Toilet paper notwithstanding, the best thing Todd Osterman did back in April was start thinking about how to furnish his patio. But really, “my wife was the one who was thinking way ahead,” the Wisconsin teacher said. “She was the one who thought this might be a long-term thing.” If they were going to be home all summer, they might as well enjoy their patio — which meant getting a heater for those early-spring nights.
That decision paid off. “I was at my local Home Depot last week, and they were completely sold out,” Osterman said. “This is the middle of the summer — not the time you would want to buy a patio heater.”
If the inflatable backyard pool was the hero product of summer 2020, patio firepits and heaters are poised to be — pun absolutely intended — the hottest items for fall.
Now is the moment to take stock of what you’re going to need for your outdoor patio. Sure, researching heaters in the deep sweat of August feels odd. But it’s clear we may all spend a lot of time at home this fall — and want to maximize our outdoor area.
To begin, think a bit about how you’ll use your space. When Shai DeLuca, a Toronto-based designer and TV personality, works with clients with larger patios, he divides up the square footage, much the way a house with an open floor plan is divided into various living arrangements. Split your patio into zones, creating intimate, small spaces that offer a refuge when you’ve had enough togetherness.
Of course, how you design and outfit your patio may come down to what you can still get. At the online retailer Wayfair, searches for patio heaters over the past five weeks were up more than 70% from this time last year. Dan Crepps, the general manager of interior design for Wayfair Professional, said that the site was already seeing increased sales on heaters, fire pits, layered textiles (think pillows and blankets) and outdoor lighting.
John Merris, chief executive of Solo Stove, which makes low-smoke backyard fire pits, said his company had finally restocked its inventory after an unusually lucrative summer. In a typical year, Solo Stove moves a lot of product in early spring, but things taper in July and August. That lull never happened.
Fire pits have been big for a while. What is new, however, is how people are using their outdoor living spaces. Joe Raboine, who has spent 25 years in the patio industry, most recently with paver company Belgard, says that previously clients wanted patio spaces that would work for entertaining. Now families are focused on building spaces that bring them comfort and improve everyday quality of life.
If you’re looking for comfort this fall, start by looking for warmth, DeLuca said. Fire pits are an obvious choice, but that’s hardly your only option. In fact, many condo and city dwellers may find that homeowners associations or local municipalities do not allow wood-burning products, though some condos may allow small gas fire tables. While not as warm, Raboine said, they can serve as a stunning centerpiece.
Patio heaters take considerably less tending than fire pits, and can really crank out heat. Most heaters sold for residential use should warm a 7- to 10-foot radius. For a small patio, one should suffice, but if you’re warming a large space, you’ll want one every 10 feet.
When fire pits or heaters are off limits, turn to warm fabrics to make your porch inviting. “It’s very much about the finishes you choose,” said DeLuca, adding that no one wants to sit on wrought iron on a chilly evening. Look for pillows, cushions and throws created for outdoor use, which will dry quickly after rain and hold up under ultraviolet rays. If you love something, but it’s not made to live outside, consider adding an outdoor table or ottoman that doubles as a watertight storage container. You can tuck these items away between uses.
Good lighting can also cozy up a space, said Raboine, adding that outdoor lighting is something few people think about until it’s midnight black at 5 p.m. DeLuca advises his clients to think of lighting in layers — just as you would inside. Consider a floor or table lamp, a few candles, and an overhead light, to give a range of types and levels of light.
Beyond creating family memories and expanding our quarantine worlds just a bit, there’s also a hard-to-deny appeal to products that provide warmth, light and comfort as days get shorter, while the news stays unfailingly grim. “There’s this physical comfort that people want to experience,” said Liz Wells, marketing director for Rumpl, which makes blankets geared toward outdoor use.
Like Solo Stove, Rumpl is worried about having enough inventory for the fall rush — especially because it’s followed by the holiday season. And there are other problems beyond inventory. Merris said his company had struggled with finding space on ocean freighters, while Rumpl has had issues moving products quickly through distribution centers, because of increased safety measures for workers.
Bottom line: If you want to accessorize your patio with a heater, or twinkling string lights, or weatherproof curtains or whatever else brings you that sense of comfort, don’t wait.