Each fall, the Mart in Chicago partners with the International Casual Furnishings Association and industry manufacturers to host its Annual Outdoor Furniture show. As the largest exhibition of outdoor furnishings and accessories in the world, this is a great resource for mid-west based designers to see upcoming outdoor products and trends and an opportunity to network with vendors from around the world. The exhibit spans 350,000 square feet — it isn’t hard to spend all three days exploring the show and taking in all of the innovative product introductions and upcoming style and color trends. Although the show’s main focus is directed toward retailers looking to pick up the next season’s collections for their showrooms, the show can be a great resource for designers as well. The final day of the show was the official “Designer Day” with speakers focusing on growing your design business and connecting the indoor aesthetic to the outdoors. There was also a networking lunch.

The products shown spanned all styles but themes definitely appeared. There is a larger emphasis on sustainable products. Companies are using a range of materials — from recycled plastic made from milk jugs to fabrics woven from upcycled threads. Sustainably harvested teak and bamboo were also seen from multiple manufacturers. Designers have been working with sustainable materials for years we can see that it is becoming more important to our clients as well. Having multiple go-to green options from reputable suppliers is a must.

Technology was present in everything from outdoor fireplaces to remote control solar lighting solutions. Ease of operation drove many of these products and no style was sacrificed in their execution. There were equal amounts of simple design innovations with easy to move umbrella bases and simple mobile LED lighting as well.

New outdoor fabric introductions were everywhere with bright patterns and stripes covering everything from cushions to umbrellas. New all-weather cording was seen across many styles as part of woven seats or adding a new texture to seat and sectional frames. All-Weather-Wicker still had a strong showing with natural and grey tones having a large presence.
No matter what the style or material, there was no shortage of pieces to make the most of smaller outdoor spaces. Highlights were pieces that serve a double duty purpose — from a sofa with a back doubled as a bar to lightweight multi-use pieces that can be used as a foot stool or end table, then pulled up for additional seating. Small sectionals with slim frames were shown in smaller spaces, creating areas for both dining and lounge.

Outdoor entertaining has always been a favorite use of our outdoor spaces and this year was no different. These outdoor spaces can be elevated by the presence of sophisticated bar carts, serving ware, design savvy coolers, and bar/counter height seating. Everything you need to host the perfect party!

This is a great trip for a Minnesota designer looking to gain confidence and inspiration to grow their outdoor design business.