It used to be that everyone had an outdoor patio table with an umbrella in the middle and four or six chairs around it. The materials varied, from wood to plastic or wrought iron. But they were primarily dining sets.
If you wanted to socialize after dinner, you sat in those same chairs around the table.
"It's a whole different outdoor world today," said Steve Olson, manager of Viking Ski and Patio in Barrington. "Twenty-first century patio decor is as different from those days as summer from winter."
The range of outdoor furniture and accessories has expanded exponentially. For instance, dining height tables are still popular, but so are bar-height table and chair sets and the even newer "balcony-height" sets, which are higher than a standard dining table but not as high as a bar set, Olson said.
Enviro-wood, a recycled plastic material, is often used to make these sets because it is environmentally-friendly, does not rot or rust, and needs little maintenance. The traditional Adirondack chairs that are now very popular are also often made from this carefree material, which can be left outside year-round, Olson said. It does, however, fare better if a darker color is chosen, he advises.
Umbrellas have also evolved. Today they are much larger, cantilevered and free-standing. They sit off to the side of a seating area, can rotate 360 degrees and generally cover much more "real estate" than the old-style table umbrellas.
Deep seating chairs, couches and love seats are also wildly popular with people who want to relax outdoors around the fire pit or just with a cocktail or book.
"The frames of these pieces are made of aluminum or wicker-covered aluminum and the luxurious cushions are covered with two layers of Sunbrella fabric, which dries very quickly so they can be left outside virtually all the time. The two layers of fabric serve to keep the water away from the interior foam," Olson said.
"People aren't traveling as much these days," he said. "Instead, they are sitting outside and relaxing at home more so they are opting for these extremely comfortable sets."
The cushions fare best if taken inside during the winter and can even be taken inside if the owner is away on an extended vacation. But the frames can be left out year-round. It is, however, best to cover them with a breathable, waterproof cover in colder months, late October through late March, Olson said.
Viking Ski and Patio is also seeing lots of customers for its fire pit tables, with center areas that burn wood, propane or natural gas. Theses tables, generally made at somewhere between a coffee table and dining table height, serve double duty. The fire pit portion in the middle can be almost invisible while you are eating and then afterward, the cover can be removed and it becomes a tabletop fire pit.
After more than 46 years of serving the winter needs of Chicago-area skiers and snowboarders, Viking saw an opportunity to serve their summer needs, too, when Aspen Ski and Patio retired from business. Now, six years later, Viking Ski and Patio carries on that unique dual-season specialty concept for the residents of the Northwest suburbs, along with some new ideas.
Viking is located at 131 W. Northwest Hwy., Barrington. For information, call (847) 381-1188 and visit online at www.chicagopatiofurniturestore.com.