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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

They’re Coming! Part Three: Furnishing the Great Outdoors

The big test run for our growing blended family and our Happier Yellow House is just days away. Soon eleven humans, including three kids and a baby, will be sharing our address for a week.

It will be madness. Which is exactly what I want. The whole reason DC and I moved to a new house last year was so we could host our clan.

To make sure that the kin who visit want to come back -- and that we want to have them back -- I gave serious thought to what makes an extended family gathering successful. My two-word answer: Breathing room.

Much as we love one another, knowing we can retreat when one of us doesn’t feel like talking anymore about our job or lack of one, our relationship or lack of one, our church or lack of one, our diet or lack of one, whose team is better, whose candidate is better, whose potty-training method is better, or any other touchy topic is the key to a successful family gathering.

Which is how the 19 x 9-foot upstairs terrace became my obsession for the past three weeks. I’m turning the space into a relief valve, an outdoor escape for the gang who will soon occupy the upstairs.

I’ve sketched out the plan. All I need now is the right outdoor furniture. Along with everyone else, apparently. In the six weeks between Memorial Day and July 4th retailers sell more outdoor furniture than they do all the rest of the year. “That six weeks accounts for 55 percent of outdoor furniture sales,” said Kathryn Emery, a lifestyle and home improvement consultant based in Laguna Beach, Calif.

That’s good and bad news for TK Wismer, spokeswoman for Casual Living Brands, an outdoor furniture company based in Simpsonville, Ky., and maker of most of the outdoor furniture names you’ve heard of: Hampton Bay, Allen + Roth, La-Z-Boy, Blue Oak Outdoor, and Hanover.

“It drives me nuts when I see consumers dash out and buy cheap patio furniture in a rush because they’re having a barbecue that weekend,” she said, “but that’s what a lot of people do.”

Folks, that is no way to go through life. Like Wismer, I would like to see more homeowners give as much thought to furnishing their outdoor space as they do to furnishing their indoors.

What I wish more people knew,” she said, “is that, like with anything else, if you invest a little more and buy good quality in your price range, you’ll be happier in the long run. Too many people have a disposable mentality. They make an impulse buy, and figure they’ll replace the furniture later. I want people to invest in a classic aesthetic not in the trend of the season.”

Since I was on the verge of making this decision, I grilled her for tips on how to buy outdoor furniture right:

  • Check the specs. “The biggest letdown consumers have, especially when buying online, is that the furniture feels smaller than they thought,” said Wismer. Skimping on material is how manufacturers save money. To avoid disappointment, pay close attention to a furniture item’s specifications. Compare dimensions and weight. “You want patio furniture that feels solid, not flimsy, that has significant mass, weight and scale.” Look for deep, wide seating and sturdy tables that are a bit oversized. Read the reviews.

  • Design for your climate: “In the South we see more light, bright colors to reflect the tropical light,” she said. “In the wet Pacific Northwest, we see more mesh-spring material because it dries fast. Stone table tops are great in windy areas, since they aren’t likely to blow away.”

  • Flip it over. One way to tell a well-made piece from one that cuts corners is to turn it over. The underside of a chair should be finished to the same level as the visible side. If the chair is woven, for instance, it should be fully woven. You don’t want to see an unfinished back or bottom.

  • Test the metal. Most outdoor furniture pieces have metal frames, but when choosing a metal opt for aluminum over steel. Aluminum doesn’t rust, while steel, though cheaper, will, and that will stain, according to Jay Dillon, co-founder of Yardbird, a new direct to consumer outdoor furniture brand. Aluminum furniture is what most resorts have. The metal coating also matters. Look for multiple coats. Wicker covers many metal frames, and has improved a lot over the years, said Wismer. It’s now coated in resins that will last for years.

  • Choose high-function fabrics. Sunbrella is the big name in outdoor fabrics for good reason. Its fabrics are made with solution-dyed acrylic, so the color runs all the way through, not just on the surface. These sunproof fabrics resist fading, are waterproof, feel soft, and come in lots of bright colors and patterns.

  • Don’t forget the house. The best-looking outdoor spaces flow with the rest of the house. Pull furniture styles and color palettes from the indoors out, said Wismer. “The best way to create a cohesive look is to mimic outside what’s going on inside.”

  • Table it. Every seat needs access to a table, a place to set a drink or plate. Factor in side tables, or a coffee table, or, buy two or three end tables and cluster them, she said.

  • Accessorize. Don’t stop with the furniture. Just like indoors, accessorize finish outdoor spaces Add an area rugs, pillows, lanterns, potted flowers and trees.

Done. Join me next week to see if the outdoor plan comes together in time for the full house.

CAPTION: Outdoor oasis -- When designing a room outdoors, don’t wing it. Give thought to the layout, choose furniture designed to last, and make the space meld with your interior. Photo courtesy of

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