The yard as the new “living room”? You bet. New products and materials are turning our homes inside out.
By Nancy A. Ruhling
During summer, Kathy and Rick Moreau and their three children spend most of their time in the family room—the one that’s outside their two-century-old Colonial, set on four-and-a-half acres in Waccabuc.
In their 100-foot-by-60-foot walled garden, the family activities revolve around the porch, pool, and patio, which have all the creature comforts of their house. While Kristen, Jack, and Andrew play croquet and soccer and swim, their parents entertain, preparing meals on the Viking grill in their mini-kitchen. Guests lounge in the pergola on steamer chairs or relax on benches placed throughout the English mixed-border garden. As the day winds down, the entire family settles into beach chairs for their version of an old-fashioned drive-in: they watch a DVD projected onto a bed sheet while munching on popcorn, Milk Duds, and other movie munchies.
The interior of the Moreaus’ home flows seamlessly into the outdoors. The living room, which overlooks the pink, lavender, and green garden, is done up in pale white and sage, the fabrics on the white wicker porch furniture have a fern motif, and the slate-blue pillows make reference to the stone wall outside.
“I treat the outdoor area like any other room in my house,” says Kathy Moreau, a landscape designer. “It’s the one â€˜room’ in the house where I can be up close with nature and walk through it as opposed to merely observe it.”
Louis Soleil lounge chairs by Sutherland covered with Perennials’ Chameleon outdoor fabric in Geranium Red. Available to the trade only from David Sutherland, www.davidsuther landshowroom.com.
The Moreaus are among a growing number of
“People in Westchester are doing the most with their space to get indoor comforts outside,” says interior designer Jackie Cutler of
American homeowners as a whole are designing outdoor living areas that mirror their personalities and work with their lifestyles, according to a nationwide survey of more than 500 homeowners released by Laneventure, an indoor-outdoor furnishings manufacturer. Six in 10 respondents felt it was important to extend the living space and personality of their homes to the outdoors.
Many of us who “change” over our closets, exchanging cold-weather clothes with lighter apparel as the temperature rises, apply the same mindset to revive outdoor rooms. Nearly half of the respondents in Laneventure’s survey indicated that their outdoor areas go through seasonal changes, and close to one-third look forward to redecorating their outdoor areas every year.
The movement outdoors in our county, says David Sutherland, whose eponymous Dallas-based company has been a leader in avant-garde outdoor furniture and fabric design for more than a decade, is much more than a design trend. “It’s a sweeping lifestyle transformation for countless American families who are increasingly doing their cocooning—as well as entertaining—outdoors, in plein-air kitchens, pool-deck dining rooms, garden salons, and fairway patios.”
Sutherland’s Louis Soleil occasional chair covered with a lime punch canvas weave from the Paradise Found Collection by Perennials and Sutherland’s Hameau tea Tray Table.
With the development of new materials and products, it’s easier than ever to make the outdoors look stylish and feel comfortable, right down to the electric crystal chandelier hanging over the teak dining table in the Victorian gazebo.
The new breed of garden furniture is designed to allow nature—not the chaise or table—to take center stage. The traditional metal table with the fringed umbrella has all but disappeared, and aluminum has given way to a variety of hardy materials, from teak and mahogany to powder-coated steel and polyethylene. At David Sutherland showrooms (including one in Manhattan’s D & D Building), the outdoor pieces, which are meant to be arranged in groups for a convivial atmosphere, were designed to keep a low profile. “You don’t have to move your furniture out of the way to see your pool or the landscape,” Sutherland says. “Your furniture isn’t fighting with the environment; it just becomes part of it.”
Luxury houses such as ScalamandrÃ©, Lee Jofa, and Brunschwig & Fils are creating outdoor fabrics that are soft to the touch and delightful to the eye but can stand up to the elements. Companies such as Perennials Outdoor Fabrics are pushing the design and color envelope by creating products that are every bit as stylish as their indoor counterparts, and outdoor-furniture makers are creating contemporary pool-proof garden designs. Laneventure recently partnered with Sherwin-Williams to offer 814 colors for its outdoor furniture frames, so homeowners can precisely match their patio furniture to their shutters or sunroom.
“The fabric designs are so pretty that if people with children and dogs are worried about stains, I use them inside,” says interior designer Susan Thorn of Cross River.
Whether it’s a hemp carpet by Vera Za’arour Design that looks as sleek as silk or a low chaise lounge by JANUS et Cie, an outdoor furniture design and fabric company that has been a leader in the backyard design revolution, that suns itself in the reflecting pool, these new weather-resistant products are not just aesthetically pleasing, they’re low-maintenance, too. “Our cushions have fill materials that feel like down; we have a synthetic and a feather-foam mix,” says Janice Feldman of JANUS et Cie.
Although the cushions do need the occasional washing, they’re designed to stay out all season—or even all year. Even the cleaning is simple: JANUS et Cie, for one, offers washable slipcovers to ease the task. “With the mahogany and cedar furniture, all you have to do is bring in the cushions in winter,” Katonah-based designer Barbara Japhe-Cervasio says. “And you don’t need to cover the furniture. It’s like on a boat; they’re made of mahogany.”
If you bank on the concept of the backyard as another source of design innovation, where should you start? Often, the first thing to do is to link the spaces by color. The fabric on the pillows in the screened-in porch may be the same as that on the pool chairs. The colors of the garden flowers may be repeated in the wallpaper of the indoor sunroom. Or perhaps, the spaces are coordinated by materials: the bluestone floor in the kitchen may be repeated on the terrace.
Bedford interior designer Susan Lifton brings the outdoors in by sprinkling green tones throughout her rooms and by making her porch the focal point for entertaining. “When the screens come down, it becomes an outdoor living room,” she says. “I love old floral chintz, and I have two on the living room sofas, which complement the hydrangeas outside.”
Sometimes plants themselves become the key decorative elements in indoor/outdoor design. Landscape architect Glenn Ticehurst of Bedford-based Benedek & Ticehurst Landscape Architects, for instance, used crimson pygmy barberry, azaleas, and various junipers to create a brocaded garden in burgundies and yellows to suit a 20-acre estate in Bedford owned by a fabric designer. “The blending appears to be a carpet,” he says. “It’s an interweaving of plants, where one color blends into the next color and the next.”
Dramatic garden lighting, too, imitates interior illumination. Dimmers and timers are used to coordinate interior and exterior light shows. Electric chandeliers provide atmosphere at dining tables, and oil lamps and torchieres surround the poolhouse when the sun sets. Lights float like jewels in the swimming pool, and, says Putnam-based landscaper Frank Salubro, special features such as waterfalls, fountains, bridges, and pathways increasingly are being put in the spotlight.
As sophisticated products continue to be introduced and refined, Cutler, for one, says that the sky isn’t necessarily the limit when it comes to expanding indoor/outdoor boundaries. “What’s next?” she asks. “Soon everyone will be moving home-entertainment centers, complete with retractable screens, outside.” When that happens, she says, reserve her a front-row garden seat for the private alfresco screening of the stars under the stars.
Nancy A. Ruhling, a freelance writer based in New York City, writes for a variety of national magazines, including Art & Antiques, The Robb Report, and Panache.
WeatherMaster Natural Wicker Eddie Bauer Outdoor High Back Chair ($1,738), outdoor sofa ($2,453) and ottoman ($803) by Laneventure.