Out is in

The surge in popularity of al fresco dining and living in the Middle East has meant that interior designers are now being asked to create impressive exteriors too

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By  Monika Grzesik Published  November 12, 2006

|~|Outdoor-furniture-B.jpg|~||~|Perhaps as a result of the beautiful climate we experience for much of the year; a longing to reconnect with nature, or simply due to the fact that technology now allows for finishes that can withstand even the fiercest outdoor conditions, outdoor design is ‘en vogue’. The outdoor space is increasingly being used as an integrated part of our living environment. With the days of plastic picnic tables and rusty-hinged, folding chairs long gone, designer furniture lines have led to a perception of the exterior world as an extension of the interior. These days, outdoor design has rooms, niches and ergonomically-designed furniture. Comfort is key and designers are creating outdoor areas with cushioned furniture, rugs and mood lighting. “Outdoor design is definitely mirroring indoor design,” says Mark Sault, managing director, Parasol. “The whole outdoor ambience has changed drastically. We are seeing an increase in ‘zones’ within an outdoor space. Be it for dining or relaxing. The thought that now goes into outdoor areas certainly rivals the interior design concept. Customers are matching fabrics, creating moods with lighting and candles, and choosing furniture which will enhance the surroundings not merely for its practicality but also for its aesthetics.” David Sutherland of Sutherland Outdoor Furniture agrees, “The current trends are for comfortable seating including cushions, with proper thickness and pitch in the back, and quality construction which will survive the elements, even in the UAE. Bringing the outdoors in will continue to be an emphasis for the foreseeable future.” Outdoor designs must encompass two main features: functionality and form. Designers are confronted with the task of creating contemporary, stylish designs from durable, hardwearing materials. “The design must ensure that the item can perform the task it was designed for, but the aesthetics are increasingly important,” says Sault. ||**||Trends|~||~||~|Thomas Sauvage, designer for French company Ego Paris has identified two major trends currently occurring in the world of exterior design. “Outdoor furniture designs are becoming very contemporary when they were still very traditional only a few years ago. In this contemporary market we can distinguish two major movements. A ‘Latin’ style with products made with curves and fluidity, opposed to a ‘Nordic’ style, which means more straight lines and geometric shapes.” Clearly following the ‘Nordic’ style is Gandia Blasco. The company’s minimalist designs in plastic, aluminium and stainless steel have a strong linear structure with clean lines and geometric shapes. These angular designs are fast gaining popularity. “Hotels are going for contemporary designs, with minimalist, clean lines. Shapes are angular rather than softer. It’s very much a case of less is more,” says David Willis of Barbeque and Outdoor. Roger Clements, of Suncoast agrees: “Commercially we have found the modern trend seems to be for angular tables — either square, rectangle or octagonal. Round tables with the exception of drop leaf tables, appear to be unfashionable and sales have dropped steeply.” Personal space is a factor in this trend — people often feel more relaxed at square tables as they each have their own space whereas at round tables they can feel invaded, according to Clements. In a commercial exterior, however, there is also the issue of space saving. Square tables can easily be pushed together to create more room. This is an equally important feature in outdoor chair design, “Folding chairs seem to have lost their appeal, they have been replaced by either fixed chairs or stacking chairs,” he says. Newly launched in the UAE is Italian brand Pircher. Once synonymous with rustic Italian country garden furniture, the company has consigned this traditional style firmly to the past and devoted itself to a complete change of design style beginning this year. “The change of direction for Pircher was more of a following of a general trend and architectural tendency worldwide,” says Khaled Nayed, general manager, Lunico (distributors for Pircher in the UAE). Pircher’s new creations feature the use of pinewood blended with stainless steel or iron. Nayed attempts to pinpoint this new trend, “It can’t really be pinned down. It is an amalgamation of different styles — old and new, rustic with modern. Wood is the most natural texture you can get — it is warm, it moves and cracks. But we mix this with modern materials like steel. Extreme modern trends; we like to look at in pictures but we wouldn’t take them home. Our designs are modern yet the feel and touch of them are something you feel comfortable and at home in.” This trend for mixing materials in outdoor furniture characterises much of contemporary design. Royal Botania is well known for its classic wooden outdoor furniture. The ‘Classix’ range is a collection created solely in mature teakwood. However, designers Frank Boschman and Kris Van Puyvelde have begun to contemporise their collection for 2006 by combining teak with more modern materials, including stainless steel, aluminium and batyline. Comfort and ergonomics play a vital role in modern outdoor design. Ann Sutherland, of Sutherland Outdoor Furniture points out that: “Exterior furniture should be as comfortable as anything inside, not just a perch on which to sit for a moment or two.” “Outdoor furniture design is definitely becoming more ergonomic. New