When Pharrell encouraged people to “clap along if you feel like a room without a roof,” do you think the award-winning singer-songwriter was talking about today’s trendy outdoor living spaces?

Rooms without a roof are making plenty of people happy these days. That’s because they are among the best ways to enjoy summer weather while gathering with friends and family — in comfort and in style.

“Being outdoors is really where we would like to be if at all possible during the warmer months,” says Elyn Feinauer, outdoor furniture specialist for Laacke & Joys in Brookfield. “People are making such a commitment to their outdoor rooms that more and more of these spaces are mimicking the comforts of indoor rooms.”

Jackie Hirschhaut, executive director of the International Casual Furnishings Association, takes that idea one step further.

“Those of us who have been observing this category know that advances in outdoor furnishings have been trending for a decade,” she says. “Now it’s gotten to the point that outdoor pieces are so attractive they actually could be used indoors.”

Outdoor living today is about more than furnishings, however. It is about creating settings that work for homeowners and their families.

John LaPointe, founder and president of GRG Landscapes of Milwaukee, says good outdoor design can transform spaces and change lives.

“If you are going to spend money outdoors — and people definitely are — you want the space to be thoughtful, engaging and creative,” he says. “So we’re really talking about multiple outdoor spaces that each have their own purpose — like food preparation, cooking or grilling, gathering and relaxing and playing — all of which enhance the whole family’s time spent outdoors.”

His company’s biggest emphasis is on creating play areas for children, but he says the firm’s overall designs often include fire features, water features, pergolas, trellises and arbors and plantings that screen and divide the space.

“Most of all you want outdoor rooms to fully engage the user and to be compelling, not boring,” says LaPointe, whose company used to be called Greener Roofs & Gardens.

According to new research conducted for the International Casual Furnishings Association by Wakefield Research, 86% of households in this country have some sort of outdoor living space. The annual survey also found:

  • 79% of respondents use their outdoor space frequently, with 27% spending time outside almost every day, 40% several times per week and 12% once a week.
  • 28% of respondents wish their space were larger, 25% wish it were better furnished, 20% wish it were covered or enclosed and 16% wish it were more functional.
  • 60% of respondents expect to use their outdoor space to relax alone, 59% to entertain or relax with family, 49% to enjoy time with a significant other, 43% to entertain friends and 19% to entertain children.
  • 66% of households will be making a purchase of new furnishings or accessories for their outdoor space in 2017, up from 42% in 2016, with 43% planning to buy chairs or chaise lounges, 41% planning to buy a dining table or set, 39% outdoor lighting such as lamps or lanterns, 38% an umbrella, 38% a fire pit, 29% pillows and 27% a sofa or sectional.

Now, more often than ever, consumers say they want their outdoor settings to be as comfortable and inviting as their home’s interior. Whether you have a patio, deck, balcony or garden space, here are some ways to do that:

Consider soft fabrics.

Just as your indoor guests would rather sit on an upholstered couch or cushioned chair instead of a hard bench, outdoor guests (and owners, too) gravitate toward furniture they can sink into. Today’s outdoor upholstered pieces hold up because they are made of weather-resistant, non-fading fabrics. They can be spot cleaned or lightly hosed off if they do get dirty, and many have channels that catch and send rain and water away.

“With all of the technology, there isn’t a compromise in comfort,” says Hirschhaut.

Feinauer explains that high-tech cushions don’t have to be taken in and out, although they should be protected or stored in winter.

“The cushions are 8 to 10 inches deep and are extremely comfortable,” she says. “In many cases the underside of the fabric is coated so the cushion doesn’t get wet.”

Mesh furniture also is available at a somewhat lower price point.

“There are swivel chairs, rocking chairs, chaises,” says Feinauer. “They are very comfortable and the water goes right through.”

Hirschhaut helps plan the Casual Outdoor Market held each year in Chicago and is impressed with the new innovations she sees there.

“It’s more than just comfortable sectional seating,” she says. “I’ve even seen power recliners for outdoor use.”

Introduce a heat feature.

Just as a fireplace takes the chill out of a cold winter day as you watch a football game indoors, a fire feature adds heat on a cool summer night outdoors. Fire pits, chimineas and outdoor fireplaces remain popular, but fire tables are the latest way to provide an ambience that is very soothing and welcoming.

“Fire tables have come a long way and are available in different heights and shapes,” says Feinauer. “Some are incorporated into dining tables, and some even change color.”

Put more than burgers on the barbie.

Gas or charcoal grills have always been an important component of outdoor spaces, but now the concept has grown into entire kitchens with multiple-burner grills, refrigerators, electric coolers and outdoor wine refrigerators.

“Outdoor kitchens are mimicking their indoor counterparts in many ways, including large food prep areas and cabinetry that is weather-resistant for storage,” says Feinauer.

LaPointe says his company goes beyond a utilitarian look for kitchen elements.

“We do storage systems with live-edge wood countertops that are just beautiful,” he says.

Come up with a color scheme.

“Many of the colorways in outdoor furniture follow nature,” Hirschhaut explains, “with shades of blue, aqua, slate, green and lots of brown, of course. Some are paired with yellow, just as with interior furnishings. And I’m seeing plenty of white, too, as fabric technology improves.”

While the expensive components, such as soft upholstered pieces, often are in neutral or natural solid colors, accessories provide an opportunity to add interest and a personal flair.

“As with indoor furnishings, accessories are the jewelry of outdoor rooms,” says Hirschhaut. “There are more colors and prints than ever in outdoor rugs and pillows. In fact, Brown Jordan introduced a hot pink umbrella at the last market,” says Hirschhaut.

Find your focal point.

Just as well-designed interior rooms have a focal point such as a dramatic piece of art, a sculpture or a fireplace, so can outdoor rooms have all of the above — and more, including a water feature that’s likely not possible indoors.

It may be as simple as a decorative recirculating fountain or as complex as a stream that meanders through your outdoor rooms.

“Water is very soothing and we like to incorporate water features when we can,” says LaPointe. “You can hear it, see it, smell it,” he says. “It’s compelling on so many levels and really helps with relaxation and quality of life.”

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel