When homeowners think of their outdoor living spaces today, they think about much more than just their patio or deck area.
Most people consider their entire yards to be extensions of their indoor living spaces and value them just as highly, said Steve Olson, manager of Viking Ski and Patio in Barrington.
Remember not that many years ago when all anyone had outside was an outdoor patio table with an umbrella in the middle and four or six chairs around it? The materials varied from tempered glass tables with aluminum frames and coordinating chairs, to plastic, wood or wrought iron sets. But they were primarily dining sets. If you wanted to socialize after dinner, you sat in those same chairs and socialized around the dining table.
"It's a whole different outdoor world today," said Olson. "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 that 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 chair that is very popular in a plethora of colors can also be made from this carefree material, and can be left outside year-round, Olson said. It does, however, fare better if a dark color is chosen, he added.
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.
"People aren't traveling as much these days. Instead, they are sitting outside and relaxing at home more so they are opting for these extremely comfortable, casual sets," Olson said.
"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," he said.
This year Sunbrella has also come out with a new fabric it says is 100-percent waterproof. It has been such an instant hit that it is already back-ordered, Olson said.
No matter which fabric you choose, 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 during the winter (late October to late March), Olson said.
Viking Ski and Patio is also seeing lots of customers for its firepit tables that burn wood, propane or natural gas. Generally made at somewhere between a coffee table and dining table height, these tables serve double duty. The firepit 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 47 years of serving the winter needs of the Chicago area's skiers and snowboarders, Viking saw an opportunity to serve their summer needs, too, when Aspen Ski and Patio retired from business. Now, seven 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 more information, call (847) 381-1188 or visit www.chicagopatiofurniturestore.com.