If there’s one thing affecting this year’s outdoor furniture choices, it’s the a-h-h-h factor. No more cushion-less wrought iron and limp vinyl strapping cutting into your thighs.

“If you are spending time outdoors you want to be comfortable,” says Karyl Kindell of Patio & Hearth. A lot of people are passing up vacations and investing in furniture so you want it to be comfortable.”

That translates to fluffier, deeper cushions and high styling. “The deep seating we are seeing is definitely a signal of the return to comfort,” says Jerry Smith, also of Patio & Hearth.

It’s not just pool seating and lounge chairs anymore.

“People are creating an adjunct to the family room outside,” says John Harrison, director of design at Closson’s. “Furniture arrangements are more comfortable, and materials have an indoor look to them. There’s a very definite sense of carrying the whole lifestyle outside.”

Folks are dividing their outdoor areas into definite functional spaces – areas for eating and others for relaxation. Yesterday’s aluminum lounger has given way to comfy sectionals, dining tables that seat six or eight, massive umbrellas with built-in lights and stereo systems and cocktail tables that double as fire pits for cool evenings.

The biggest change continues to be all-weather fabrics like Sunbrella, the king of the hill, that allow homeowners to leave furniture out in the sun and showers … though everyone cautions that bringing it in will prolong its life.

“I wouldn’t stress the colors as much as the brightness of the fabrics,” says Harrison. “Bright is very popular at the moment as a result of the recession. People want “cheerful.” They are looking for a lift.”

Earth tones outsell the brights at Patio & Hearth, and customers add color in throw pillows, umbrellas and accessories, says Smith.

“The big change I see in the fabrics is that there are so many weaves and textures in the solids now,” says Doug Bossy of Sun Spot Pool & Patio.

Stores report more people are making a point to ask for domestic manufacturers. “They are better quality and the delivery is faster with companies like Brown Jordan, Winston, Lloyd/Flanders and Tommy Bahama,” says Smith.

Gliders and motion furniture are getting more attention as well, and brown is the frame color of choice in metals this year. “There are so many choices from coffee tones to earth tones, java and bronzes,” says Kindell.

“The key is to find out what suits your lifestyle and needs,” she says.