25 Quick Ways to Add Charm to Outdoor Dining Areas

Set the scene for relaxing get-togethers and fantastic meals with these inexpensive updates.

Photo By: Wake + Loom Design

Photo By: Sean Money & Elizabeth Fay/Black Southern Belle

Photo By: Sean Money & Elizabeth Fay/Black Southern Belle

Photo By: Shannon Adams/Fast Copy News Service

Photo By: Shannon Adams/Fast Copy News Service

Photo By: Shannon Adams/Fast Copy News Service

Photo By: Shannon Adams/Fast Copy News Service

Photo By: Shannon Adams/ Fast Copy News Service

Photo By: Shannon Adams/Fast Copy News Service

Photo By: Werner Straube

Photo By: Gregory Willett

Photo By: Werner Straube

Photo By: Fast Copy News Service

Photo By: Fast Copy News Service

Photo By: Bond5/Front Door Communities

Photo By: Robin Hill

Photo By: Mosaic Group [Architects and Remodelers]

Photo By: Sean Money & Elizabeth Fay/Black Southern Belle

Photo By: Sean Money & Elizabeth Fay/Black Southern Belle

Photo By: Amy Latta/Crates & Pallet

Photo By: Bellwether Landscape Architects

Photo By: Cruickshank Remodeling

Photo By: Nievera Williams Design

Photo By: Glazer Design & Construction

Photo By: Epic Development

Colorful and Creative

For a fast fiesta, gather a few small pots with easy-maintenance plants, such as succulents, and lanterns atop a tablecloth of many colors.

Burst of Beauty

Pluck vibrant flowers and greenery from your garden for a beautiful botanical centerpiece, suggests Michiel Perry, founder and curator of Black Southern Belle.

Tabletop Message

A set of fun napkins can pull together your dining table. You can use disposable or cloth napkins, depending on what you find in bargain and clearance sections.

Repurpose and Rearrange

If you have a table with a patterned top, use it as the inspiration for the rest of the decor. The mini print of this stone tabletop was so dominant that it dictated the design choices, says Monica Stewart, owner of The Misfit House in Athens, Ga. For her free tabletop redo, she grabbed a matching set of vases and pillows from inside the home, and topped her design off with a ceramic candle from another spot on the porch and greenery from the yard.

Mix and Match Textures

Just like designers do inside the home, infuse an outdoor dining area with texture to make it more attractive. On this porch, the chopped firewood, stone tabletop, vases with rough and glossy stripes and floral-inspired pillows do the job. “I like to bring in as many textures as I can,” says Monica Stewart, a designer in Athens, Ga., who owns The Misfit House. A potted succulent also draws the eye through the space.

Go Ahead and Snip

When using fresh flowers, don’t worry about waiting until they all bloom. Plants in various stages can make an interesting focal point on a tabletop. “I like the texture of the buds and the softness of the blooms mixed together,” says Athens, Ga.-based designer Monica Stewart, who owns The Misfit House.

Hide the Rough Spots

Oversized pillows do the obvious work of cushioning metal outdoor dining chairs, but they also can disguise wear and tear. Georgia designer Monica Stewart positioned these strategically to cover up scuff marks on chairs. If you’re on a covered porch, you can even grab indoor pillows to spruce up a space for an evening of entertaining and then bring them back inside.

Go Vertical

Look around your yard for free foliage and flowers to create a last-minute table centerpiece. Monica Stewart, owner of The Misfit House, an interior design business in Athens, Ga., snipped crepe myrtle branches in seconds and arranged them to add height and greenery. 

Age with Style

Embrace the aging process. The brown and gray tones of the seasoned logs that Georgia designer Monica Stewart stacked next to this outdoor dining table ties into the patina of the table, without having to repaint or redo the legs to freshen up the look.

Fluff It Up

Help guests settle in for long, leisurely meals with colorful cushions in gorgeous patterns, such as these selected by Chicago interior designer Tom Stringer.

Reflect on the Space

Who says mirrors are only for inside the home? Atlanta-based Mosaic Group Architects and Remodelers selected a gold sunburst mirror to create a strong focal point outdoors.

Nature's Tabletops

Tree stumps serve as woodsy and rustic side tables, the perfect size for cocktails. Draw inspiration from this outdoor seating area by Chicago interior designer Tom Stringer, who injects a classic, multi-layered modern approach into his work. 

Comfy Cozy

Sit a spell by adding padded seat cushions to make a metal bistro set more comfortable.

High Style

Go formal. Use floral vintage plates and china to create an elegant table setting for tea time and other dainty delights.

Keep Plants Close

Create ambiance with candlelight and add interest to a dining area with a nearby wooden planter. Designers with Front Door Communities placed benches next to this rectangular planter to create more space for food and drinks as well as seating.

Paint and Plant

Don’t ignore prime spaces, such as your tabletop and ceiling. The blue ceiling extends the sky underneath the patio roof. This striking centerpiece brings together round, rough stones and native and tropical plants that fit with the lush landscaping by ArquitectonicaGEO, a Florida chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects award winner. 

Create a Color Scheme

Coordinate placemats and chair cushions to add thoughtful and vivid pops of color to outdoor dining areas.

Fashion a Bar

Use a folding tray with legs as an impromptu bar and let the bottles and glasses be part of the decor. If you find a used table, you can paint it or add stencils to refreshen it.

Rise Above the Ordinary

Don’t be afraid to use an unconventional table, like this bar-height option, and decorate it with matching plates, such as these selected by Michiel Perry, founder and curator of Black Southern Belle.

Get Crafty

A side table made of crates is an easy beginner DIY project and a way to give you extra storage space. Amy Latta of One Artsy Mama used two large crates (from Crates & Pallet) and plywood for her custom outdoor table.

Pull Up a Bench

Make room for more people at the table with a bench on one or both sides of the table. Benches can fit with rustic, transitional, traditional or eclectic styles, depending on what options you find new or used at thrift shops and flea markets.

Color Overhead

If you have an existing pergola, paint it a sunny hue, which provides color and contrasts with the dark pavers and stacked stone fireplace.

Illuminate the Area

Add a light fixture over an outdoor dining area, whether it’s completely covered or underneath a pergola. Nievera Williams Design's landscape plan for a Palm Beach, Fla., outdoor space and property won a Florida chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects award.

Treat the Ceiling Well

Catch the breeze from an outdoor ceiling fan, or two, which provide comfort and a decorative touch in a covered space.

Holiday Glow

Seasonal decor can add festive touches to grilling and outdoor seating areas. Even when the holidays are over, keep the starry vibe going with lit trees and strings of light.