Living outdoors was the norm when our ancestors settled this country. Homes were cramped and rustic, so people naturally did much of their work and play outside. It wasn't comfortable, but it was undoubtedly better than spending all of their time inside.
Midwesterners today are getting back to those roots by increasingly leaving the air-conditioned comfort of their comparatively large, luxurious homes in order to breathe fresh air and enjoy nature.
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And, interestingly, it is technological advances that are making this return to our roots possible and pleasurable.
For instance, Berlin Gardens manufactures "green" outdoor furniture made entirely of recycled plastic milk jugs at its Berlin, Ohio, plant and its tables, chairs, swings, pergolas, arbors, bars, picnic tables and accessories are among the outdoor furniture sold by Hearth and Home of Mount Prospect. Not only are these pieces of furniture comfortable to sit in and use, they are heavy, durable, stylish, won't blow away, easy to wash and can be left outside all winter.
"Their Adirondack chairs sell themselves," said Pat O'Donnell, owner of the family-owned business. "They even come in a wide variety of colors, including fun tropical and other multicolor themes, and the color runs throughout the material so it won't fade like a simple topcoat can."
Hearth and Home has been part of Mount Prospect business community since 1971 and O'Donnell has seen technology improve products for the patio.
"We are also seeing quite a bit of growth in all-weather, vinyl outdoor wicker with deep-seating cushioned 'sunbrella' acrylic fabric," he said. "These, along with other deep-seating collections, are gaining in popularity, especially with the 50-plus age group. For the most part, they have had the old traditional five-piece or seven-piece dining set with table and chairs.
"Now their needs are not the same, and if the furniture is just for the couple and the light duty entertaining they do, it is far more comfortable to sit in a conversational group with deep-seating, comfy spring chairs and maybe around a gas or wood fire pit. This type of entertaining is a much more intimate and casual experience than the typical dining set," O'Donnell said.
No matter their ages, homeowners look for ease of maintenance, comfort, style and durability. So, many are drawn to cool-touch aluminum frames with durable sling fabric seating and cast-aluminum table tops.
Traditional cast-aluminum sets of tables and chairs, which have the look of wrought iron, are elegant, easy to maintain and durable, but they lack the comfort of sling furniture, O'Donnell said. It is a matter of personal choice.
The outdoor furniture colors that are currently most popular are dark browns, black and charcoal, he said, but admitted to seeing a slight movement toward lighter versions of those colors. The fabrics chosen tend to be tonal and many incorporate a sophisticated tone-on-tone look.
"As far as umbrellas are concerned, the 9-foot market umbrella with the collar tilt mechanism is still our tried and true umbrella for use with dining sets. However, with the casual conversation groups, the cantilever umbrella puts the base off to the side of the group and allows for the free-hanging position of the umbrella over the group. The is no mechanism in the middle, blocking conversation and this is an advantage," O'Donnell said.
The use of retractable awnings is also gaining in popularity.
"Think of the old-fashioned storefronts where the storekeeper would crank the awning in and out on a daily basis for shade," he said. "Nowadays, they are sold fully motorized with remote controls and wind sensors."
When it comes to outdoor cooking, pellet grills by Traeger and Memphis Grills are very popular with people who enjoy slow and low cooking, as well as traditional cooking of hamburgers, brats and steaks, O'Donnell said.
These grills burn pellets made of a variety of woods that are poured into a hopper. Then an auger feeds them into the grill to cook the meat at a constant temperature with a fine BBQ flavor. "You can also set these grills at any temperature you choose," O'Donnell said.
Conventional charcoal grills, as well as infrared grills for the searing of meats, and conventional gas grills are all still popular items, too, as are wood-burning and natural gas-burning fire pits.
"We are a family-owned and operated business that wants to provide our customers with quality products designed for enjoyment, durability and value, and we strive to provide our customers with the best in service and selection," O'Donnell said. "Whether you are looking for a new fireplace, grill or set of patio furniture, we have an excellent team on hand that will educate you on your purchase from start to finish. And we always stress to our customers the importance of both the quality of the products and the service we provide.
"Customers expect to keep their purchases for many years, so they want an established business like Hearth and Home that has the ability and expertise to service these products correctly in the years to come. This is something you just cannot get from a 'big box' store," he said.
Hearth and Home is located at 530 W. Northwest Hwy., Mount Prospect. For more information, call (847) 259-7550 or visit www.hearthandhomeusa.com.