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15 Top Designer Tips for Creating Inviting Outdoor Spaces

July 22, 2020

Designers James Farmer, Terracotta Design Build and etúHOME share some of their favorite outdoor design tips for creating the perfect retreat.

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Photo: Alea Moore

Outdoor Oasis

It's easy to overlook personal outdoor spaces. Maybe it's because the area can't be used year-round, or it's too small, or it simply needs some work. Now that more people are spending time at home, attention has turned to these spaces. For those at a loss about how to transform an outdoor setting into a private oasis, HGTV asked three top designers to share accessible tips that can be implemented now.

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Photo: Jeff Herr Photography

Proper Placement

Furniture arrangement is one of the first things to consider when creating outdoor spaces. "Think about how you will converse with people," says Katelyn Rountree, an interior designer at Terracotta Design Build in Georgia. "Is it an intimate setting or a setting for entertaining?" She also encourages people to decide on a focal point, such as a fireplace or pool, and to factor in activities, such as lounge seating or dining. Use these guidelines to arrange functional zones. "Furniture that works double time is even better," Rountree says.

For example, she recommends adding a tray to an ottoman or pouf to create a coffee table. "That gives you seating, a foot stool, or a place to set your drink all in one." Rountree adds that garden stools can also serve as additional seating or cocktail tables. Chairs can be multipurpose too, so choose ones that can function in a seating area and at a table.

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Photo: Jeff Herr Photography

Quality Control

Rountree says choosing quality furniture that meets the needs of your outdoor space is crucial. "Covered areas and non-covered areas will require different types of furniture and different quality of materials," she notes. "It is important to know the maintenance required for each piece you are buying ... Just because it says 'outdoor' does not mean it is suitable to sit in direct sun 24/7."

For specific examples, she likes Perennials for its fabrics and rugs, while popular brand Sunbrella is another reliable choice for the aforementioned, along with throws and pillows. "Whatever you buy, be sure it specifies for outdoor use," Rountree advises. "Slipcovers, throws and some small pillows should be machine washable. Rugs should be able to be bleached and rinsed outside to get rid of pesky mildew or dirt. A true quality outdoor piece should have colorfastness that will last for many years."

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Photo: Jeff Herr Photography

Attention to Detail

Really anything goes when it comes to decorating your outdoor space, or in this case, indoor area with easy outdoor access. "We think the outdoors is the perfect place to take some color risks and have fun," says Rountree. The fun might include touches of classic navy or bright orange, green and yellow. And those with a fear of commitment can simply swap accessories to match the seasons, especially in warm climes.

What really matters is "choosing materials, lighting, furnishings and palette that echoes your home's architectural style and sensibility," Rountree adds. Although finishes are equally essential for outdoor decor. "Metals need to be coated to not rust, paints need to be outdoor quality to not peel, fabrics need to be acrylics to not fade and woods need to be dense to not rot." She recommends plastic for those who want sturdy, easy-to-clean items. "When it comes to the elements, natural fibers will begin to break down quickly," she explains. Instead, eschew cottons and linens for acrylic and poly-type materials.

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