As we noted in our recent post “BON APPÉTIT – HOW TO SET A DINNER TABLE,” the summer 2020 season was “a quiet affair.” It lacked “all the traditional hallmarks of the busiest entertaining season.” We missed out as early as Memorial Day and as late as New Year’s Eve. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions placed the kibosh on everything from intimate dinner parties to large outdoor soirées. This year, we at Laura U are looking forward to spending summer with friends and family. We cannot wait to catch up in all the ways we were unable to do so last year! Clearly, many of our fellow Americans have had the same idea. According to Jessica Puckett in her recent article for Condé Nast, “37 million Americans will travel over Memorial Day 2021.” Similarly — according to a Businesswire report from April 2021, “half of Americans are likely to take a summer vacation” this year. This is opposed to the 48% of Americans who cancelled Summer travel plans in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of Americans hope to welcome family and friends back to their homes. They plan to open their living rooms and backyards to visitors from across the country. In her article for Condé Nast, Puckett acknowledges that Memorial Day has long been viewed “as the kickoff to the summer vacation season.” Given this, countless homeowners across the US are scrambling to renovate, remodel and update their outdoor spaces for months of warm weather entertaining. To get your outdoor space in tip-top shape for this year’s summer season, follow below our decorator’s guide to designing outdoors! We offer a number of tips for designing outdoors — no matter where or with whom.
The Interminable Reign of Indoor-Outdoor Living
During the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor spaces like patios, balconies and backyards evolved into additional living spaces. Though they once functioned solely as spots for morning coffee and destinations for weekend pool parties, our outdoor spaces transformed in 2020. From fresh and fun dining rooms to much-needed private office spaces, they became extensions of our homes. Our outdoor spaces evolved so much in 2020. Given this, it makes sense that this year’s Summer season is all about seamless indoor-outdoor living.
Regina Cole said it best in her article “Outdoor Living Space: 2021 Trends” for Forbes. Cole wrote that “we don’t just want to walk to the park.” Rather, Americans “want to cook outdoors, relax outdoors, gather with friends and family outdoors, exercise outdoors and some people even want to work outdoors.” Most of all, Cole notes that “we want that outdoor space to be part of our home.”
. T R E A T I N G O U T D O O R S P A C E S A S E X T E N S I O N S O F T H E H O M E .
Pictured above are the backyard spaces from the Laura U Design Collective’s Whitehill Project.
Outdoor spaces offer a certain level of childlike joy and a few additional playful prints. However, 2020 proved that they must reflect the style of the home to which they connect. Decorators, designers and homeowners alike agree that outdoor entertaining spaces should be comfortable, functional and reflective of the homeowner’s personality and aesthetic. In short, they must be addressed as “outdoor rooms” rather than as separate entities — completely divorced from your home.
What you, your family and your guests get out of your outdoor entertaining space greatly depends upon how you design it. It also depends on how well the space meshes with the lifestyle lived within your house. In his article “How to Create an Outdoor Room” for The NY Times, Tim McKeough recommends homeowners address necessities before delving into the aesthetics. McKeough writes that “if you want an outdoor space where you’ll be comfortable lingering for hours…you need to address some basic questions.” These questions include “‘Can you be protected from the sun? Can you put a drink down? Can you put your feet up?’” In short — questions McKeough — “you need to think of it as another room in your home — an outdoor room — and furnish it accordingly.”
8 Tips for Designing Outdoors Like a Professional Decorator
. # 1 T H I N K A B O U T O U T D O O R S P A C E S W H E N D E S I G N I N G F R O M T H E G R O U N D U P .
Pictured above are the backyard spaces from the Laura U Design Collective’s BLVD Show House (left) and Garnet Project (right).
One of the first spots on a property homeowners think to renovate when selling their homes is the backyard or the front patio. After all, front yard curb appeal and backyard green spaces represent two major selling points. However, few consider the landscaping and functionality of their outdoor spaces when building a home from the ground up. Homeowners should never leave outdoor entertaining spaces as an afterthought.
Create Spaces Everyone Can Use — Every Day of the Year
In her article “7 Steps to Creating a Backyard from Scratch” for This Old House, Kathryn Keller offers her recommendations. First, homeowners should consider how guests and residents will flow from indoor spaces into outdoor spaces. This refers back to the idea that the backyard is an extension of the home. Next, homeowners should establish the proper proportions for their outdoor space. Quoting landscape architect Paul Maue, Keller notes that “’getting the scale right is the hardest thing—you always need more space than you think.’” Third, homeowners should create a garden that welcomes visitors in all seasons.
