Tips & Tricks

Take it Outside: Designer Tips for Upgrading Your Outdoor Furniture & Spaces

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Get excited – the season of grilling, cocktails, and just kickin’ it in your yard or on your patio is near. This year, we know you’ve promised to dial in summer with a sweet new outdoor space you can Insta-blast till Labor Day.

Tired of the humdrum, wicker tables and benches you remember from grandma’s time share? Well, there’s never been a better time for finding contemporary outdoor furniture as nearly every major furniture retailer offers pieces for your green space. But you can also find great pieces in unusual places – and, if you’re the crafty type, experiment with weatherproof fabrics, rust-proof paints, and stains to design your own oasis.

First things first – like any design process, you need a plan. We know – planning is zero fun – but you don’t need a lengthy process or complicated design software. A few simple steps will get you to the fun part.

  1. Take some measurements

    Looks can be deceiving, so be sure you know exactly how many feet and inches you have to work with. You don’t want to end up buying furniture or accessories that don’t fit, or dominate your space. Don’t forget vertical space like walls and fences that you can spruce things up with art, plants and drapery.

  2. How will you use the space?

    Happy hour cocktails, bruschetta cook-offs, or cozying up with a glass of vino around a warm fire? We know – all of the above. But write down your ideal situation anyway so you can use it to…

  3. Stalk Pinterest boards

    Searching Pinterest can be a rabbit hole, but it’s perfect for plugging in terms and discovering outdoor living design and mood boards. It’ll help you tie your inspiration to some concrete ideas which you can execute with some additional planning.

To help inspire your hip new outdoor update, we chatted with a few design pros, who’ve offered their tips on how to design the perfect spot for your stylish summer soirees.

Go Big in Small Places

Design catalogos are notorious for featuring expansive spaces where only celebrities and royals live. Don’t fret, you can still have a ton of fun updating your outdoor space, even if your yard, patio, or balcony isn’t MTV cribs-worthy.

  • Play with Texture and Shapes

    – “The texture and height can really make an outdoor room feel complete,” said Seattle-based designer Lindsey Runyon.” Try working in potted and hanging plants or even living plant walls for eye-catching vertical conversation pieces.

  • Experiment with Fabrics

    Outdoor fabric options have come a long way. “These are not your grandma’s Sunbrella,” said San Diego-based designer Kathy Miller. “There are an amazing amount of textures, colors, patterns, weights now available.” And for those unpredictable summers (or unusually long, rainy Springs), don’t forget weatherproof outdoor drapery.

  • Pull Double Duty

    Sad but true, you probably won’t be hosting parties every night. You actually have to live in this space. So instead of buying a big ‘ole trendy farm table, Miller recommends, “get two or three of the same small table and butt them together to make one long table when you want, but also have the ability to seat a smaller group comfortably.”

  • Spruce Up Vintage Finds

    You don’t have to splurge on brand new furniture. There are tons of second-hand options out there that offer timeless, cool designs – all they need is a little weatherproofing love. “With those classics in mind, research the wonderful weather resistant fabrics, rust proof metal coatings and improved paints/stains now available,” designer Pablo Solomon.

  • No Matchy-Matchy

    Mixing different styles and finishes can add visual interest and depth. Moscow Mules aside, you can trick the eye into thinking your outdoor space is bigger than it really is.

  • Go Rogue with Color

    Color can make a statement, dial in a specific mood, and brighten otherwise dim and dull spots. And, bonus points, bright is currently very in. Don’t forget the options right at your feet. Outdoor rugs can also offer fun options for textures, colors, and patterns – and help cover up that gross cement patio you detest.

  • Splurge on a Conversation Piece

    Face it, you want some cool modern outdoor furniture to brag about and gather around, but can’t quite swing the bill for filling your entire space with the stuff. Find a single piece and make that the center point of your outdoor space (and if you can’t fit it into your SUV, book a Dolly!).

    • Runyon recommended the contemporary-classic hybrid Plastic Fantastic. “It is traditional-looking furniture coated with a special rubber that allows it to be safe for outdoors.”

    • New York Designer Andrew Mikhael loves Moroso O Chairs. “They’re a fun conversation piece that can fit in most any outdoor space,” Mikhael said.

    • Solomon is a big vintage fan, hot on vintage butterfly and motel chairs. “These are absolute classics in terms of form, function, beauty, value and practicality,” Solomon said.

Firing it Up

There’s nothing worse than having to relocate inside where it’s bright and confined because it’s too dark and cold outside. When the sun goes down, the right lighting and heating can help you control the ambiance and comfort on into the night.

Home stores like Lowes and Costco now carry tons of options for candle lanterns, string lights, outdoor chandeliers, as well as fire tables and fire rings, many of which use the same propane tank you have for your grill. Look for an option that acts as a centerpiece you can gather around, but also gives you enough room to set your drinks and apps.

Braving the Elements

Remember, we’re talking outdoor living, here. While you’re already taking into account the annoying-but-necessary practicality of your materials, don’t forget upkeep.

If you don’t want to babysit your furniture all summer, think about designs and materials that don’t require high maintenance to keep looking sharp day in and day out.

Think about buying items that you’ll be able to clean easily with no special product,” said designer Ben De Mot, founder of iDoo – Interior Design Online. “Soon enough, you will realize that if you had to clean up every piece of furniture each time you want to use them, you’d be bored very quickly.”

In the End – You do You

Lastly, remember that you have to live in this space. Unlike a boutique hotel or that fabulous Airbnb you booked last summer, your outdoor space is an extension of your home, where you spend a ton of time. So, advice be damned – buy what you love, what speaks to you, and what you won’t mind seeing and sharing for years to come.

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