Today I want to clue you in on some of the most common outdoor decorating mistakes I see my design clients and blog readers make. And don’t worry, I’m also going to talk you through all of the solutions so you can make your alfresco zone a stunner for summer.
It’s fair to say that 2020 has not been cute. But finally, better days are coming. We’re almost allowed to have friends over again, there’s the smell of spring in the air, and I found a goon bag of Espresso Martini mix at my local bottle shop. Things really are looking up.
Now is the time to prep your outdoor zone and get it ready for some fun in the sun.
The Terrazzo 2000mm Table. Click to See More.
All of the glorious outdoor furniture you see in this post is from Early Settler btw, so it’s packed with my expert hints and tips, but also real-world shoppable products you can snap up in seconds.
So let’s dive into discussing all things outdoor decorating, how to fix your style blunders, as well as ways to improve the look and feel of this zone.
1. The Outside Doesn’t Reflect the Inside
I’m starting with the major blunder first: your alfresco area not looking at all like your indoor rooms. I see it all the time when I go into client homes. You have this gorgeous indoor zone, then step out into a courtyard or covered pergola that feels completely disconnected.
People often do the interior first and the outdoor zone becomes an unfortunate afterthought. The solution, of course, is to look at the vibe you have going on inside your home and then purchase outdoor furniture that has the same look and feel.
Are you a Hamptons lover? Contemporary devotee? There’s an outdoor furniture style for every indoor vibe, so make sure you furnish with cohesion in mind.
Fab outdoor furniture to match your indoor style:
- Hamptons lovers, you need to see the Blake Aluminium Table
- Coastal/Boho fans will love the Kanto Castor Table
- Pared-back Scandi homes should look to the Decker Folding Table
- Urban industrial lovers will lose their minds over the Marson Dining Table
- Provincial devotees will find hard to pass up the Roman Stone Table
- Contemporary fans, the Hendrix Ceramic Table is where it’s at for you
2. You Haven’t Mixed your Textures
Another mishap I see when decorating an outdoor area is that all of the textures are the same. Warm timber decking, with a warm timber lounge suite, near a warm timber table and warm timber chairs. That is a whole lotta warmth (I’m sweating just thinking about it).
It’s the same for tiled outdoor areas and metal furniture: it can read as too cold. The best approach when it comes to outdoor decorating is the same one I use for indoors: a medley of textures is your friend. If the floor is warm, contrast with a cooler material. If the floor is colder, heat it up with a warmer furniture finish.
And of course, you have to think beyond just the outdoor furniture pieces, which brings me to my next point…
3. It’s Missing the Decorative Layers
When considering outdoor furniture ideas, people get stuck on the furniture alone. But an outdoor area is more than just the big pieces. Of course you want to get that right (and after this article you’ll have it nailed), but it’s what you put on top of the furniture that becomes just as important.
Once you have your lounge suite or dining setting, it’s time to embrace outdoor decor. I’m talking stunning outdoor cushions, decorative ornaments for your tabletop, and outdoor rugs for the ground. The rugs are a particularly important factor when it comes to zoning (we’ll get to that in a moment), but the cushions and decor are a crucial inclusion to add softness and depth to the outdoor space.
Below is a selection of my fave outdoor cushions. Haven’t they come such a long way over the years?
So Many Stunning Outdoor Cushion Options Here
- First Row: Floral Watercolour | Japanese Mum Flower | Boho Birds
- Second Row: White Cockatoo | Sunshine Crane | Dragon Flower
- Third Row: Tropical Bird | Bright Peony Flower | Petite Blue Flower
- Fourth Row: Dahlia | Australian Banksia | Petite Flowers
4. You Haven’t Zoned the Areas
If you’re lucky enough to have a larger outdoor area you need to decorate, then zoning is going to be an important element to get right. When I say zoning, I mean that the lounge area and the dining table need to feel like independent spaces that are connected by a common thread.
You don’t want a scenario where you’ve just plonked furniture on the ground outside and called it a day. The best outdoor zones are ones your eyes (and feet, for that matter) go on a journey in. You want to lead people to the table on a subtle, carved-out pathway. You want them to move to the lounge area and have it feel cosy and welcoming.
