The Art of Exterior Living

The best outdoor spaces flow seamlessly from the inside ones and are just as cozy.

By Tammy Adamson-McMullen

We all know that living spaces don’t end with the exterior walls of a home. Over the last decade or so, decks, porches and patios all have become esteemed living spaces—and are being decorated to look just as cozy as interior ones. While the interior and exterior spaces don’t have to be mirror images of one another, they should flow seamlessly into one another. Here are a few things to keep in mind, especially as you’re shopping end-of-summer sales.

Individual Spaces

It’s easy in 2018 to create outdoor spaces that function as well as those inside your home, thanks to exterior furnishings, fabrics, area rugs and other outdoor products that are created for this purpose. The key is to think in terms of how you will use the space—Will it be your private oasis? A place where you entertain guests? Or maybe both?—and then arrange the space accordingly.

To create a cozy sitting space, set up groups of chairs, benches, lounges, and Ottomans within a larger deck or patio. Choose seat cushions for these furnishings in coordinating colors and buy the best quality you are able to afford. Also, place small occasional tables within easy reach so that you and/or your guests are fully able to enjoy the space. To accommodate larger parties, keep additional chairs in storage or have them nearby in other sitting areas so pull them easily into the grouping.

To create an inviting dining space, set the table with placemats, matching napkins, a table runner and a centerpiece—maybe potted succulents or a bouquet of flowers from the garden. For additional lighting, add candles to the table or string lights across the deck or patio. If you need more table space, place a larger sheet of plywood on top of the table and cover it with a tablecloth. To create more seating capacity, replace chairs with benches—a casual look that currently is on trend.

More Inviting Yet

Adding a colorful outdoor area rug can make an outdoor living space look even more inviting. It also helps to anchor the space within a larger deck or patio. Even if you don’t use a rug, make sure your deck, patio and porch surfaces look pleasing. Touch up floors, walls, rails and other surfaces with the appropriate paint or stain—or change the color altogether. If you have older furnishings you’d like to keep but that doesn’t match your current color scheme, spray paint them, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Last but not least, add pillows! There currently are many colorful and whimsical outdoor pillows on the market, and they hold up amazingly well from one year to the next. Choose pillows that follow your color scheme and layer them on chairs, benches, and lounges, just as you would indoors.

Weather-Resistant Products

Weather-resistant furnishings also have made it easy to create outside living spaces. However, not all weather-resistant materials are made equal. For longer wear, choose products that are high-quality from established manufacturers. This is especially important if you want to maintain the same color scheme from one year to the next. Exterior color trends come and go fairly quickly. Consequently, the same manufacturer’s seat cushions that you purchased this year in “tomato red” might lean toward “persimmon red” in 2019. If you originally chose the cushions to match your interior color scheme, you might be sorely disappointed if they have faded, mildewed or otherwise become unusable and you can’t replace them in the same color.

Color and Style

Current outdoor furnishings are tres chic, allowing you to match any indoor color scheme and style. If your style indoors is traditional, you might prefer wrought iron furnishings with overstuffed cushions in classic colors and patterns. If your style is more mid-century modern, think “lean and clean” with an aluminum-framed lounge set, plain seat cushions, and matching ottomans. If you prefer cottage styling, then lean toward wicker furnishings, flowery cushions and white-washed Adirondack chairs. Keep furnishings looking new by touching them up with paint or stain, as the piece warrants.

Whatever your style, carry it throughout your outdoor spaces and let your garden art follow suit. Incorporating artistic decoration into your outdoor living space—such as a sculpture or two, a piece of metallic wall art, a stone plaque or even a weather-resistant painting—will allow you to create greater flow from inside to outside. Shop garden shops and plant nurseries that specialize in outdoor art pieces to find the right piece for your outdoor space.


Of course, the most important element of any outdoor space is comfort—yours. Make sure that the furniture and cushions you select are the most comfortable your budget will allow. Also, make outside spaces easy to navigate. If they have become cluttered over the summer, now is the time to declutter them in time for fall.

By following these tips, you can fully enjoy your outdoor spaces as we finish out the summer and head into autumn. (The downside? It will be hard to head indoors this winter!)

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