New crop of patio furniture pops up

Following a winter spent snuggled inside their homes, homeowners across the country are ready to move outside for warm- weather relaxing and entertaining.

But what about your current outdoor furniture? Does it set the mood you'd like to create? If not, now's the time to look at what's new on the market.

Forget rugged and rustic. That's not the trend for this year's outdoor furniture and accessories. New selections for spring 2003 are deep, soft, and inviting, and are designed for the ultimate in comfortable relaxation.

"It's now possible to have all the comforts of interior spaces on your porch, patio or deck, or even in your yard," says Jacky Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association (AFMA).

"Not only are there all sorts of stylish new deep and cushy seating groups," Mr. Hirschhaut says, "you can complete the look and ambience of your outdoor space with special throws, lamps, baker's racks, serving carts, fire pits, and even a complete kitchen."

Many of the new outdoor furniture selections are so ample and luxurious they could easily be mistaken for indoor furniture. Soft, supple fabrics are embellished with rich cords, welts, fringe, and ropes.

"These new fabrics are unbelievable," says Hirschhaut. "New technology has allowed them to have the desired soft touch, yet they offer the durability needed for outdoors."

Among other key trends in outdoor living this year:

Big is in. Dining furniture is designed for seating a crowd outdoors. Tables are often long enough to comfortably accommodate 12 or so people. Many dining chairs are wider with higher backs for additional comfort.

Conversation groups. These seating groups are ideal for the casual lifestyle of the outdoors and are also perfect for serving beverages and hors d'oeuvres, and playing cards.

Alternative tabletops. Traditional glass is being replaced by materials such as tumbled marble, mosaics, tile, stone, granite, slate, and punched metal.

Elevated dining. These high seats and tables are designed so that you can more easily enjoy the view from your deck or balcony.

Earth tones. Colors of nature are widely popular this year. Look for all shades of brown such as khaki, bronze, and rust on both furniture frames and covers. Also making a fashion statement for 2003 are black and silver. And black combined with teak is considered a fresh look this year.

Homeowners will also find new features and products when they go shopping for grills and related products this spring.

Among innovations on their way to a store near you: outdoor gas fireplaces, outdoor refrigerators, low-cost stainless steel grills, infrared cooking systems, gas grills enhanced with supplemental charcoal cooking capabilities, grills with digital controls and lights in the handles, and tabletop patio heaters.

Also arriving soon are dual-purpose products (fire pit and ice bucket, for instance), outdoor kitchen equipment that includes built-in sound systems and television sets, and patio furniture that can withstand the changing seasons.

For more information on how to create an outdoor room, go to www.hpba.org and download the free fact sheet.

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