Outdoor Décor Vendors Focus On Utility, Versatility

NEW YORK— For today’s homeowner, the outdoor space isn’t necessarily its own world and what occurs indoors and out more often reflect each other.

Although consumers have always taken some indoor furnishings and housewares outside at need, recent consumer lifestyle trends have driven development of indoor/outdoor products as well as items designed for outdoor use but with the flexibility to function indoors.

Entertaining at home is the overarching trend driving product development. With more willing to ask company in, consumers have to deal with multiple entertainment issues, especially when living in small spaces, as is the case with apartment or townhouse dwellers. Younger consumers have expressed a preference to dwelling in towns and cities, with the result that their domestic space may be tight. This has driven the latest manifestation of the indoor/outdoor lifestyle.

Once, the indoor/outdoor lifestyle referenced the continuity of domestic space between a living room or bedroom and the deck or balcony beyond, particularly in warmer climates where people might drift from a couch by the television to a lounge chair by the pool anytime during the year. However, now the indoor/outdoor lifestyle references consumers anywhere in the U.S. who consider their inside and outside spaces as continuous living domains.

At the same time, the trend among Millennials to move around, or at least be prepared to do so, has had a secondary effect, which includes not only favoring home goods that can transfer from one residence to another but also those that can move from the main domestic space to the outdoor realm or, in the case of townhouses, condos and such living quarters, common spaces.

James Dardashti, managing director of Dar Living, has established his business to serve younger home furnishings consumers, particularly those who are the living ready-to-move anytime, indoor/outdoor lifestyles. As such, the chairs, bistro sets and other products Dar Living offers are very often styled so they can work outdoors but formulated so they can be left out in the weather.

“Our products are designed for use in a variety of living spaces. Our Café Bistro sets can be placed in the kitchen or outside on a balcony,” he said.

Dardashti said Dar Living is addressing something he noticed going on around him: Younger consumers want product mobility and portability but sporting design consistent with their broader home décor tastes. So Dar Living designed and built its Branson chair for consumers who favor products that reflect their lifestyle preferences no matter where they are situated.

Indoor and outdoor furniture are morphing one into the other, Dardashti said, whether in the case of seating or ancillary items such as carts.

“Furniture intended for small spaces needs to be multifunctional,” he maintained. “Our carts are aesthetically designed to live anywhere. They can be wheeled to the kitchen, balcony and other living spaces.”

Much of the furniture produced for the indoor/outdoor lifestyle is designed specifically for that back and forth deployment. However, the trend hasn’t halted in the transitional space.

More often today, many mass market furniture manufacturers who have traditionally focused on items for inside have taken to producing outdoor items that reflect the indoor product scale and style adopted to suit younger consumers who are inhabiting cramped quarters and older consumers who are downsizing.

Meco Corp., which came out with a line of pub-height folding bistro sets for indoor and fair-weather outdoor use, just introduced a folding bistro set in acacia wood constructed as an outdoor product. Although dedicated to the outdoor space, the product’s folding nature makes it easy to bring inside for occasions of indoor entertainment.

Flash Furniture has introduced its own smaller scale bistro set designed for outdoor use in steel construction, right down to a perforated seat that sheds rain but suitable for part-time use indoors as guest accommodation. Linon Home Decor recently debuted several outdoor furniture collections, some of which can readily do duty indoors, including its Nantucket chairs, a group that includes slat back, arm and modified Adirondack designs.

Cosco has been a pioneer in scaled-back outdoor furniture, although the weaves in resin that have made up much of its product line are clearly designed along more traditional lines. Still, the company has been offering bistro sets with indoor/outdoor utility. The latest Cosco outdoor furniture has taken on a form that is more consistent with indoor furniture and, so has more potential for transfer. Even though Cosco offers more traditional outdoor designs, the assortment’s modest scale makes it more consistent with current consumer lifestyles. The line has elements that can suit a substantial deck but have a broader domestic utility as many consumers prefer. The more consumers entertain at home year round, the more they seek flexibility.

Of course, furniture is only one element of outdoor living. In recent years, suppliers of products such as melamine tableware have developed more robust constructions and fashionable looks for inside and outside. Yet, even in the case of product that will be used strictly outside, the increasing style investment made by manufacturers indicates that consumers are reacting well to looks that are consistent with their tastes as applied from the indoor to the outdoor.

At the same time, small electrics manufacturers have created not only dedicated outdoor products but also smaller more portable versions.

Among retailers, Ikea has been embracing the new trends in outdoor living. In its most recent seasonal collection, Ikea included a number of seating and other products clearly dedicated to outdoor use. Yet, some of the outdoor products, take the Solviden LED solar-powered lamp, have a design that might encourage consumers to bring them indoors when they might be helpful and some of the indoor products such as Spridd tableware and serveware are perfectly suitable for outdoor dining.

Trends in the market don’t exclude traditional outdoor furniture that would sit awkwardly, at best, in homes. Such products still have a consumer. However, in the mass market, outdoor-oriented furniture and housewares both are gaining favor for trending style and flexibility in use among consumers who embrace personal expression and adaptability. At a time when smaller and more portable are better for a lot of shoppers, mass market vendors and retailers who sell outdoor products can leverage their expertise in suiting lifestyle preferences as expressed inside homes to develop products that satisfy shoppers looking for outside items.