Room On the Outside: Anatomy of the Perfect Outdoor Space

Room On the Outside: Anatomy of the Perfect Outdoor Space

A home's outdoor spaces used to be the domain of children, dogs and July 4th revelers. Kids would dump their muddy shoes on the front porch before scampering into the house, the dog would race after squirrels in the backyard all day long and the patio was where the burgers were barbecued on Independence Day.

Not anymore.

"Outdoor spaces can now be considered rooms themselves," says Alexa Hampton, a New York decorator. They're places to eat, entertain and relax every day, not just on the occasional weekend. Here are some ways to make your outdoor "rooms" as welcoming as the ones inside.


Arrange It Like a Living Room

It's an interior-design classic that works outdoors, too: a sofa or loveseat facing out, with an ottoman, rug, small table and chairs nestled around it. Add fluffy pillows for comfort, outdoor lighting to make the porch functional day or night and a pair of pots filled with flowers or herbs on either side of the stairs.

Make vertical changes. You'll draw attention away from a small porch's minimal square footage when you paint the front door a high-gloss color. Look-at-me combos: a yellow door on a gray house, and a turquoise door on a white house.

Decorate with distinctive digits. Instead of your current plain Jane house number, hang one in a modern sculptural design or decorative (but still readable) font.

Patio or Deck

Mix up patterns. Matchy-matchy fabrics can look dull, says Hampton, who's also the spokesperson for, an online home-furnishings retailer. "While I love corresponding fabrics, every piece of patio furniture shouldn't be in matching patterns. It makes a space too static and unwelcoming." A better choice: a whimsical fabric on pillows, maybe a striped fabric on the chaises, and a contrast welt in the seams of the cushions.

Pull the rug out. For a cozy chic style, install a weatherproof rug to bring color and texture to the patio floor.

Colorize wood or wicker furniture. If your furnishings are looking tired, spray paint them in your favorite color - fuchsia, white, blue - to instantly revive them.


Maintain a healthy lawn. Just as a carpet is a decorative accessory indoors, a lawn is a decorative accessory outdoors. Get it in shape with a four-part strategy from Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals: Aerate the soil, fertilize, mow properly and water the grass until it’s soaked. "Mowing the lawn too short can make it unhealthy," says Henriksen, whose organization recently launched, a consumer website. "The right height is generally two to three inches." And give your lawn a 20-minute soak every couple of days, which is better for healthy roots than watering a few minutes every day.

Add a trellis or pergola. These structures add height and texture to your yard and can help define the space, such as an entryway. Decorate with strings of white lights and chimes.

Load up with indoor amenities. "People are making incredible outdoor entertainment spots in their yards with wood-burning pizza ovens, wine refrigerators and movie screens with surround sound," Henriksen says. "We're also seeing a lot of fire pits and fire tables."

Create a cozy spot. Classic comfort: a hammock hung between two trees. When your guests go missing, follow the snores!


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