By Jennifer Alexis
Rug companies, banking on a continued trend toward home-based recreation and entertaining, are applying styles, texture and color once reserved for rugs used only inside the home for ones designed for outdoor use.
Many in the rug business expect that people will continue to make good use of their backyards and outside areas in the coming year, a trend that took off a few years ago. It certainly seems logical that so-called “staycations”—or vacations spent at home—are likely to remain popular as Americans tighten the reins on spending in a weakened economy.
Many segments of the home furnishings industry are also counting on consumers, forced by the economy to stay put in homes they might have otherwise sold and moved on from, to make small investments to refresh outdated or stale home decor.
“Since people are not buying, selling or moving as much, sprucing up their backyards and creating new and interesting ‘outdoor rooms’ has become important and can be done inexpensively with an indoor/outdoor rug,” said Jonathan Cohen, chief operating officer of Stanton Carpet. “This category is the perfect answer to smart decorating today.”
Rug vendors and manufacturers are anticipating strong sales of indoor/outdoor rugs, and are designing new products aimed to stimulate the senses and make the outdoors as cozy as the indoors.
International Textile Manufacturing, a year-old company specializing in braided rugs, is investing in its indoor/outdoor business in anticipation that consumer demand for these rugs will only continue to grow.
“We have identified outdoors rugs as a key growth area for rugs, and for braided rugs in particular,” said John Bradshaw, vice president of sales and marketing, “and we are aggressively pursing the expansion of our assortment.”
Among ITM’s initiatives to this end includes the development of what Bradshaw described as an “innovative material” the company will use to construct outdoor rugs that will “capture the imagination of retailers and the consumer and still perform well as an outdoor rug.”
“We are in the process of developing new product that will be made from a different kind of yarn that is certified and suitable for outdoor use,” he said, adding that braided rugs are inherently great for outdoors since they are porous and provide no opportunity for water to pool or accumulate.
It may have been true at one time that innovation in design, texture and color was earmarked only for floor coverings that would not be subject to drenching rains, harsh sunlight and windblown dirt. Rug makers, however, have found ways around these obstacles.
Couristan has been reaping the rewards of its research and development in the indoor/outdoor segment for several years now, according to Larry Mahurter, director of advertising and marketing for the company.
The segment has come a long way in just a few years, he said. The quality of the rugs continue to improve and sales are benefiting from growing consumer interest in outdoor furniture.
The outdoor-living category “has really taken on a life of its own, and we’re really fortunate to have taken a chance with it five years ago,” Mahurter said.
Couristan’s broad offering in this area, he said, has also allowed the company to tap into new distribution channels, such as garden stores, patio and pool centers, landscaping centers and certain specialty catalogs, without affecting old ones.
The company’s most recent offerings in this segment include several new collections that incorporate design elements and a range of colors once only found in indoor products. The Five Seasons Collection, according to Mahurter, has had tremendous success right out of the gate since its introduction midway through 2007.
The collection offers a wide range of color options for each of its designs—including lattice, summer blanket and contemporary designs. The options are particularly attractive to catalog customers who can pick and choose the colors and designs they think meet the demands of their individual customer bases, he added.
The Sunscape and Everhome Collections tap into the demand for interesting surface appeal. “We added texture to the surface with a high-low pile,” said Mahurter of Sunscape, which is flatwoven with cut and loop pile.
The Everhome Collection, densely constructed of 100-percent polypropylene cut-pile, mimics the design, feel and texture of indoor rugs. “Basically, we’ve taken patterns from our Everest Collection and applied it to the outdoors,” he said.
The design options reflect modern decor trends and include tone-on-tone animal prints and a sprawling scroll motif. However, it is the lush feel and texture of the rug that Mahurter said really sets it apart. The collection owes its texture to its unique construction, Mahurter said.
Lush rugs that look as if they should be kept out of the elements and safely indoors, but are more rugged than they appear are growing in demand and in supply. Capel Rugs’ Fresh Air Collection is designed to do just that, according to Dianna Miyamoto, marketing coordinator.
“They don’t look like they should be outside—they’re very sophisticated, very classic and they feel great,” she said. “Fresh Air is doing fantastic because it’s plush and looks very high-end. No one would ever throw an Oriental rug down outside, but this will hold up.”
Texture that just begs to be touched isn’t the only element selling indoor/outdoor rugs.
“What has emerged as the new hot trend is the use of pattern, where this was previously absent,” said Stanton’s Cohen. The company’s Anywhere Collection, he said is a perfect example of the trend away from “bland vanilla” texture and design and the emergence of “multidimensional and multicolored design layered on to achieve a much higher-styled look.”
Expanding color options are also new to the world of outdoor rugs. Neutral or earth tones used to be the standard here, but rug vendors say that isn’t necessarily the case anymore as more color seeps into the segment.
Some of the rugs in Couristan’s Five Seasons Collection put to use a five-frame color palette with colors such as sky blue, chocolate, black, cream, green, terra cotta, and even red and gold interwoven against the background.
Perhaps one of the strongest selling points of many of the indoor/outdoor rugs being introduced today is that the look and feel good enough to be as truly versatile as their label suggests.
“We find that people are really using them indoors and then they call pull it right out onto their decks [for outdoor occasions] without worrying about spills,” Miyamoto said.
Mahurter said Couristan has taken to referring to its rugs in this segment as “outdoor enhanced,” to underscore those qualities that make them indoor-worthy.
Safavieh is another company tapping into the versatility of this segment. With over 100 designs already in its Courtyard Collection, the company is introducing 10 botanical patterns in both two-color and three-color designs in January. Arash Yaraghi, principal of Safavieh said the company has created a proprietary construction for its rugs that creates a look of sisal, but is machine-woven in Belgium of 100-percent enhanced polypropylene, making them an attractive option indoors or out.
“This is a great category for us because it is a multi-use product that extends well-designed rugs into areas of the home where they were formally high on durability, but low on fashion,” Yaraghi said. “We think our success has been the result of bringing style and color to areas like the kitchen, back-door and garage entrance.”
He added that some of the rugs are also being used in sunrooms, front entryways and even bedrooms.