Outdoor Elegance is a Must-Stop on the Road to Luxurious Living

December 22, 2009
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Outdoor Elegance Owner and President has literally put La Verne on the map with his nonpareil patio design center.

Outdoor Elegance Owner and President Doug Sanicola has literally put La Verne on the map with his nonpareil patio design center.

If you’ve ever struck up a conversation with a stranger out on the road, you’ve invariably been asked the question: Where is La Verne? You make a half-hearted attempt to satisfy their curiosity — “It’s near the L.A. County Fair” or “It’s 20 miles east of Pasadena” – before the “Laverne and Shirley” jokes start in, your new acquaintance suddenly a comedian in the making.

Well, a new day has dawned in La Verne, and you owe your good fortune to one man, Doug Sanicola, the owner and builder of Outdoor Elegance Patio Design Center, a luxurious and luminous 13,000- square-foot showroom (just off the 210 Foothill freeway exit, then a right at the light) filled with an amazingly stylish collection of outdoor casual living patio furniture, gourmet outdoor kitchens and grills, fireplace enclosures, statutory and fountains, that has literally put La Verne on the map.

So the next time you have to field the question, “Where is La Verne,” say proudly, your chest swelling slightly with pride and a touch of conceit, “It’s the home of Outdoor Elegance.”

Only a big-idea sort of thinker like Sanicola — somebody who loves La Verne, somebody who aims high, and somebody who continues to live large — would have dared to erect such an exquisite edifice in our backyard in the depths of the recession.

Fittingly, the first shovel broke ground on Feb. 14, 2008, Valentine’s Day, Sanicola shooting a love arrow across the city with an attached note that he was going to build something special here in town, with acid-stained cement slab floors waxed to a brilliant shine, soaring ceilings, and a spacious, sensually accented showroom almost more suited for Bentleys than barbecues. He even floated the idea of building a tower with a prominent “Welcome to La Verne” sign, but when told it could take months or even years to secure an easement from Caltrans he spent his decorating dollars elsewhere.

As any savvy salesman knows — which is certainly part of Sanicola’s identity – a good salesman is also a good

Beautiful statuary

Beautiful statuary

customer. For years, he bought patio furniture from Cathy’s Cottage because he admired its quality and value. He just didn’t know he would one day be buying the land under it.

Actually, Sanicola’s crooked line to creating Outdoor Elegance began about three decades earlier. In 1977, he fell into the mortgage life and disability insurance business. Ten years later he bought the company and built it from a local 25-employee firm to a nationwide business with about 550 workers.

Before computers were ubiquitous, banks hired him to have their loan documents drawn, delivered and notarized during which he would also pitch them on mortgage life and disability insurance, which would pay off the mortgage holder’s note in the event of a career-ending injury or death.

The insurance was low cost, and the beauty of it was if you were 65 and a smoker, your premiums weren’t any higher than a perfectly healthy 35-year-old. Sanicola said a 45-year-old borrower, head of family, was the magic number for his product.

“The sale would just be automatic, and it was great thing for them,” he said. “Trust me, I paid off a lot of mortgages for people who did pass. We wrote a lot of business.”

As automation ramped up, his business eventually wound down, the idea of the servicer coming to your home to have documents signed and notarized going the way of bottled milk home delivery and the Helms’ donut man. Sanicola sold his business, Computer Credit Insurance Corporation, consulted for a few years as part of a non-compete agreement and started thinking of his next venture – all the while buying select pieces of patio furniture from Cathy’s Cottage.

Hearing that there was a lease-option on the place, Sanicola was told that he should buy it, if only for the land value. It was that good a deal that owners Woolworth Nursery were offering. Sanicola bought the parcel and instantly found himself in the “casual” outdoor business, although his vision for the site was to build apartments. “I had absolutely no interest to be in the casual business,” Sanicola said. “Then I started loving it.”

Comfortable seating for any season

Comfortable seating for any season

But for people to think that Sanicola, an empire builder who had expanded his insurance realm nationwide, would be simply content to reign over his comely cottage in content retirement, they couldn’t have been more wrong than if they had bet Tiger Woods couldn’t sink a 10-foot putt.

In chatting with his wife Sharon, they asked each other did they really want to take the essence of outdoor living and design to the next level. They both knew the answer before they asked the question. Still, to be on the safe side, Sanicola hired a consulting firm to runs the numbers and vet the project, and it came back with one unanimous assessment – stop doing everything yourself, get help!

Nothing captures the spirit of summer more than children playing in your garden.

Nothing captures the spirit of summer more than children playing in your garden.

“On every page of its 25-page report it said, ‘Doug, you need to hire a manager. Literally that was the synopsis of every page. That’s how Tom came on board.”

Tom is Tom Kay, whom Doug knew from Holy Name of Mary Church in San Dimas They’re wives also participated in the same prayer group. It’s not known if the wives prayed for this business pairing, but it’s been a match made in heaven regardless — Doug, the creative force, and Tom, a bottom-line business administrator, who knows just when to reel Doug in a few notches. Of course, nobody can reel Doug in all the way.

