Jessica Abels

CTW Features

Each year when spring and summer arrive, they bring with them the excitement of days spent outdoors, relaxing in the back yard with a great book, watching the kids as they paddle around the pool, or chatting with family and friends over a sun-soaked afternoon meal. But if your outdoor space is still stuck in that sad stage of shabby plastic chairs around a wobbly table, it may be time to consider a backyard upgrade.

"In days past, the outdoors was always about dining - people just wanted a table and four or six chairs," says Rory Rehmert, vice president of sales and marketing for Ft. Lauderdale-based Pride Family Brands.

"But now it's become more and more about casual relaxation, with more seating pieces and comfort pieces," he explains. "So don't always look at your backyard for dining, look at it more as an extension of your family room - that you're going to sit out and relax and have a cup of coffee or a drink."

Ready to get started?

1. Bring the inside out

Rehmert says the line between indoor and outdoor pieces is becoming increasingly blurred, maybe even nonexistent.

"Use outdoor furniture to continue the indoor home," he says. "You take indoor styling and you simulate it in the outdoor medium. We even say that our furniture is beautiful enough to live indoors, because a lot of it does look really indoor, but it's perfectly fine for outside use."

2. Turn on the game

According to Mike Voyles, owner of Galesburg, Ill.-based Home Infatuation, even the entertainment center is heading outside.

"A lot of people say, 'Oh no, not a TV on the patio,' but we say, 'yes,' and we sell a lot of outdoor televisions," Boyle says. "They're completely weatherproof, and it's a great way for people to go outside to watch their sports. Instead of yelling at the TV in the house they can yell outside."

3. Amp up the color

Aimee Beatty, in-house stylist for Pier 1 Imports, says bright and happy colors are best for your outdoor space. "That applies to outdoor furniture as well as accessories," she says. "We have bright color showing up in cushions, wickers, even pieces for outdoor entertaining. We have yellows and bright greens and blues, just a lot of vibrant pops of color." She adds that you shouldn't be afraid to get creative.

"Have fun with different florals and striped patterns. There are no rules, it's what you like and what appeals to you, and the ability to mix and match and make it your own style."

4. Pull up another chair

"There's kind of a big movement for consumers to be able to seat more," Rehmert says.

"We've got tables that seat up to 12, because again, it's no different than the interior. You may have eight to 10 people at the Thanksgiving table for a meal, the same can be said for outside. The days of just you and your family sitting down for a Saturday evening meal are pretty much over. It seems like no matter what's going on, you end up with two or four or six more people than normal."

5. Flip the switch

According to Voyles, there are far more lighting options available than those weather-worn tiki torches. "There's a lot more upscale lighting," he says. "There are table lamps or floor lamps and they get quite elaborate in the shades and the materials used. They're just like anything you would have inside your home, it's just that they're made to be used outside your home."

6. Rediscover rugs

Voyles says the same rule applies for outdoor flooring. "Simple things like area rugs, there's a lot more selection with patterns, colors, styles and designs - just about everything you would want, but with a lot more interesting designs than just plain colors like it used to be for years."

7. Store your stuff

"People are living more outside and they want places to put stuff, it's no different than inside your home," Rehmert says.

"We've got storage trunks for cushions like large coffee table storage trunks and end table storage trunks, we make a trash receptacle or hamper storage trunk, and a large buffet server that has storage. You don't want pool toys lying all over the place, so this gives [you] a place to put those things."

8. Keep an eye on quality

Voyles says as home owners look to create more livable outdoor spaces, they are willing to put more capital behind those renovations.

"People want to make a nice outdoor room, and they're investing so much in the infrastructure with the patio and the pool and maybe an outdoor kitchen to go along with it, that if you spend a little more money on the upscale outdoor furniture, they're almost like lifetime pieces because the quality is so good. Certainly after a few seasons you'll have to re-upholster the cushions, but they're all made with the intention that you can re-upholster them, so you can change fabrics whenever you want.

9. Skip the packing

"It's more time for family and friends, and you can have a lot of different events throughout the summer by entertaining in your outdoor room. Instead of taking a big trip, you can have a lot of different mini events where you invite family and friends over throughout the summer. It's a nice way to have fun and not have to travel and try to pack everything into one or two weeks."

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