Here are some ways to zone areas in your outdoor space:
- Rugs are the number one. Pop one under the lounge zone to connect all the chairs
- Plants are a great to break zones in two: pop some greenery between a lounge and dining table
- Outdoor lights over dining tables can ground the area and make it more of a destination
- Outdoor umbrellas are another great way to give a dining zone presence
- In a larger backyard, cover the dining zone with a gazebo, but leave the lounge zone sunny
- Don’t be afraid to have armchairs with their backs to the dining zone either
5. It’s Only Made for Day-Taining
When it comes time to mull over decorating ideas for outdoor areas, people envision fun in the sun. And I hear you (with the right SPF of course!). But what about at night? There’s nothing I love more than sitting outside in summer as nightfall arrives.
With that in mind, you have to think beyond just day-taining (that’s day entertaining – I just made it up!). Consider how you and guests will use the space and move through it at night as well.
Fixed overhead lighting and permanent wall-mounted options are great, but you can get really cute with smaller lighting too. Lanterns on tables are awesome. But here’s the better idea: using lanterns either side of a path to lead guests on a journey from the back door to the dining table. Fairy lights are a genius move as well; they add instant charm and whimsy.
6. You Forgot About Side Tables
When mapping out the lounge zone in your outdoor area, you definitely want chairs and you definitely want a coffee table. But here’s the thing people often forget: the essential drink-holding side table.
It’s quite common in a well-designed outdoor space for the coffee table to be more decorative. In a larger zone it might actually be a bit too far away from the seat you’re sitting in to use it to put a drink on.
By all means you’ll use the coffee table to sit food and drinks on initially. But when you’re kicking back in a comfy lounge chair, you’ll want (and thank me for recommending) a stylish side table that works with the rest of the setting.
7. You Only Furnished the Footprint
This goes back to what I was saying earlier about layers, but also about zoning. You don’t want your outdoor area to just be a timber, tile or concrete footprint with a few pieces of furniture sat on it.
You want the entire outdoor area to read as a room; with comfortable nooks, cosy crannies, and the interesting focal points you see inside the home.
To do that, you have to think beyond just the horizontal plane. Go up as well. I’m talking about decorating the walls in your courtyard or balcony, or erecting a gazebo if you have a larger yard.
If the space doesn’t bode well for something as big as a gazebo, why not hang some plants from your eaves or on the walls of your home’s exterior? Anything that draws the eye up and away from the ground is a good idea.
8. You Haven’t Thought About Comfort
I mentioned hard materials earlier, so I want to discuss them again. Because trust me, people don’t think about comfort enough when they’re decorating outdoor areas, and it really comes back to bite you in the butt.
Speaking of butts, you want yours to snuggle into a soft cushion, not a hard chair. This of course depends on the furniture piece in question and how long you plan on sitting on it, but overall I always recommend getting lounge chairs with plush cushions.
Even with dining chairs and benches, it’s nice to have some removable cushions on hand for guests who need them. If it’s one thing I’ve realised as I’ve gotten older, it’s that the bones do not enjoy hard surfaces. So always invest in cushions.
9. You Think it’s Too Small for Furniture
Also one of the biggest blunders of all: you think your space is too small to do anything with. Honestly, no outdoor zone is too small for some piece of furniture, and there’s always a solution at hand.
I’ve spent time on many very cosy balconies where friends or family have decided to not do anything with – and it’s such a shame. Be it a small round table with two chairs, or even a glorious egg chair you can cosy up and ready a book in; there is a hand for every glove and a piece of outdoor furniture for every outdoor space.
Above: the delicious Arles Garden Table is a great solution for a balcony. And how romantic does it look? I see dinner for two and a proposal happening here (the proposal from me being “will you pass me another champers?”).
Below: another great idea for a small space – the delicious Byron Hanging Chair.
10. You Forgot to Bring the Indoors Out
The very first point I made was about making sure you connect your indoor and outdoor zones. You don’t want to step from your kitchen or dining room into a courtyard that feels completely disconnected. Carrying the vibe from indoors to out is important, but so is using indoor pieces in your outdoor space.
If you have a covered area (be it an actual outdoor room, pergola or gazebo), you can happily decorate with indoor pieces here and not worry that they’re going to get damaged by the elements. Alternatively, bring them inside at the end of your weekend soiree if you’re concerned.
The benefit of living Down Under is that our homes are so blended in terms of the inside and out, so mix and match where you can so it all reads as one glorious design vibe throughout the property.