"Enjoying the great outdoors" no longer equates with "roughing it." Companies are designing and manufacturing a great variety of comfortable, fun and unique furnishings that can weather the outdoor environment or at least a semi-outdoor environment like that found on a screened porch.
And homeowners are shopping for and acquiring these furnishings at a dizzying rate.
Lurvey Garden Center in Des Plaines has acquired a line of one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces of furniture made by individual craftspeople in Indonesia and marketed in the U.S. by BIMA Trading. According to Tom Partipillo, outdoor and home decor buyer for Lurvey's, BIMA's owner acquires antique pieces that he has local craftspeople reproduce in sturdy mahogany, which is left natural, without stain or varnish. It is instead roughly painted in various colors to create a rustic look.
The finish on most of the pieces bears little-to-no resemblance to the elegant, stained and varnished mahogany pieces that we saw in our grandmothers' homes. The pieces may have the same structure as those pieces, but the similarity ends there. You would never know it was mahogany.
"We have a yellow dining set; an antique white island and matching hutch with honey-glazed tops; some items in red; narrow bookcases and cabinets for tight spaces; and even a day bed that hangs from ropes that can give your porch a wonderfully lazy feel, as long as you have beams that are strong enough to hang it," Partipillo said.
"We also have a large, stunning stained teak dining table that has armchairs for each end and benches for down the sides. It would be perfect for a porch or covered balcony, but unless you want it to 'gray,' it needs to be treated annually," he said.
"All of these pieces speak to people who like to experiment with colors and want to buy furnishings that add a special touch to their home," Partipillo added.
Made-in-America aficionados may, however, instead opt for Barrington-made Outdoor Interiors furnishings. This high-end line with pricing that is, fortunately, not over the top, Partipillo said, includes items made of eucalyptus, teak, wicker, metals and even composites and mosaics.
"Outdoor Interiors carries a variety of small, mosaic-top end tables; loungers with ottomans that slide into the chairs for storage, wonderful outdoor rocking chairs, dining tables that fold in half for storage and much more," he said.
Partipillo suggests that all of these high-end furnishings be tarped during Chicago area winters or, if possible, stored indoors in a basement or garage. Those precautions will certainly increase their life.
Floor and table lamps that plug into outlets and are ideal for screened porches are also plentiful at Lurvey's. Forty West lamps which come in aging wood (sometimes still featuring bits of bark), as well as different metals, generally have an antique look and are surprisingly affordable, Partipillo said.
In addition, outdoor rugs, generally made of woven plastic, come in a wide variety of colors and designs that can be used on decks, patios or porches and then rolled up and stored indoors during the winter months.
UV-resistant artwork also adds a nice touch to a deck, patio, balcony or porch. Lurvey's carries a variety of tranquil outdoor environment pieces of artwork "which can help homeowners bring their indoor life and family to the outdoors," he added. "This is a passion project for us. We love connecting customers with just the piece that they have been searching for and then having them come back and bring us images of where they put it at their home."
Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights caters to both urban and suburban customers, helping them to furnish their outdoor balconies, patios, decks and porches.
"Those who want to relax without mosquitoes often add screened porches to their homes and when they are furnishing those spaces, choices range from traditional to modern, with transitional in between," said Dan Mayer, owner. "We see many people choosing both wicker and wrought iron pieces for porches. And some are adding artwork to the walls and rugs for the floors."
Outdoor enthusiasts who live in condominiums and want to be able to enjoy the view over their banisters and railings, he said, are investing in rectangular, counter-height dining sets. These sets can even come equipped with built-in fire pits which burn gas and illuminate colorful stones. But he cautions that owners must check with their homeowners associations before bringing home a fire pit table since some do not permit them.
Umbrellas are another item for which caution is advised if you live in a condominium. The last thing anyone needs is a patio umbrella flying through the city and smashing into a car, pedestrians or other buildings, Mayer said.
Homeowners with outdoor spaces of all descriptions often choose to balance dining areas with comfortable deep seating sectionals and groupings for long conversations and lots of relaxation.
"But it all depends on what fits in your space," Mayer said.
If you have a generous suburban deck or patio, besides an umbrella-equipped dining table with chairs and a deep seating conversation area surrounding a fire pit, consider stringing Edison-style lights for added ambience, adding Blue Tooth-connected speakers for "tunes," adding electric heaters to extend your outdoor season and surrounding your grill island with bar stools so you can converse with guests while you cook, he added. Purchasing a smoker will also expand your menu options.
Blain's Farm and Fleet in Elgin, Romeoville, Woodstock and Ottawa, offers some economical items that can help you to comfortably furnish and add interest to your outdoor spaces, as well.
For instance, Farm and Fleet sells the Jack Post Country Garden Tete-a-Tete which features two arm chairs connected to one another, as well as to a table in the middle. It is cute and offers a quaint way to talk to one other person or as part of a larger group. One can easily picture it as part of a porch or patio grouping, or under a tree way out in the yard so that private conversations may take place.
It sells for $179.99 and can be painted or finished by the homeowner, or left to weather naturally.
You can also bring sculpture and function to your garden or potted plants with a 37-inch tall ivory white metal crane sculpture for placement in a garden or with the 72-inch black Panacea Circular Obelisk with Finial for placement in a deck, patio or porch pot. The obelisk has thin, round metal rods which swirl and cross between the two topmost rings and two bottom rings for a bit of interest and additional support for your plant. The crane sells for $29.99 while the obelisk retails for $59.99.