House & Home

How to design an outdoor room: Tips on furniture, fabric and lighting

The Tropez striped sofa with polyester cushions adds style to an outdoor room ($1,129, at CB2.com).
The Tropez striped sofa with polyester cushions adds style to an outdoor room ($1,129, at CB2.com). TNS

If you have a deck, a patio, a yard or even a small slice of outdoor space, then you have an opportunity to expand your living space.

Today, outdoor furniture has become much more than uncomfortable deck sets and ugly reclining chairs. Here are the essentials you need to know for creating an entire new living area out of thin air.

▪ Bring a mirror outside. “A lot of people might not think of bringing traditional indoor furniture outdoors,” said Mikel Welch, a New York designer who recently competed on “HGTV Design Stars.” Mirrors make small spaces feel large and add a touch of elegance to a deck or sunroom, Welch said.

▪ Stick to outdoor fabrics. They have been treated to resist the elements, as well as stains and spills, said Tiffani Stutzman, an interior decorator based in Louisiana. The most popular manufacturer of outdoor fabrics is Sunbrella, and Sunbrella fabrics can be found on cushions, pillows and drapes.

If you want to select your own fabrics for custom pieces, Kravet, Fabricut, Duralee and Robert Allen also have outdoor fabric lines with proprietary technology to protect the fabric.

“Using a fabric specifically designed for outdoor use will keep your colors looking vibrant for many seasons,” Stutzman said.

▪ Choose colors wisely. If your outdoor furniture won’t be under a covered patio, avoid light fabric colors like white and beige, Stutzman said. “Although they look great at first, they will quickly become dirty out in the elements.”

Medium shades work better, and trending colors are gray, taupe and any shade of blue, Stutzman said.

▪ Add a floor covering. This is the quickest way to update a patio or a deck, said Brooke Lang, design principal at Chicago-based Brooke Lang Design. “From fake grass to synthetic outdoor rugs, you can have a soft feel under your feet while adding a creative, unique look,” she said.

▪ Choose lighting. Year-round Christmas lights on the balcony are a thing of the past, Lang said. “Light up your balcony using creative methods, including string lights with cafe bulbs and lanterns hanging on overarching iron stands,” she said. “A thin rope light will cast a soft glow but should be installed under a ledge or behind the railing.”

A variety of light sources versus spotlight lighting will help make the outdoor space feel festive, said Sean Juneja, co-founder of Decor Aid in New York. “Think string lights above the dining area, votive candles on the table and groups of metal lanterns on the ground,” he said.

▪ Accessorize. The details bring the space together, said Sasha Bikoff, CEO of Sasha Bikoff Interior Design in New York. Bikoff likes to use fun towels, seashells for ashtrays and little plants in cute planters. “If you are working with an indoor/outdoor area, drapes are very grand and give a Hollywood Regency-Palm Beach vibe,” Bikoff said. “It is a very rich, country club, Old World look that is extremely inviting.”

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