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Backyard elegance with durable style

``Rather than getting away from it all, people want to get back to it all - in their own backyard,'' says Gwen Raseman of Kalamazoo, Mich., president of the National Association of Casual Furniture Retailers. They are willing, she says, to spend extra money for heightened fashion and more elegance in the porch and patio furniture they will be purchasing this season.

Style trends in ``leisure furnishings'' are many. But most manufacturers keep seeking to improve on their promise of rugged durability and easy care.

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Finishes are constantly being improved. Cushion fillings are being upgraded to meet the demands of weather and wear. Fabrics are being developed that can better withstand mildew, rot, fading, and atmospheric chemicals. Both Samsonite Furniture Company and Telescope Casual Furniture Inc. offer washable cushions that can be popped into the washer.

Injection-molded synthetic-resin furniture is one of the fastest-growing segments of the summer furniture industry. It is tough, durable, and usually white in color. It may turn up in an $8 chair, or it can be sumptuously styled into a $300 chair. Many resin groups require no cushions at all, which is seen as an advantage. Grosfillex Inc. offers black resin groups as well.

Redwood, wrought iron, steel, aluminum, wicker, and rattan are the principal materials used in casual furniture. Larry Shaw, Lee L. Woodard Inc.'s vice-president of market development, says wrought iron is staging a big comeback both outdoors and indoors.

``There is an `abidingness' about iron that is very attractive. Following the recent fascination with high-tech, its solid, enduring character and classic designs appeal to many people. Our new group is called Lahaina.''

Brown Jordan Company's Renaissance series includes ``Florentine,'' a neoclassic form with graceful curves, which the company feels ``reflects a renewed interest in the forged look that is occurring in indoor furniture.''

This year ``motion'' is an accented feature of many outdoor groups. Chairs rock, glide, and swivel. Three-seaters gently glide and love seats rock. There is even a ``swivel chaise that rocks,'' and handsome recliners offer from five to 20 relaxing positions.

Almost every manufacturer is featuring jacquard patterns (woven from acrylic fibers and vinyl yarns) with the look and often the feel of woven tapestries and damasks found in upholstered indoor furniture.

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Tom Hebson, national sales manager of Grosfillex and president of the Southern Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association, advises consumers to buy from reputable outdoor furniture dealers who can explain the features of a product, stand behind it, and give instruction on its proper care and maintenance.

He reports that many people today are buying with an eye to easy storage and are looking for good-looking outdoor furniture that folds up for the winter.

Other casual furniture innovators include Ficks Reed Company, Lloyd/Flanders Industries, Winston Furniture Company, Lyon-Shaw Inc., Trojan Metal Fabrication Inc., and Typhoon International Corporation.

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