One of the latest trends in garden-room design serves to demonstrate that property owners can't get enough of a good thing. If one room is good, then more are better.
Multiple garden rooms are being developed with different themes to satisfy different members of the family, said Emily Nolting, an ornamental-plant and landscaping specialist with Kansas State University Research and Extension in Manhattan.
Over the last three years, said Nolting, who teaches outdoor-room design and landscaping, "I'm seeing a lot of expansion here - people growing into multiples. The rooms are becoming like coordinated wallpaper. Each is a little different but they all work together."
Basically, a garden room is a defined outdoor space with a general theme, much like indoor rooms: dining room/kitchen, for example, entertainment center, or reading/knitting retreat.
"Garden rooms started by being very basic. They were private sanctuaries for the most part. Now they're extensions of our indoor living space," Nolting said. "They're more sophisticated in the use of accessories and plant varieties. Because they're so close (to the house) they can be monitored more carefully. People are more interested in trying uncommon plants and finding things that are more difficult to grow."
It isn't unusual to see garden rooms set aside specifically as children's play areas, as outdoor kitchens equipped with stainless-steel barbecue sets running into the thousands of dollars, or as dining and entertainment centers with space for tables large enough to seat 10 or more, Nolting said.
About half of the gardens she's seeing have multiple rooms now. And it's a changeable feast, she said, with people planting different colored flowers every year, and opting for more shady garden rooms now, instead of sunny as they were at first.
"They give you options. You don't have to go far to enjoy them. They connect with all sorts of living things outdoors. They're a good fit for our increasingly complicated lives."
There was a time when homeowners personalized their garden rooms by planting a few clumps of geraniums around a toy tractor or by placing an old wooden wagon wheel in the middle of a flowerbed. Now, an entire industry has emerged centered around creating just the right garden room accessory, Nolting said.
"You don't just stick things out there that you have setting in your garage anymore," she said. "You complement things outdoors as you would indoors. Matching napkins. Bronze statuary. Candles and fountains. They're all very much in demand."
Among the fastest sellers in lawn furnishing this season are larger pieces built from easy-care materials, said Sheryl King, a spokeswoman for Laneventure, in Conover, N.C., manufacturers of wicker furniture.
"We've got a farm table and bench, for example, that will seat 10 people on either side," King said. "That's selling well. We also have some natural wicker that we can finish for use indoors or out. We launched the trade advertising earlier this month and it's proving popular thus far."
Technology finally is catching up with outdoor finishes and fabrics, she said.
"It's becoming low care and durable - cleaned easily with soap and water. That means you don't have to worry about bringing the newer varieties of porch furniture inside in the wintertime."
Indoor furniture is now often adaptable for use outdoors, fueling the popularity of garden rooms, said Jeff Dillon, outdoor-furniture buyer for Plow and Hearth, a national direct-marketing group based in Madison, Va., that sells country-living products via stores, catalogs and a Web site.
"We're selling larger pieces this year," Dillon said. "Everything from larger overall sizes to larger arms and legs attached to individual pieces. Deeper and more comfortable seating on couches, chairs and loveseats. You're also starting to see real upholstery fabric (used outdoors).
"Nothing is altogether weatherproof, but its resistance is getting to the point where it's achieving a reasonable life expectancy without disappointments," he said. "People are willing to spend outdoors what they spend on indoor furniture."
Consumers don't seem to mind spending $2,000 on an outdoor dining set as long as it gives them longevity, said Joseph Cilio, president of Alfresco Home, a wholesale designer and distributor of home furnishings near King of Prussia, Pa.
"It's a market that's gone way upper end. You can spend $15,000 to $20,000 on some (outdoor) groupings," Cilio said. "I'm talking loungers and larger pieces of furniture. You can have it almost like a bedroom outside."
Garden rooms aren't developed overnight, rather they're an ongoing investment, Kansas State's Nolting said.
"You start with the basic idea to make the areas into rooms. Then you develop the pathways and color movement to transition from one room to another. You add to that every year as your preferences and lifestyles change."