Keller writes that “most gardens are loaded with blossoms in spring and early summer.” This makes sense, as the summer “is when the majority of flowering perennials, shrubs, and trees bloom.” However, “with a little careful planning, though, there can be something in a garden to delight the senses at every time of the year.” We will elaborate on this in the seventh tip in our list. Lastly, homeowners should design outdoor spaces with all visitors and residents in mind — from elderly parents to toddler-age children. Create a “quiet destination” for pensive friends with a bench nestled between trees. Craft a children’s play area with a minimalistic bocce ball court or chic croquet pad.
. # 2 C O N S I D E R A L T E R N A T I V E F U N C T I O N S F O R T R A D I T I O N A L S P A C E S .
If you purchased a home from a previous owner, remember that traditional functions need not be maintained. While it is important to honor the aesthetics and original elements of a historic home, spaces can easily be transformed for modern-day living. One of our favorite tips to transforming an existing outdoor space is extending your formal dining room. Rather than opting for a causal outdoor dining set made from wicker or aluminum, consider an elaborately dressed formal dining table. We love this ten seat set from @jeffreyfisherhome on Instagram. Another of our favorite tips for transforming a backyard is to embrace unconventional uses for traditional spaces. For instance, consider transitioning your pool house to an indoor-outdoor office — as we suggested in our recent post “HOME SPACES DESIGNED FOR REMOTE WORK.”
. # 3 R E U S E A N D R E F I N I S H W H E R E V E R P O S S I B L E .
Pictured above is a photo from the Laura U Design Collective’s River Oaks Project in Houston, Texas. This image features two House and Town chairs we recovered for the River Oaks pool house.
Recent surveys indicate that Americans care about sustainability more than ever before — particularly in their product consumption and in their activities at home. Senior Contributor John Cumbers underscored this point in a 2020 article for Forbes. He wrote that “despite Coronavirus, 85% of Americans are thinking about sustainability as much or more than ever.” Public knowledge of the damage fast furniture has done to our planet is growing. As such, homeowners are searching for ways to repurpose their existing home goods for the greater good.
Reviving Rusted Patio Furniture
Homeowners can reupholster comfortable patio cushions from summers past with new prints. They can also treat metal furniture that has since rusted or lost its shine by following Caroline Biggs’ advice. She offers tips in her article “How to Restore Metal Garden Furniture” for MarthaStewart.com. Biggs writes that “your old metal garden furniture is teeming with restoration potential, it just takes a little work.” Speaking with Jane Henry of antique furniture restoration studio Jane Henry Studios, Biggs recommends considering structural integrity before reviving old furniture.
Once you have ensured the integrity and safety of your chair or stool, Henry suggests scraping away loose paint and rust. Next, prime, paint, add a protective coat and commit to regular maintenance. Of course, her advice only applies to everyday furniture — not beloved antiques or vintage pieces. Such furniture should be taken to a proper shop where professionals can treat the damage.
. # 4 O P T F O R C O M F O R T A B L E Y E T W E A T H E R – R E S I S T A N T F A B R I C S .
Pictured above are the backyard spaces from the Laura U Design Collective’s Encino Project.
Gone are the days of faded plastic Adirondack chairs and sticky plastic cushions. In their article “13 of the Best Outdoor Fabrics” for House Beautiful, Carisha Swanson and Brittney Morgan offer their suggestions. They write that “today’s outdoor fabrics range from hard-wearing linens to shockingly lush chenilles and velvets” and are far from monotone. Though some are ideal for salty summer air off the coast of New England, others are better suited to dry heat. Morgan and Swanson recommend that before you choose a fabric, you “make sure you know what you’re looking for.” Also consider “how your chosen fabric will fare over time.”
Exceptional Weather-Resistant Fabrics for Patio Furniture
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When choosing fabrics for patio furniture, durability is key. From UV exposure to consistent use, patio furniture must stand up to it all. Before buying, Swanson and Morgan suggest checking reviews and opting for fabrics marketed towards “outdoor” use rather than “performance.” They explain that “for outdoor furniture and textiles…you’re better off going with an actual outdoor fabric, not a performance option.” This is especially true of “things that will stay outside and face inclement weather.”
