Outdoor spaces are often the focus of design and increasingly aspire to be more comfortable, colourful, functional and lightweight. Zara Horner finds out more and asks: is retro style making a comeback outdoors as well?

Taking as much care with exterior spaces as interiors is not a new thing in the hospitality sector. It has long been understood that ‘outdoors’ needs to be treated like living areas with the same attention to detail and design to ensure they represent the standard and décor of the establishment in general and may be seen by all guests as a welcome, inviting, stylish extension in which to spend time.

And money. For the potential for revenue gathering through these areas is now obvious. Designated outdoor areas are now designed for different atmospheres, and requirements and while there are no hard and fast rules, a uniform look is imperative.

“Like all companies, our products have evolved through the years,” Henk Stijweg, CEO Suniture, says. The company specialises in serving the hospitality industry with outdoor furniture and clients include Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt and Shangri-La.

“Looking at the thousands of photos of projects we have made since 2002, the only common denominator is that all of them have brilliant colours -umbrella covers, cushions, pillows, beanbags, and more recently on the sofas,” Stijweg points out.

“Sunbrella fabrics come in literally hundreds of colours and have an unparalleled outdoor performance. Hence we say: ‘we cover in colours.’ We are outdoor. We have looked into the tiniest details such as quick-dry foam, special zips and threads, materials that withstand the rigours of the industry as well as the elements thrown at them.”

Suniture products are manufactured with Eqodry foam, YKK zips, and Gore Tenara threads all with full warranties.

“It is not enough that you get a cushion,” Stijweg says. “It should be a comfortable cushion – plush and soft – in a colour that is as specific as it can get. Our goal is to provide smart outdoor solutions for functional outdoor areas and we’d like to do this with style and lots of colour.”

All things vintage

‘Vintage’ and ‘pre-loved’ have been design watch-words for a couple of years now and the trend looks set to continue as vintage colours, textures (think linoleum, block prints and distressed) and furniture are still proving popular. But, Panai Phatanapirom, Suniture sales director says, “For outdoor projects while we have seen some spaces that have retro touches, none of them are full blown retro-style. I think this could be a bit thematic or venue specific.”

The outdoor furniture market is a relatively mature one in Asia, as it was in the early 2000s when spas became the norm at hotels that it was realised guests prolonged the experience by continuing to relax in the comfortable, ambient spa setting and more could be made of all outdoor spaces. Since then enormous in-roads – and innovations – have been made in the manufacture of outdoor furniture and furnishings.

Today’s synthetic fibres have increased durability and reduced maintenance, which means design potentials are more wide-ranging, while technological advances have increased construction material flexibility resulting in some extraordinary shapes and versatile ranges.

The move away from the standard table and chairs setting happened a long time ago and modular furniture which can be easily moved, and stacked, to create different looks or moods at different times of the day or to set a special event, have become the norm.

These innovations have offered up the opportunity for material combinations unavailable in the past. Wood, rope, metal and fabrics can be meshed together to create ever-more exciting looks.

Nevertheless, the process of designing outdoor spaces and the furniture that fills them is entirely different to indoors mainly due to the fact that the material used to create these liveable outdoors areas needs to withstand some tough climactic conditions and changes; as well as this, architecture and design has to mix with the natural environment.

For Spanish manufacturer Vondom the “dialogue between environment and form” is what pushes their new collections. “It’s about creating atmospheres,” says Michelle Poon, marketing manager.

“We travel the world to find the best ‘ambassadors’ of the Vondom spirit. We research and innovate to develop high precision technology and create more sustainable materials. Respect for the environment is in our DNA.”

The company’s latest collection is Suave designed by Marcel Wanders. “The range is the result of our attempts to bring the comfort of indoors into the outdoor space,” Poon says. “As well as bringing the freedom of outdoors in.”

The collection aims to create “true oases with the purpose of drawing people together,” Wanders has said.

Poon continues: “Suave introduces a new resistant production method of injected polyurethane which challenges a decade of previous production methods. With waterproof fabric in a range of warm colours the collection includes a modular sofa, a puff in five sizes, and three different sizes of planters. The new textures and delicate fabrics are designed to reflect the sensuality and warmth of the space they are in.”

And as far as the retro trend goes, Poon says, “In my opinion it depends on the brand, but for Vondom the focus is on futurist and modern styles.”

Whatever the design choice, the fittings used outdoors must answer basic needs, including weather and stain resistance. New quick-dry foams and powder-coated aluminium makes furniture light-weight, durable and eco-friendly while non-fading, UV-protective, colour, tonality, texture and print variations allow for a rich decorative arc.

The seamless transition from indoors to out has allowed these areas to become multi-functional in themselves. While hotels have become bolder in their applications and landscape and interior designers are finding more common ground as they mesh the ways they incorporate nature into design concepts.