Together they’ve raised Outdoor Elegance’s visibility and brand (“Bringing the California Lifestyle to Life”) along the Foothill corridor stretching from La Canada in the West to Rancho Cucamonga in the East.

“We chose to build here because of our connection to the community,” Kay said, admitting that they had suitors trying to lure them from several cities. “We consider La Verne the perfect location to serve the foothill region. Despite the inevitable bureaucratic dance that projects of Outdoor Elegance’s scale must go through to be completed, their vision of building “a beautiful business in a beautiful building to sell beautiful products” carried them through to project end in mid-September 2008.

“I give Doug all the credit,” Kay said. “He said, ‘Nope, we’re going for it, we’re going to do it, it’s the right place – it may not be the right time – but times come and go.”

In January 2009, Outdoor Elegance had its best January in five years, and this month, Kay said it was looking to add another associate to its 15-member staff. “That’s a good sign for us, given the times and the economy,” Kay said. “We don’t brag about it, we say thank God for it. I recognize that we’re having better-than-expected sales, but our attitude has always been we’re going to keep working hard and make it work.”

A backyard brunch is a perfect idea almost any day of the year in Southern California.

A backyard brunch is a perfect idea almost any day of the year in Southern California.

What’s been working is selective, but effective marketing across various media, including a promotion with Melinda Lee, host of  KNX 1070 News Radio’s Food News, which drew 1,200 people to the store. They also have appeared in The Magazine, a luxury-lifestyle Pasadena-based periodical that provides a suitable showcase for Outdoor Elegance’s couture stamp of turning the outdoor living area into a stay-at-home resort.

While the store’s marketing has been able to get people inside the tent, it’s always been Outdoor Elegance’s unique products that have kept them there or on their web site shopping, http://www.outdoorelegance.com.

“Extending your interior living space outdoors has become a personal statement and reflection of who the homeowners are,” said Sanicola who also has helped form “The Design Group,” through The Magazine of which the  American Society of Interior Design of Pasadena is a member.

To help create this outdoor personal statement, Doug, Tom and their entire sales staff have introduced outdoor collections from the finest furniture manufacturers in the world, including Brown Jordan, Domus Ventures, Gloster, Hanamint, Laneventure, Lloyd/Flanders, Mallin, Meadowcraft, O.W. Lee, Tropitone, Winston Furniture and Grupo Kettal (Kettal, Triconfort, Hugonet and Evolutif).

Lounging taken to a new level, welcome to the casbah.

Lounging taken to a new level, welcome to the casbah.


Similarly, Outdoor Elegance has become the San Gabriel Valley’s soothing sanctuary of fountains and statuary, from table top to towering sizes, which provide just the right outdoor accents and ornamentation. Prized manufacturers include Al’s Garden Art, A. Silvestro Co., Avila’s Garden Art, Brandelli Arts, Inc. and Lomeli’s Statuary.

Walking through the showroom at Outdoor Elegance is truly a transformative and transcendent experience. Quickly, you realize you’re not in big box city anymore. The hard benches and plastic chairs you sat in as kid have given way to cozy, deep-seated comfort. All around you is an island oasis on which you would like to get lost. In fact, what you see is nicer than what you see in a lot of living rooms.

“Interestingly,” Kay noted, “outside furniture often carries better warranties than inside furniture. The reason is manufacturers have built it to survive in any kind of weather, from the northeast to the southwest and from the northwest to southeast. They’ve built the furniture to last.0122

Such durability, permanence and quality are not inexpensive, nor should they be. You won’t find a piece of disposable furniture anywhere in the building. Buying furniture that won’t end up in next year’s landfill is also good for the environment.

“There’s a certain time and place for products,” Kay said. “We understand that.”

That’s why education is such a vital part of the total Outdoor Elegance experience. In a no-sales pressure environment, customers discover the differences in quality and style on their own terms. Moreover, staff can suggest myriad options on how to make a new piece or item fit with a customer’s existing collection.

“Everything we offer is expandable,” Kay said. “Our inventory and relationships with our manufacturers are such that you can have what you want when you want it. You don’t have to buy five or six barstools at one time. We undersell, which goes back to our emphasis on education. The products’ quality and value really sell themselves.”

Outdoor Elegance provides delivery, assembly and haul-away services as part of its turnkey customer treatment, which is the same whether you’re the patio furniture buyer for The Four Seasons Hotel and Resort or the buyer for your own backyard on Lemon Lane in La Verne.

Turn the key and unlock the door to an elegant summer of outdoor enjoyment. Discover how to personalize your outdoor space. Discover Outdoor Elegance right in your own backyard.

On Saturday, June 6, Outdoor Elegance will be hosting grilling demonstrations, just in time for Father’s Day. Outdoor Elegance is located at 3795 Damien Ave. in La Verne, (909) 592-5711.

Take a seat, and let your mind go wandering at Outdoor Elegance.

Take a seat, and let your mind go wandering at Outdoor Elegance.







Outdoor Elegance your backyard home away from home.

Outdoor Elegance your backyard home away from home.

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