There is so much more to choosing outdoor decor than deciding on which canvas loungers to buy and where to place the gas barbecue. That’s just the beginning.
The steps used to create an inviting outdoor room are the same as those used to create a comfortable indoor room. Outdoor living spaces need not be defined by porch or roof or any other manmade architectural feature. The graceful canopy of a willow tree or a clipped hedgerow can be the natural beginnings of a great outdoor room.
The first requirement for a successful room, be it indoors or out, is a comfortable seating arrangement. This will facilitate conversation. A sense of enclosure will foster coziness; interesting views and personal objects will promote lively conversation. The only difference is that exterior decor needs to be weatherproof, if not weather-resistant.
After the outdoor furniture has been selected, the accessorizing fun begins in earnest. There are many ways to add decorative punch to your exterior design. Ready-made pieces can be purchased or you can make handsome, naturally inspired accessories yourself.
Terra cotta pots are a great place to start. They can do multiple duty: as planters, topped with concrete or slate paving stones they become instant side tables, or filled with sand and candles they become fire-safe luminaria that can light the footpath to the lake or pond.
Appropriate lighting adds to the enjoyment of any outdoor space, as well as prolonging its use on balmy summer evenings. But lighting also can be used to define the space. Judiciously placed uplights can highlight a special plant or focus attention onto a garden object like a mirrored wishing ball or a stone birdbath.
A wide variety of exterior lighting is available, ranging in price from downright thrifty to very expensive. Strands of white fairy lights strung through the branches of a tree (though admittedly not terribly original) always bring forth a smile. What is not expected is a lantern or even a chandelier hanging from those very boughs. An instant banquet hall is created. It won’t only be the moths flocking to the flame, but your guests and family too!
Setting the table is just as important as where to set the table. Durable, natural materials like stoneware, metal and wood look their best in natural surroundings. Woven placemats in raffia or straw are perfect foils for hand-thrown plates and bowls. Look for dishes with earthenware glazes in ocher or celadon. These colors are making a resurgence, after falling out of favor in the late 1970s.
Don’t discount fabrics of 100 percent cotton or linen for your outdoor table. These materials get better with age. Linen becomes soft as satin after several washings. If you’re worried about staining, the longevity of table linens can be increased by dyeing them to cover up stains. Over the years, white napkins can turn into ecru, then mocha and on to wine red, and no one but you will be the wiser.
To keep the tablecloth and napkins from flying away, look for decorative weights. They can be found in most homeware stores, or you can make your own with found objects. Interesting stones or shells collected on walks or seaside vacations can be wired together and attached to safety pins or alligator clips.
Metal accessories like galvanized flower buckets or iron candlesticks will quickly lose their shiny polish when left outdoors for only a few weeks. This softened patina is especially appropriate for log home outdoor living. Thrift stores can yield a bounty of inexpensive, and in most cases pre-worn, accessories. A collection of vintage bird cages hung in the branches of an old tree is a whimsical touch, but when fitted with low-voltage exterior lights, they provide a most unexpected attraction.
Architectural fragments like salvaged windows or French doors can add interest to a wall or be hinged to form a folding screen, further creating a sense of enclosure. Awnings, portieres and draperies also help to frame vistas and provide a decorative perimeter. Porches with striped canvas draperies that can be drawn to control the glaring afternoon sun create an inviting space for conversation over lemonade.
There should be something for all the senses when choosing your outdoor decor. Beyond the chirping of birds or the scent of freshly mown grass, sound and smell are frequently neglected. These senses need to be considered when decorating your exterior space. A tinkling wind chime hanging from the eaves of the porch or a tabletop fountain will add natural, sweet music to your outdoor room.
Fountains can be purchased assembled and ready (just add water), or you can make one yourself. It’s a very easy project. All that’s needed is a water-tight bowl or saucer, a small aquarium pump (available at home centers) and some interesting rocks and stones to disguise the pump. Plants, flowers or even moss can be added to decorate the fountain and change its appearance seasonally.
Containers filled with fragrant plants are a terrific way to bring scent to your porch or patio. Tubs of rosemary, thyme or basil placed along active walkways or by doors will release their fresh scent every time they are brushed up against. Window boxes brimming with French and Spanish lavender are a pretty sight and their delicate scent wafting through open windows acts as a natural room freshener.
Accessorize your outdoor room with the natural sights, smells and sounds that comfort you and your family and extend the log home living experience out of doors. From the texture of a linen napkin used to wipe away the juice of a just-ripe watermelon, to the soft glow of a flickering candle at sunset, to the peppery scent of the potted geranium on the evening breeze, choosing outdoor decor means decorating for the senses.
Interior designer Kurt Cyr writes from Reseda, California.
Mt. Bachelor Pine Sales photo by Roger Wade