, Danver has become a Brown Jordan licensee as Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens, representing one of the casual industry’s premier casual furniture brands.

“We work with designers and builders to create custom cabinetry from stainless steel for outdoor kitchens that offer all of the beauty and all of the functions that you’ll find in an interior kitchen, and more,” said Mitch Slater, owner of Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens. “Homeowners today are recognizing the importance of durable, easy care materials, such as stainless steel, and the ways in which we can create a fully integrated outdoor kitchen that incorporates every cooking and food and beverage preparation feature imaginable, while complementing all of their other casual furnishings.”

Danver’s fabrication capabilities enable them to craft cabinetry in a wide variety of configurations and door styles; through powder coating, Danver creates a broad array of colors and realistic wood grain finishes, complementing casual furniture frames and fabric, and the overall outdoor setting. These capabilities enable architects, interior designers, kitchen and bath specialists, landscape architects and builders in presenting their customers with outdoor spaces that are highly personalized to individual tastes and reflective of décor inside the home. Danver’s outdoor kitchen cabinetry is configured to provide ample storage space and to accommodate the full range of outdoor appliances, including cooktops, grills, smokers, sinks and refrigeration.

“Creating outdoor kitchens inspired by dream kitchens inside the home is a trend that has gone nationwide,” Slater said. “Homeowners are creating outdoor entertainment spaces to increase the square footage of their homes, and they want those outdoor spaces to look as if they belong as part of the home. With the materials and fabrication technology we have today, along with the creativity of designers and builders, we can easily achieve this type of coordinated look.”

Customized 106-in. by 100-in. gas grill corner island by Gensun.

Another company capitalizing on the popularity of outdoor kitchens is Gensun, which is based in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Founded as a casual furniture company, Gensun saw an opportunity about four years ago to expand into the design and manufacture of cabinetry, fascia panels and countertops for outdoor kitchens. Gensun’s outdoor kitchen lines are made from powder-coated aluminum and envisioned as complementary to the company’s extensive casual furniture offerings, many of which are also fabricated with powder-coated aluminum frames.

“I believe our company is at the forefront of an emerging trend in which one company can offer multiple components for an Outdoor Room,” said Jan Trinkley, president of Gensun. “As a resource for multiple facets of an Outdoor Room, we can assure that the colors and design of the furniture and the outdoor kitchen are complementary.”

Gensun’s outdoor kitchen and furniture design teams collaborate closely each season in creating a cohesive look in terms of designs and finishes. In addition to its expertise in powder coating, Gensun can also hand-apply antique finishes that result in unique visual effects.

“The growth in popularity of outdoor kitchens continues a long-term trend of home interiors influencing the products and designs we see outdoors,” Trinkley said. “New colors and designs usually begin inside the home and, within a couple of seasons, you’ll see the same colors in the outdoors. Change is constant and there is always something new.”

Outdoor Fireplaces: Even Cozier Outdoors

There are few experiences more pleasant than gathering around a fireplace inside your home on a wintry evening, enjoying the warm ambiance and the hypnotic dance of flames. That same experience is even more compelling when you’re outside on a cool evening, with the stars above and friends close by.

This primordial attraction to the comforts of fire helps to explain why fireplaces have moved from inside the home to Outdoor Rooms. Advances in materials and designs have made outdoor fireplaces a highly sought after amenity.

“There is a strong emotional connection to fireplaces; when you light a fire, everyone gathers around; it’s in our genes,” says Jonathan Burke, president and CEO of Montigo fireplaces, a leading manufacturer of interior and outdoor gas fireplaces with manufacturing locations in Langley, British Columbia, which is near Vancouver, and Ferndale, Washington, just north of Seattle.

This emotional connection to fireplaces accounts for their rapid growth as a must-have accessory for Outdoor Rooms, and is encouraging fireplace manufacturers such as Montigo to offer a continual flow of innovations. The latest outdoor fireplaces can be configured with glass doors and quiet fans to provide heat for an expanded outdoor area. LED lighting makes the fireplace a dramatic addition to an outdoor space even when the fire isn’t lit. Designs are available so that fireplaces are beautifully visible from different perspectives within the Outdoor Room and from inside the house. Smartphone applications integrate the operation of the fireplace with total home automation.

