It's the quintessential outdoor party: friends and family gathered around a table, passing the time on a beautiful spring or summer afternoon.
But what are they sitting on? What are they eating on? Most importantly in when it comes to this region: is there room enough to even have a party on the deck or in the yard?
With the weather turning warm, several local retail stores offer different options for outdoor entertainment, from high-end imports to classic bistro furnishings.
For Sommie Atkinson, a buyer for Abaca Imports (1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria), finding new and exotic furnishings is sometimes a serendipitous process. Like recently when a man returned from a trip through Burman and Thailand with a container of different furniture and other home items. Out of the blue, he called Atkinson; she drove up to Philadelphia and purchased many of his better finds.
Her reasoning is infallible: that the materials used in these tables, chairs and other wares provides a durability unmatched in many domestic products. “Basically, it’s furniture that’s going to last you forever. It’s not something you have to replace in five or 10 years like a lot of stuff on the market,” she said. “The wood lasts 100 years — it can stay outside all year long. In Thailand, you’ll see these houses built over the water, pegged into the river on teak stakes. They last forever.”
Near the front of Abaca’s spacious N. Royal Street warehouse is an outdoor set from its half-moon series. Two wide chairs ($650 apiece) with a light brown finish wing a matching wooden sofa ($1,400) that could seat three. A coffee table ($550) completes the set, one that would be perfect for a large patio or in the backyard.
But Atkinson knows that many of her customers from the region don’t have acres of land on which to entertain friends and family.
Abaca offers several options that can expand and contract based on the number of people attending the function, such as a 6-foot wide oval table ($1,450) that can be collapsed down to 4 feet, 4 inches — ideal for an outdoor cocktail or a game of cards. There’s also a 29.5-inch high pedestal table ($750) which has a collapsible top that can go against the wall in the tight quarters of a condo porch.
“It’s great for this area, because so many people in Old Town have such small outdoor areas,” she said. “Every once in a while, you might want to cram a few extra people into the backyard.”
Atkinson said the trend these days is to make outdoor entertaining spaces “cozy.” Specifically, she said outdoor carpeting is catching on; both with fabrics that won’t fade or mildew, and with large bamboo rugs ($110-220). The bamboo carpets are typically used on concrete, though Atkinson said it could work on level grass.
“The trend is to make it cozy, almost like you’re building the indoors outside,” she said, adding that deep-cushioned coaches and comfortable chairs are part of that movement. “I’m actually thinking about ordering this big outdoor bed.”
Abaca Imports has three locations in Alexandria: 1201 N. Royal St., 1120 N. Fairfax St., and 524 N. Fayette St., which is its indoor living showroom. Visit them on the web at www.abacaimports.com.
The tip of the iceberg. That's what Restoration Hardware's King St. location offers when it comes to the national chain's array of outdoor furnishings, which are available via its in-store catalogue.
Inside the store are examples of the classic garden collection, featuring metal chairs and tables. A complete classic set — 72x42 table, two armchairs and four side chairs — can be ordered on www.restorationhardwareoutdoor.com for $2,495.
Wicker is also a key component of Restoration's outdoor collections. The all-weather wicker classic is an old-fashioned look that — like all of its wicker — comes in dark espresso or light antique honey shades. Different seating configurations can be purchased, including a sofa ($995), ottoman ($270) and coffee table ($410). The catologue and web site also offer exclusive wicker outdoor furniture selections.
Restoration has several types of square and octagonal umbrellas that are perfect for the beach and for patio tables. The 9-foot square umbrella ($450) and octagonal ($295) umbrellas also have their own stand ($110) and come in a dozen shades from butter to cornflower. They are made from durable, fadeproof and mildew resistent Sunbrella fabric.
When the sun goes down, Restoration has a collection of rust or zinc colored Healdsburg Lanterns. A medium-size metal candleholder retails for $139.
<ro>The Chair Shop and Javawood USA
Located steps away from each other in a undistinguished strip of stores off of Edsall Road, The Chair Shop (5601-B General Washington Dr.) and Javawood USA (601-H General Washington Drive) offer several outdoor seating options amongst their collections of indoor furniture.
The Chair Shop, which has been selling a wide variety of seating options since 1984, features solid and comfortable Adirondack chairs ($230) that can come in several color options and are made from recycled milk containers. “Rain, snow — put it out there every day,” said The Chair Shop’s Pha So.
But the most intriguing chair for outdoor entertainment is the Original Kennedy Rocker — an oak recreation of the rocking chair used by President John F. Kennedy that sold for a reported $442,500 at a Sotherby’s auction. As The Chair Shop proudly boasts on its website (www.chairshop.com), customers can save $442,301 the P & P Chair Company’s wide-armed rocker, which can be picked up at the store for $199.
Javawood USA owner Nico Lengkong assures buyers that his factory imported teak mahogany furniture is theirs “for life” due to its durability, so long as they use teak oil for a twice-a-year maintenance.
While catering mostly to indoor furnishings, Javawood has a stunning dark wooden table and chairs set that retails for $1,400. Another table — Lengkong jokingly referred to it as his “Last Supper table” — was available for $2,800 and was in stock. There was also a dark wood teak table with an Italian marble stop that retailed for $1,100.
Many of Javawood’s pieces are treated wood; it’s for unfinished teak that Lengkong said some oil needs to be used for maintenance.
While many of Javawood’s offerings are on the high end of outdoor furnishings, there’s no question that the rustic look and quality of the pieces are a conversation starter. Visit them on the web at www.javawoodusa.com.
If the goal is to have guests talking about your choice of outdoor furnishings, Eclectic Nature (1503 Mount Vernon Ave.) is the place to start shopping. Entering the Del Ray shop’s large garden and outdoor living area feels like visiting the hippest garden party you’ve ever attended — and not just because the color palette of many items seems practically psychedelic.
Eclectic Nature offers several bistro chair and table sets that range from $187 and up. These weathered metal collections — offered in several different shades — are the perfect size for a small entertaining space on a balcony or a patio, but they’d also look perfect poolside.
Owner Christy Beal said that outdoor amusement goes beyond seating. Eclectic Nature has gotten on the container gardening trend that’s swept the area, offering several options for hanging plants and potted plants. One trend Beal supports is the planting of trees in large pots, bringing in some of the nature limited space sometimes prohibits.
Once a container garden is ready to bloom, Eclectic Nature has a quirky collection of metallic wall hangings that can add some color to a dreary cement wall or wooden fence. Ranging from $18-60, metal bugs, turtles and other animals painted with bright — almost tropical — greens and blues create a wonderful backdrop for planting as well as a festive atmosphere.
The Del Ray shop has a house filled with interesting and distinctive indoor furnishings, as well as a few outdoor items like outdoor lanterns.