manufacturing processes mean that we can have curves and sweeps rather than just flat straight angles. We can have designs which mimic the curve of a body and are therefore much more comfortable to the user. Benches and chairs are enhanced by curved seats which provide a practical seat with much greater comfort,” says Parasol’s Sault. German designer Dedon illustrates the primacy of ergonomics in outdoor design. Its Leaf chair, designed by Frank Ligthart, was awarded the 2006 ‘red dot’ design award, one of Europe’s most prestigious design prizes. Curving lines join to form an organic shape that embraces the entire body. The chaise longue rests on the ground at four points and is therefore stable at all times. A cushion made of moisture-permeable foam is built into the headrest and a gentle depression down its length offers relaxed lounging. For Kettal, too, the focus of its 2006 collection is comfort. The Spanish design company has created the XXL Lobby range with oversized seating modules. The swivel armchair and footstool are manufactured in aluminium and resemble indoor office furniture.||**||Materials|~||~||~|Roger Clements of Suncoast highlights the importance of selecting the right materials in exterior design. “Hotels often use marble by the poolside because it looks nice but this is the worst material to use as it heats up so much, you could fry an egg on it! Decking is the best as it does not conduct heat. Exterior designers need to take this into account when choosing materials.” Hardwood is a highly popular material for outdoor design due to its ability to withstand the elements, particularly relevant in the harsh climate of the Middle East. While woods such as teak, yellow balau or kwila are ideal for use in this type of environment, many design companies also put a vast amount of technological research into creating materials that will withstand all weather conditions. Pircher’s designs, for example, are made from treated pinewood, which has been impregnated with a non-toxic and environmentally friendly mineral salt that protects from atmospheric agents, as well as moulds and insects. In the Middle East, aluminium has also taken off as a material for outdoor design. Unlike traditional style metal furniture, which will overheat and is prone to rust in the presence of sprinklers, aluminium is particularly adapted to warm climates. “Aluminium doesn’t hold the heat when exposed to the sun. It is lightweight, does not rust, is easy to maintain and is UV resistant. Our products incorporate meshes that have an open weaving structure that brings breathability more than cushions or rigid slats. There is no stretching due to the heat,” says Ego Paris’ Sauvage.||**||If you can’t stand the heat… |~||~||~|The summer months in the Middle East bring the inevitable issue of often unbearable heat and humidity making the prospect of venturing outdoors more of a chore than a pleasure. However, designers are increasingly developing more innovative ways to extend the period of time people can spend outside. Outdoor air-conditioning units are increasingly available and fans with water mists are effective in moving the air and creating a breeze. The advent of the gazebo has also provided a stylish relief from the heat. Gazebos have long been popular in the region as they are a simple yet effective means of offering shade and comfort and traditional Arabic design continues to influence gazebo design. And it’s not only people that need to escape the summer heat. Hardwood furniture also suffers as a result of the unrelenting sun: “At the end of the manufacturing process timber furniture still contains around 6% moisture. This must be replenished regularly. Any untreated timber left exposed to sun and water will turn grey and cracks may appear which is the timbers natural way of protecting itself,” says Lisa Dean from Garden Furniture Store. Regular application of good quality oil is necessary to maintain the appearance of timber furniture. It is recommended that furniture be treated every three to four months. “Using a cheaper oil alternative in high humidity areas such as Dubai can lead to the growth of mould on the surface of the furniture,” adds Dean.||**||Tamanya Terrace|~||~||~|Designers at IMA Interiors wanted to create an informal outdoor atmosphere in their design of the newly opened Tamanya Terrace for the Radisson SAS Hotel in Dubai Media City. Arabic style colours and textures have been given a modern twist in this outdoor chill-out venue, created as a place for the local media workforce to unwind after a day at the office. The low seating with padded cushions and mood lighting, gives the terrace a relaxed ambience, while the 8th floor venue provides a soft sea breeze, helping to overcome the humid evenings. Designers have also installed cooling fans to combat the heat. Tension, membrane shading has been used to provide protection from the hot sun during the day. The terrace has a distinctly international feel. The umbrella lights have been sourced from Spanish company ABR while the glass mosaic bar is from the Iridium Collection by Italian company Sicis. The furniture is from Kaya-Kaya, Singapore. It is made from woven polycane, selected by the designers for its ability to withstand the harsh weather conditions all year round with minimum maintenance. Heavy-duty commercial tiling has been selected for the floor with wooden decking placed on top in selected areas to provide focused raised areas. Despite its outdoor location, IMA has taken care with finishing touches. Artwork adorns the walls, including a striking piece behind the bar made of mirrored glass, which lights up at night. ||**||

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