By Annie Rosemurgy
The ongoing pandemic has been rough for everyone, but one result is that people are continuing to get creative with their outdoor spaces — whether they have a sliver of back or side yard, or an entire acre.
Back in the summer of 2020, there was a huge increase in consumer investment in outdoor living spaces. Forbes reports that in 2020, 78% of Americans said that they upgraded their outdoor spaces. In 2021 (which Forbes named the “The Year of The Yard”), the publication reported that 88% of homeowners were dissatisfied with their outdoor spaces.
In other words, the outdoor improvement trend isn’t going anywhere, says Lisa Briggs, garden coach and community outreach specialist at The Bruce Company in Middleton.
“What began in 2020 with people really looking to capitalize on their outdoor spaces … is absolutely still full steam ahead in 2022,” she says. “With uncertainty about new variants or [COVID] case numbers, we see people wanting to create spaces they know they’ll love to spend time in.”
Rene Huston, president of Patio Pleasures, agrees. “There is still a strong demand in [improving] outdoor living [spaces]. I am seeing that people want their outdoor spaces to become extensions of their interiors, with all the aesthetics and the comforts that you would find inside.”
A gardening revolution also started during the pandemic. People had the time — and sometimes, kids — on their hands.
“People took on home gardening as a way to be outside, or sometimes as an educational project for kids home from school. They found they just love it, and are now looking for ways to expand this hobby,” says Briggs.
Uncertainty coupled with current inflation concerns mean vegetable and fruit gardens are especially popular this season. “Starting with a small, raised garden bed and some easy- to-grow vegetables like lettuces and cherry tomatoes is really rewarding for all members of the family,” says Briggs.
Container gardens with a theme, such as an Italian herb garden planted with basil, oregano and thyme, or an aromatherapy pot brimming with mint and rosemary, will appeal to all the senses.
Briggs says there is also increased interest in planting pollinator-friendly native plants that are low maintenance and thrive in our varied Wisconsin weather.
Along with developing their green- thumb skills, people want to spend time comfortably relaxing outdoors.
“Plush and comfortable seating is an ongoing trend,” echoes Huston. “Fire tables are also popular right now. Basically people want to create a very cozy and warm atmosphere, bringing the level of comfort you expect inside — but outside.”
Briggs notes one of the biggest trends she sees in furnishings is the interest in deep seating. This means a departure from the metal or plastic chairs of the past and replacing them with comfortable, all-weather furnishings with weatherproof cushions and more of a sophisticated, “living room” look.
Gloria Stagmer, manager of the furnishings department at The Bruce Company, says she’s seeing an increase in demand for high-quality, high-end outdoor furnishings.
“People are looking for style and durability, and they are willing to invest in pieces that are both beautiful and functional to create the look they want,” she says.
Huston says her customers are taking an investment-minded approach as well in regards to their outdoor furniture.
“Previously consumers might be comfortable spending $50-$100 on a simple stand umbrella. But now that many are working from home and doing more of their entertaining outside, they are more interested in investing in a cantilevered umbrella that can be moved and adjusted throughout the day,” she says.
The care and maintenance of the new outdoor furnishing sets on the market is quite simple, says Huston. Many outdoor upholstery sets now feature quick-drying, anti-mold technology.
“Slipcovers and some storage for those all-day rains are certainly nice, but the truth is that these pieces are designed to get wet and be exposed to all kinds of weather,” she says.
As for palette and style, Stagmer says this spring buyers are loving neutral furnishings and using decorative elements for pops of color.
“With this approach people have the flexibility of [doing a] red, white and blue [theme] for summer, and bittersweet and orange accents as we head into fall. Consumers want that seasonal element,” says Stagmer. Huston says that the farmhouse look for outdoor décor and furnishings remains on-trend this season. (Think: rustic wood accents and earthy tones). She is also seeing customers gravitate toward a black and white motif and more “dark and stormy” palettes that incorporate rich blue and gray hues.
AL FRESCO ALLURE
Along with comfortable seating areas, outdoor kitchens are a trend with staying power. Today’s custom-built outdoor kitchens reflect a wide range of styles and can include luxurious details like pizza ovens and wine refrigerators.
While a fully equipped outdoor kitchen is a wish-list item for many, there are creative, lower-budget ways to bring your cookery outside and up the cozy vibe at the same time. A portable fire pit provides not only the warm glow of a crackling fire, but can be accessorized as a capable open-fire cook station. A simple weather resistant sideboard stands in for prep space. And, even the smallest apartment patio can accommodate a small butane fire bowl — perfect for roasting s’mores.
MADISON OUTDOOR STORES
Check out these stores for outdoor furnishings, garden goods and more.