Luxurious Design for Outdoor Rooms

Indulge in bold decorating ideas for the ultimate al fresco lifestyle
Backyard Pool and Spa

Backyard Pool and Spa

Bathe in beauty with a backyard haven for relaxing. Photo by Scott Cohen of The Green Scene.

By: Karin Beuerlein

Seven top outdoor room designers spill their secrets for splurging on luxurious outdoor retreats. Check out their favorite A-list accent pieces, outdoor fabrics and entertainment features to design the outdoor space of your dreams.

Outdoor Lighting

Forget typical ceiling fans and create different levels of lighting with gas sconces, chandeliers and table lamps. "Nothing flickers like real flame in a gas lantern," says interior designer Shelly Riehl David of Riehl Designs Inc. If you'd rather stick with the convenience of a ceiling fan, consider adding misters for warm climates and radiant floor heaters for cold climates.

Christopher J. Grubb of ARCH-INTERIORS Design Group Inc. suggests a gorgeous chandelier made of iron, crystal or blown glass as a sophisticated accent piece for covered outdoor rooms.

Melted glass countertops fed with fiber optics are a signature of artist/landscaper Scott Cohen of The Green Scene in Canoga Park, Calif. At night, they illuminate cocktail glasses with color and guests with ambient light.

Fireplaces and Trellises

Outdoor Living Room with Stone Fireplace Focal Point

Outdoor Living Room with Stone Fireplace Focal Point

Design your outdoor space with specific focal points in mind. (Photo by Scott Cohen of The Green Scene.)

Outdoor fireplaces and heavy timber trellis structures turn an outdoor space into an outdoor room, says landscape architect Richard Krumwiede of Architerra Design Group in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. Both elements also make the area usable year-round, with the fireplace offering warmth in winter and the trellis offering shade in summer. Plus, two-sided fireplaces create a natural separation for living and dining areas.

Nothing does a better job of defining the outdoor living room than a large structure like a pergola. Designer Joan Grabel of Park Slope Design in Studio City, Calif., uses pergolas to define space and give an outdoor room a more intimate feeling. Don't forget the art. "Any interesting art that can be outdoors is a great accent, like a wall hanging or a Balinese stone statue," she says.

Outdoor Fabric and Accessories

Oversize Transitional Backyard with Fireplace, Jacuzzi, and Pool

Oversize Transitional Backyard with Fireplace, Jacuzzi, and Pool

Divide your patio and yard into separate areas to accomodate groups of people. Photo by Scott Cohen of The Green Scene.

Comfortable seating with luxurious fabrics and pillows blurs the lines between the indoors and outdoors. "I like the idea of creating an outdoor living room complete with treasured carpets and layered with cushions, candlesticks, chandeliers and a fireplace for ambience," says David.

Draperies add softness and create privacy, Christopher says. Use vibrant colors and high-quality fabrics like Sunbrella or those from companies like Robert Allen or Kravet.

Outdoor Furniture

Never cut corners when buying furniture. "Cheap furniture can really destroy the look of a carefully planned room," says designer Heather Hardcastle of Breaking Ground Landscape Designs in San Rafael, Calif.

Joan adores Brown Jordan furniture. "It's expensive, but the designs are wonderful." Richard uses high-quality, comfortable teak furniture with Sunbrella's colored cushions.

Outdoor Kitchens

Contemporary Backyard with Outdoor Kitchen and Grill

Contemporary Backyard with Outdoor Kitchen and Grill

Design your outdoors to accomodate an outdoor kitchen for those fun nights of barbecuing out by the poolside. Photo by Scott Cohen of The Green Scene.

As one of the most common big-ticket items, outdoor kitchens are now built with a variety of features, like side burners, warming drawers, refrigerators, beer taps and beverage/cocktail centers designed for entertaining. Designer Mitch Kalamian of The Garden Design Group in Huntington Beach, Calif., says he has even designed outdoor kitchens with surround sound and drop-down plasma TV screens.

Pots and Planters

Pots can set the room's theme and can make or break a good design, Richard says. Use only high-quality, frost-proof terra cotta from a reputable company such as Seibert & Rice because mismatched old pots will destroy the look, he says.

Joan recommends placing three large pots on an outdoor room patio or behind a chair or love seat to help define outdoor spaces.

Water Features

Mediterranean Backyard with Swimming Pool and Fire Pit

Mediterranean Backyard with Swimming Pool and Fire Pit

Fire and water are opposite yet complementing elements in an outdoor space. Photo by Scott Cohen of The Green Scene.

"My favorite pieces to splurge on in a garden room are accent pieces like water features and pottery," says Heather. An artistic water feature or beautiful pottery placed carefully in the landscape can bring the surrounding plants and hardscape to life. "Depending on the color scheme and style of the garden, picking up one accent color used elsewhere in the design is a great way to tie in the decorative elements with the rest of the space," she says.


Surround-sound rock speakers throughout the garden are a favorite of Scott. Always use multiple speakers so that sound volume can be kept lower and more ambient. The biggest mistake people make is putting speakers at the back of the house over the main patio. People can't hear themselves talk, he says.

For movie watchers, Sunbrite makes an outdoor plasma screen TV. It looks great and works with the outdoor sound system, Scott says.

Mitch installs other must-haves for the budget-free client like custom-made fountains at all levels of grandeur and sports courts.

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