Outdoor living spaces are nothing new.
According to Casual Living and Apartment Therapy's 2013 Outdoor Decorating Survey, 55 percent of respondents have an outdoor room and 43 percent either want one or were in the process of creating one.
But the idea of families or a solitary figure kicking back on a tufted sofa in the great outdoors, propped up against implausibly weatherproof bouclé throw pillows in the glow of a lamp with a fabric shade -- that's fairly new.
The emergence of highly sophisticated accent pieces has evolved the outdoor-living concept. "We've been talking about outdoor rooms for 10 years, but I think consumers are finally grasping that they can really do a living room outside, with all the comfort and functionality they enjoy indoors. Accessories are a big part of that," says Laurie Jenkins, principal at Laurie Bell, a Sarasota, Fla.-based outdoor décor vendor. "They bring warmth to the whole look and individualize the space."
To complete the look of a newly created outdoor space or update an existing space on a budget, look to this season's delicate-looking yet durable accessories.
Thanks to improved textile chemistry, decorative pillows for outdoor use are as comfy as indoor pillows. At higher price points, "The fabrics are just getting more and more sophisticated, and the weaves are so much softer," Jenkins says.
Richly textured fabrics like jacquard, velvet and chenille are growing in popularity. Decorative elements such as metallic fibers, embroidery and trim make for a luxurious look and feel not previously seen on outdoor pillows. Trendy colors and patterns include aqua, teal, salmon, coral, geometrics, chevrons, exotic prints and custom monograms. In certain high-end collections, pale shades predominate seemingly as a dare, as today's high-performance fabrics repel stains and can be safely washed with bleach according to the manufacturer's directions.
Look for fade-resistant, solution-dyed fabrics and fast-drying filling material. Sunbrella and Outdura are two of the most recognized and reliable outdoor-fabric manufacturers, but be advised that "the fabric has become associated with the finished product, which it is not," says Jason Siesel, a vice president at Casual Cushion Corp. in Rock Hill, S.C. "You can have a pillow or cushion of lesser quality covered in Sunbrella."
Outdoor rugs have been sold for years to define dining and seating areas and soften the appearance of hardscapes, but today's pricier options also are soft underfoot. "They look and feel just like interior rugs except they're not going to mildew or break down," says Elaine Williamson, principal of Elaine Williamson Designs in Dallas.
Surya, Jaipur, Loloi and other makers of indoor rugs are bringing that level of quality to the outdoors. Oriental Weavers for the first time this spring offers licensed Tommy Bahama outdoor rugs in botanical and "coastal-inspired" designs that look right at home in the backyard. Other manufacturers, like Mad Mats, offer styles and patterns typically associated with the indoors including traditional Moroccan, Oriental and Turkish designs.
Some rugs come with a backing for durability and skid-resistance. Reversible rugs offer design flexibility and widely are available at every price point. Prices range from less than $100 on up to several thousand dollars for a rug that is soft even under bare feet yet can be cleaned with a brush and hose.
Poufs and Ottomans
When the outdoor-living craze intensified 10 years ago, Laurie Bell began offering all-weather ottomans for increased comfort and additional seating. "The whole idea is to provide flexibility," Jenkins says, so make sure the ottoman is sturdy enough to stay put when in use yet lightweight enough to move around as needed.
Hers have removable slipcovers for washing and are designed for use as a side table and seat as well as a footrest. "They sit up off the ground so the fabric's not in standing water" following a heavy rain, Jenkins says.
By contrast, today's wildly popular poufs sit flush to the ground and, depending on their shape and construction, "you can't really set a tray on them," Jenkins says.
Poufs have their place, though. They're great for extra seating, easy to move around and stow, and are less expensive than ottomans. The trend is toward global flare, with ikat, kilim and suzani patterns proving to be big sellers alongside repeating geometric patterns and bold solids.
Wall Art and Lighting
This year many companies have introduced weather-resistant wall art that looks like painted canvas yet stands up to the elements. With so many new options on the market, "It's time not to hang terra cotta sundials anymore," Williamson says.
"You can make the fence look like a wall. I'm not suggesting you make it like a gallery," she adds, "but one piece of art or a grouping of art can create a focal point" as well as a personal touch.
Especially in sunny climates, "You will get a slight bit of fading over time," Williamson says.
Be advised that certain outdoor wall art, including Surya's new collection featuring outdoorsy motifs like maps and beach scenes, are suitable for covered outdoor spaces as opposed to full exposure.
Table and floor lamps with molded or fabric shades have come a long way, as well. Shoppers should look for UL approval for outdoor and wet use. Besides electrical safety, "The most important consideration is the weight," Williamson says, "so the lamp doesn't tip over in the wind."