“Consumers not only want their outdoor fireplaces to be beautiful accent pieces, but they also want a reliable source of warmth that allows them to extend the seasons for enjoying their Outdoor Rooms,” according to Burke. “As the cost of construction of new homes continues to increase, homeowners and builders are emphasizing the importance of quality fabrication and energy efficiency, so the outdoor fireplaces must be well built and fit within the space available.”

According to Burke, outdoor fireplaces are yet another example of how interiors are influencing the design and outfitting of outdoor spaces. “People want their outdoor living spaces to be just as comfortable as their indoor living spaces, and this need is creating a growing market for outdoor fireplaces, which provide both physical comfort and emotional comfort,” he said.

L-Series single sided (L38) linear burner with firestones, from Montigo.

Enjoying the Weather, and the Big Game with Outdoor TV

It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the fall, perfect for inviting over a few close friends to grill steaks and enjoy a few beverages. But your favorite college football team is playing today, so you have a hard choice to make – stay indoors and watch the game or go outside and enjoy the weather.

This difficult choice, no doubt experienced by millions of Americans, has been eliminated by the invention of outdoor television. This new generation of TV sets offers all of the clarity of your indoor widescreen TV, but can also endure every element of the outdoor environment.

“A lot of TV programming, especially sports, is a social activity that you can best enjoy with friends and family,” said Jonathan Johnson, general manager of SunBrite TV, a leader in the design and manufacture of outdoor televisions. “If it’s a big game, it’s an opportunity to have a great time outside, barbecuing your favorite foods and enjoying your favorite beverages. The invention of television sets specifically designed for outdoors is one more example of how all of the things that we enjoy indoors can now be enjoyed even better outdoors.”

SunBrite TV, which is headquartered in Thousand Oaks, California, launched what it calls “the world’s first true outdoor television” in November of 2004. An engineering marvel, SunBrite’s televisions are robustly designed to keep moisture, bugs and debris away from sensitive electronics and to withstand extremes in temperature.

Additionally, SunBrite sets are brighter than indoor televisions to compensate for the effects of sunlight, and come in a variety of models for different sun exposure levels, with sizes ranging from 43- to 84-in. SunBriteTV’s parent company, SnapAV, was established in 2005 in Charlotte, North Carolina, providing audio-video, surveillance, networking and other products for professional integrators. Among the many applications for SnapAV products are distributed audio systems that allow sound to be integrated throughout an outdoor space rather than concentrated in a single large speaker, creating a pleasant overall ambiance of music.

“We’ve enjoyed phenomenal growth in outdoor television sales, especially since 2016 when we launched our affordable Veranda series with a price point beginning at $1,500 for a 43-inch 4K UHD model,” Johnson said. “That price point and growing consumer awareness of outdoor television as a specialized product helped to supercharge our 2017 sales. It’s a great opportunity for professional installers to add incremental outdoor audiovisual product sales as well.”

SunBriteTV sets are manufactured using powder-coated aluminum with stainless-steel hardware and designed to be permanently installed outdoors with full range-of-motion mounting options that the company also offers. Primary considerations in the design and manufacture are safety, image clarity and durability outdoors. The company offers three distinct lines that span residential and commercial applications.

“The outdoor lifestyle is really about having fun, and people want the same luxuries and conveniences outside that they enjoy inside; that’s a niche we’re helping to fulfill with our outdoor televisions,”Johnson said.

Wrapping Up

So, back to our original question: “How are designers taking inspiration from the indoors to the outdoors?” The short answer is in every way possible. It all boils down to taking all of the amenities that consumers enjoy indoors and integrating them into outdoor settings.

Design creativity and advancing technology now make it possible to have everything you enjoy inside also outside. It’s a trend that is bringing enjoyment to millions of homeowners and creating growth opportunities for the entire outdoor living category of manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

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