Steve Lowsky, the CEO of outdoor furniture supplier Pride Family Brands, has a way with words.
“Outdoors is the biggest room in your home,” Lowsky said at his company’s crowded showroom at the recent International Casual Furniture Market.
“Fire is hot,” he jokingly added.
Those two declarations perfectly described this year’s version of the annual show, as the outdoor furnishings world continued to move toward providing all the comforts of indoors.
Maybe you can’t yell, “Fire!” in a crowded room, but it wouldn’t have been off the mark at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, where the show was held. Flaming tables of all shapes and sizes were a focus for numerous exhibitors, as the quest for fire moved into a new generation of offerings.
“Fire allows the outdoor space to be enjoyed by consumers longer into the calendar year,” Lowsky said.
Even U.S. consumers in cold climates are extending their outdoor living, with help from fire items, vendors said. At the same time, outdoor furniture items have moved beyond the traditional outdoor dining table with umbrella from yesteryear. Bar height tables and conversational settings with coffee tables and ottomans are more the norm. Vendors said consumers mostly use their outdoor space for relaxing and socializing—not dining.
Exhibitors at the show said they saw many more traditional retailers walking the show than usual. At the same time, introductions reflected indoor furniture trends like never before. Nearly every vendor unveiled versatile, shape-shifting sectionals, such as those seen at recent High Point and Las Vegas furniture shows. Oversized ottomans, along with larger, more comfortable seating cushions, also reflected recent indoor furniture trends.
Not surprisingly, some of the outdoor furnishings vendors—including market-leading Agio—will show their wares in High Point this month.
Probably the most-talked about introduction at the Casual Furniture market wasn’t actually at the Merchandise Mart. Lexington Home Brands made a big splash with its Tommy Bahama Outdoor Living designs off-site, at a much-decorated studio about a mile away.
Lexington used the designs for its indoor Tommy Bahama offerings as the blueprint for its new outdoor introductions. In many cases, the outdoor versions of the couches, chairs and tables were exact replicas of their indoor counterparts—but made of weatherproof materials.
“Can you tell the difference between the indoor and outdoor versions?” asked Lexington’s Rob Stamper as he showed me around the 22,000 square- foot venue chock full of Tommy Bahama merchandise. I had to admit that I couldn’t. Lexington plans to make another huge splash for Tommy Bahama Outdoor in High Point.
Stamper said retailers have speculated that with outdoor furniture’s durability, some consumers with families might consider using items from the Tommy Bahama Outdoors Living indoors. Much of it does, after all, look exactly the same.