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Summer Living Rooms: Bringing High Design Outside

by Joel Martens
Monday May 16, 2011

Since I spent so much time researching outdoor BBQs for the last column, I thought I'd continue the trend by elaborating in the outdoor living vein. It's a tad early since we haven't gotten through May grey and June gloom yet, but there is that wonderful window just before that whets the appetite weather-wise for sunny things to come.

I love exterior spaces and think of them as an extension of the inside of the home. There is a barrier of glass or walls of course, in case of less-than-favorable weather, but that's only a temporary separation. Comfy chairs and plush seating for lounging, with music and a cocktail are generally the way I like to roll.

A large deck is helpful and ideal, but even with a small space you can create your own island in the sun. Look for a general theme: do you want it to be sleek and modern like the hot rooftop lounges that are on most of the hot downtown hotels, or does your taste run more traditional? There are innumerable options and they can suit any particular budget or taste.

Start with your main seating pieces. It's always better to begin with the largest item in your exterior "room." An all-season sofa is a great way to anchor and define the area. If you don't want the more traditional route, how about four large matching club chairs arranged around a central table?

Or nix the table and introduce my favorite: a fire-pit (gas or butane of course) table/pit combo-they make an amazing centerpiece in any grouping and a heat source for chilly evenings. Or if you can't do fire, look at the fantastic LED exterior table below-subtly lit but dramatic and beautiful.

Expanding on the lounging theme, consider a sectional-style approach to your seating. It allows you to group pieces as you please. Eminently flexible, they can become what each party or cookout needs. If you have a small space, go with an armless version, they take up less space visually and they seat just as many. There are many options and can be easily customized to your setting or space. The fabric selections are vast now, and with the advanced production values there really are endless possibilities.

Check out Sunbrella's website,, for a good selection. There are many other choices from Waverly, Kravits, Robert Allen and Duralee that can be purchased online or at your local fabric stores.

Use your imaginations, take a little risk, it is the out-of-doors! Remember, you are competing with the glory that is Mother Nature.

Having worked with many clients and many tastes, I love being eclectic in my choices. An antique teak daybed became the anchor for an area near the pool. We chose a contemporary metal table (aluminum works best, steel rusts) with a frosted glass top and flanked both with two modern rattan chairs. We added a couple ceramic stools for interest and pulled the entire setting together with fabrics, pillows and a rug. We did several coordinating stripes, some florals, and yes, even some animal prints! I thought it was stunning and they spend hours lounging. Best of all, everything is washable!

Rugs! Who knew you had so many options for the outside? Gone are the days of tolerating an ugly matt that mildews and ends up looking like the bottom of a hamster cage! Now, pretty much anything that can be done inside can be resourced for the out-of-doors.

Use your imaginations, take a little risk, it is the out-of-doors! Remember, you are competing with the glory that is Mother Nature. Just don't piss her off, we all know what happens then! Most rugs are constructed of highly stable man-made materials (like Olefin, a type of polypropylene). They're fade resistant, with colors galore, washable and they have an almost indestructible surface that is soft, yet sturdy. Look to manufacturers/suppliers such as Frontgate, Ballard Designs, Crate and Barrel, Grandin Road, or Couristan for resources.

Next come the plants. No outdoor lounge area can be complete with out a generous swath of greenery to shade and soothe. Oh god, I just completely overwhelmed you didn't I? It's a problem I have-my mind is like a photo catalog: we could do this, and this, and this, and my overwhelmed clients' eyes glaze over.

Well, there's a simple answer for that situation: head to your local plant and garden center and have a chat with them. Or better yet, go in with a diagram of your yard or outdoor area and let them help you. If you have something smaller like a deck or patio, use containers and please, please plant with climatically practical and sustainable items! We are running low on
water resources already, don't make it worse!

I hope this gives you a taste of the possibilities that are out there-I know, I know it's totally overwhelming, but don't let that stop you! Start with the largest piece (sofa or area rug is a good beginning) and build on it piece by piece, buying items that you LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, not things that just work or are simply inexpensive.

I always say, if you buy something just because it works and not because it speaks to you, you'll end up getting rid of it in the end because you'll grow to hate it!!! Patience, my dears! After all, even God took a break after six days!

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