Updated: Oct 1, 2022
Image via Old Brand New
Even when it’s sweltering in the city, I need to be able to escape the four walls of my studio and get outdoors, if only for a quick (and of course, icy!) cocktail on the terrace at the end of a long workday. In fact, just knowing my own personal outdoor oasis awaits makes me feel better (and not quite so unbearably hot!). I know how important it is for my clients’ wellbeing to be able to relax in their outdoor living spaces, too. While there’s a wealth of ideas for outdoor living spaces online, designing a space that feels like a true retreat doesn’t always start with a big swimming pools or an outdoor kitchen (although don’t get me wrong, as I am not at all opposed to those if you have the room). Particularly for my city-dwelling clients, creating outdoor living spaces they’ll love and enjoy involves checking the boxes on a few simple categories.
Something comfy (seating)
Whether it’s a chaise lounge, an outdoor sofa or sectional, a collection of chairs (upholstered or not), or even a scattering of cushy floor poufs or beanbag chairs, you want to be able to kick back comfortably when you’re outside. Take measurements to determine what can realistically fit in your space. If you’re really strapped from seating room, look for flexible seating options like stackable chairs or stools or convertible pieces that quickly and easily transform from armchair to bench seating. Whatever seating you choose, you can make it all a litte more comfortable with big, squishy decorative pillows and cozy throw blankets for cooler weather.
This can apply to both colors and lighting -just make sure neither is so glaring that you upset your neighbors! The point is, bring colors into your outdoor space that make you happy and illuminate it with layered lighting, including outdoor table lamps for a soft glow, string lights for a fun vibe, and an outdoor ceiling light if your space has a roof or overhang or wall sconces if it doesn’t to bathe the space in light while grilling, playing board games, or other activities that require more brightness.
Image via Old Brand New
I love adding some type of ‘hardscape’ element into the mix to ground the space and make it feel thoughtfully designed. Some of my favorite ways to do this include firepits, fireplaces, or water features, but an artfully laid out series of pavers or a few substantial planters can do the trick, as well. I typically suggest a trio of planters of varying heights to create maximum visual interest. I especially love placing the largest planter on one side of the space and the two smaller planters on the other side to really anchor the space.
Whether it’s an item in one of the previous categories or an additional element, if your style leans a bit more toward the traditional or romantic, bringing in something more sleek, modern, and minimalist will help your space look and feel more balanced. I love pairing an outdoor coffee table in a modern silhouette or modern concrete planters (I absolutely adore these and the way they ground a space!) with sofa or chair cushions in classic patterns
Image via Pinterest
If you’ve followed me for any length of time at all, this one doesn’t come as a surprise! I try to add at least one vintage element into all of my designs, and outdoor living spaces are no exception. I’m partial to vintage barware a) because it’s the epitome of classic, timeless style and b) it can live inside where it’s safe from the elements, and come outside for parties only. That said, I love vintage brass planters and accessories. The rich patina they take on over time -especially when left outdoors -can be absolutely beautiful.
Image via Williams Sonoma
No outdoor space is complete without at least a little greenery, but you don’t need a sprawling lawn or a giant bed full of flowers and trees. All it takes is a few lovely plants in decorative containers. If it works with your outdoor space, hanging plants are great (ferns and spider plants are my faves!). For the at-home top chef, an herb garden is a must. You can't beat fresh herbs and most varieties tend to do well in small containers. If you have a green thumb, plants with lacy foliage or wispy grasses are great for adding visual softness to your space. If you’re not a confident gardner, faux plants might be an option, though the realistic-looking ones can be pricey and they may fade and deteriorate in the sunlight. Instead, I recommend simply replacing live plants if they don’t last. When it comes to your outdoor living space, as with the old “something borrowed, something blue...” wedding tradition, you can double or even triple up on these categories in a single item (something vintage and structured; something modern and bright, etc.). Regardless, by bringing in these key elements, you’re sure to have a lovely outdoor living space to retreat to (or to just enjoy viewing from inside your home!).
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Image via Growing Spaces
anpil lanmou (lots of love),