Next, homeowners should check each textile’s color-fastness to determine how quickly it will fade in the sun. If your home is located in a humid region — or comes equipped with a pool — be sure to consider mold and mildew-resistant fabrics. In her article “A Guide to Buying Outdoor Fabric for Cushions and Pillows” for The Spruce, Lisa Hallett Taylor elaborates. She writes that outdoor fabrics “made with a protective coating…should make the cushion or pillow repel or resist water, moisture, mold, and mildew.” Sunbrella’s fabrics — pictured above — are some of our favorites. The Laura U Design Collective team reupholstered a pair of House and Town chairs with fabric by Sunbrella for a recent River Oaks project.
. # 5 R E M E M B E R T H A T S M A L L S P A C E S C A N H A V E B I G I M P A C T S .
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The average patio measures just over 280 square feet. As such, small-space solutions are a must for many American homeowners. In her article “14 Clever Tricks to Make Your Small Backyard Live Large” for Better Homes & Gardens, Jessica Bennett offers her advice. First, Bennett recommends investing in “multi-functional furniture [that] can help you maximize every inch of a small backyard.” Her favorites include L-shaped benches and a collection of garden stools.
Next, consider framing your space. Use an awning, canopy or gazebo to create an “intimate atmosphere” in your small backyard. Bennett writes that “these outdoor structures add shade and privacy [while offering] the comforts of an indoor room.” Lastly, consider landscaping that works well in small spaces. Opt for “plants that grow at least 2-3 feet tall and arrange them to block the view from neighbors or the street.”
. #6 N E V E R N E G L E C T O U T D O O R L I G H T I N G .
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Lighting not only provides atmosphere for romantic summer evenings but also takes you from day to night and from season to season. In her article “Stylish Outdoor Lighting” for Architectural Digest, Hannah Martin recommends a series of lanterns, sconces and outdoor pendant lights. She writes that “lighting really can make a room [and] the same rule applies when you’re decorating a terrace, deck, or patio.” For a terrace, Martin suggests “flanking a door or window with classic, wall-mounted lanterns.”
If your home boasts a covered patio, consider hanging “a trio of pendant lights or one statement-making chandelier.” In a backyard without any overhangs, “punctuate an exterior wall with flush mounts.” For a fun evening filled with light and laughter, Linda Checar of Dengarden recommends string lights. She writes that “vintage string lights give your outdoor scene a party atmosphere” and instantly “brighten the evening festivities.”
. # 7 D E S I G N F O R Y E A R – R O U N D U S E .
Pictured above are the backyard spaces from the Laura U Design Collective’s Encino Project (left) and Viscaino House (right).
As mentioned above, outdoor spaces should be usable all year round. From landscaping that changes with the seasons, flexible options are key. In her article “10 Ways to Enjoy Your Outdoor Living Space All Year” for The Spruce, Lisa Hallett Taylor offers a few tips. First, Taylor recommends homeowners augment their entertainment area with an outdoor fireplace. She writes that “besides warming up cold guests, a fire is a nice place to gather around.”
Fireplaces are just as functional on cool Summer nights as they are during chilly Winter days. Next, homeowners should consider investing in a grill or outdoor kitchen. Taylor notes that homeowners can “continue grilling past summer” by switching up their menu, bundling their guests and adding a cozy heat lamp. If you need help converting your seasonal outdoor space to one that can be used all year long, consider hiring a landscape designer. Landscape architects can help you create a cohesive space that blends indoor-outdoor spaces while upgrading the efficiency and sustainability of your garden. Learn more in our post “5 BENEFITS OF WORKING WITH A LANDSCAPE DESIGNER.”
. # 8 K E E P K I D S I N M I N D .
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Kids are important guests in any household, but they are especially welcome during the Summer months. After all, the warm, star-filled evenings of Summer were some of the best moments of our childhoods! Thankfully, backyards and patios can function just as well for adults while also entertaining children. In her article “13 Steps to a Kid-Friendly Garden Adults Will Love Too” for Houzz, Amanda Pollard elaborates.
The first step on Pollard’s list is to keep the yard natural. She writes that “there’s often no need to buy specific items for kids to play with.” Instead, homeowners should use their “imagination and create simple play areas out of natural materials.” Next, add quirky paths and “create a sensory garden.” Consider fun furniture like egg chairs and swings and allow children to design their own spaces when they arrive.
By following these eight summer decorating tips, your outdoor space is sure to wow this season!