Rooms inside a house are pretty straightforward: a dining room is used for dining, a bedroom for sleeping, a bathroom for bathing, and so on. How you approach designing your outdoor space is an entirely personal decision, but there are some basic rules to follow. Among them:
- Focal point: Establishing a focal point is an essential part of smart design for an outdoor room. Focal points help guide the eye to a favorable part of the room and away from a less favorable area. They can also act as points of interest.
- Vertical space: If your outdoor room has a wall or two, or even a suggested wall, take advantage of the space by using urns or vases with tall ornamental grasses or patio trees, climbing vines or espaliered shrubs. Also think about using hanging outdoor lights, chandeliers, wind chimes, pedestals, and raised planters.
- Style or design: If you have no clue how to decorate, consider the architectural style of your house along with its proportions and the exterior materials that are used. Also, look at the house for patterns and details you can replicate in your outdoor room.
01 of 07
Forgetting It's Outdoors, Not Indoors
Some enthusiastic decorators get so carried away that they forget they are furnishing an outdoor room. Maybe you've seen someone's patio that looks like they pushed the living room sofa, lounger, coffee table, and even fake plants outside. Or, they've relegated the old sofa from the den to the patio or backyard. Don't even think about it.
It's always good to reach for a seamless transition between your interior and exterior, but using the same furniture (or something very similar) is taking it too far.
02 of 07
Too Much or Not Enough Furniture
You're thrilled to finally have a designated outdoor room. Inside those three-or-so outdoor walls, you have amassed your favorite patio furniture—that Brown Jordan Tamiami set you scored from an estate sale last year, along with Grandma's porch glider, your husband's beloved couch from the deck of his former frat house, and the kids' plastic dining set. No wonder it looks more like a patio furniture yard sale rather than a cohesive, carefully curated and arranged outdoor room.
Tying It All Together
The furniture pieces don't have to match, but something should tie them together—materials, color, height, scale, era, etc. Too much of anything crammed into one space is probably not the look you're after, nor is it functional or liveable. Select items from your collection that look good (alone and together with other pieces), are comfortable and will hold up outdoors.
If you're starting from scratch, either buy new or used items in good shape that go together—again, through materials (wood, aluminum, sling) and design (shape, style, era, if old).
Minimalism and Nonexistent
In our cluttered worlds, many people prefer the KonMari method or the simplicity of minimalism. This can be lovely, just don't forget to add a hint of personality, like adding a piece of pottery, a plant, maybe a pillow.
Then there are those who are either indecisive or procrastinate when it comes to furnishing any room, and leave it empty. This is space you could be enjoying. Do something!
03 of 07
Under Accessorizing or No Decor
Picture this: you go to a store to purchase one of those comfortable deep-seating outdoor sets with two connecting sofas and matching ottomans. Maybe you buy a table or two with a frame that matches the set. This type of set is usually all tan, beige, taupe, fawn, off-white, or greige.
After coming home, you set it up in your outdoor room, take a few steps back, and wonder what's missing.
Accessories. And by that, we mean outdoor accessories, not something you move from your living room to the outdoor room. Outdoor accessories should be waterproof and able to withstand the elements, although you will wisely bring them inside or under cover during the offseason or weather events, like tornadoes, hurricanes, storms, etc.
Outdoor decor and accessories include:
- Garden statues
- Pottery, containers, urns
- Wind chimes
- Hanging ornaments
- Outdoor wall art
- Pillows and cushions
- Lighting fixtures
Of course, you can have an outdoor room with too many accessories, which becomes busy, excessive, confusing, and overstated.
04 of 07
In planning an outdoor room, you thought that you had included all of the components: a nice deep-seating set, a few occasional tables, and a container or two. Hmmm—what seems to be missing? How about the green stuff, as in potted plants, patio trees, a dish garden, or even a vase of cut roses from nearby bushes?
Plants can help soften an outdoor room. If chosen wisely, you can even add a sweet-smelling plumeria or gardenia into the mix, for a pleasant experience when light winds kick up the scent in the evening.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Poor Furniture Arrangement
Think about seating arrangement and creating conversation areas when you design a patio or outdoor room. The settee or chairs should be close enough to carry on a conversation without shouting, leaving enough space to move around. Chairs should be gathered around a low table for drinks or plates.
If you line up patio furniture against the walls of your outdoor room—sort of a "firing squad" design approach that doesn't always work indoors or out—you'll have a nice big bare spot in the middle of the room. Which is great if you plan on using the space for dancing or a little after-dinner karaoke.
06 of 07
Mistakes with color design occur when either too little color is used or the wrong colors are used together. Much of the outdoor furniture available comes with cushions in neutral tones, like white, tan, beige, or gray. Neutrals provide a subtle background for colorful pillows and accessories in a few well-chosen or favorite colors. It looks bland or incomplete if the set is left alone, with no accents—like it was pulled out of the box and then you got distracted.
On the other hand, using too much color can be a bit loud, but if they complement one another, the effect can be lively and vibrant.
- Primary colors: As a refresher, primary colors are red, blue and yellow. These can work outdoors by allowing one color to take a dominant role while the others are used more sparingly. For example, the same hue of blue is repeated throughout the outdoor room and surrounding landscape, followed by a smaller amount of yellow. Red is used as an occasional accent.
- Earth tones: This would include browns, tans, greys, etc. Punch it up a bit with a bright orange or royal blue pillow and pottery.
- Analogous: Three colors side-by-side on the color wheel, like yellow, yellow-orange and orange.
- Favorite colors: You know what these are. Hopefully, no mauve or dusty rose.
- Colors in the garden: Echo colors from the garden, like those purple irises, orange calendula, a blue similar to the pool water, or even green—there should be plenty of that.
07 of 07
Proportion and Scale
Let's take the space of your outdoor room—say it's a 12 x 12-foot gazebo. Now gather all of the elements that go into that room—outdoor furniture, accessories, and plants—and fill it up. If you have, say, one tall bistro table with a couple of matching chairs and an 8-inch pot of calla lilies left over from Mother's Day, your outdoor room might look kind of bare. Minimalism is nice, but neglected or not well-thought-out is another thing entirely.
On the other end of the, umm, scale, let's say you have an overabundance of patio furnishings, and you can't wait to crowd them all into your new outdoor room. There might be no space to walk, not to mention everything looks like you're holding a garage sale under a tent.
In a well-proportioned outdoor room, the space should be designed for your favorite activity. This might include dining, relaxing, or entertaining. How about an impromptu game of badminton? Good luck with that. Choose furniture that is attractive, functional, and that fits the space. Add accessories sparingly at first, with smaller objects placed in front of larger ones, whether they are potted plants, statuary or other types of garden decor.