Outdoor Rooms for Less

Tips for creating a luxe-looking outdoor space that won't break the bank

Can't wait to create a dream outdoor retreat, but worried you'll blow your entire summer vacation budget on fancy water-resistant rugs and weatherproof furnishings?? Don't be. A luxury-style room is easy to create and personalize — with a few budget decorating ideas under your belt. We asked the pros for some rules to live (outdoors!) by.

Work from the inside out

As you find yourself heading outside more and more to relax, entertain, dine — or all three! — make the most of the season by thinking of your yard as an extension of your home. "Consider your outdoor room as extra space that might otherwise be neglected," says Kathy Peterson , author of Great Outdoor Decorating Makeovers. "Go beyond simply putting furniture on a deck or patio — make it better by coming up with a decor theme, color scheme and considering how you're going to use the space."

Author of the book Outdoor Rooms II, Anne Dickhoff notes, "An outdoor room has a conscious and cohesive design. You wouldn't just plop a sofa down in the center of your living room and call it complete. Nor should you stop decorating an outdoor room once you've found that perfect lounger or dining set and placed it on the patio. Just like a room indoors, outdoor rooms pay attention to creating a mood and an ambiance."


Don't obsess about size

"Some of my favorite spaces in Outdoor Rooms II were created on a small patio, porch, balcony or terrace," Dickhoff says. "In fact, small spaces have an advantage, especially for the budget decorator: They're easier to fill! A few well-placed furniture items and some significant accessories for focal points will usually do the trick. Layering colors, textures and heights with your accessories will add a rich feeling -- think of a menagerie of pillar candles of different heights and colors, or a pile of pillows with different fabrics."

To make the most of a small space, she advises paying attention to scale and flexibility. "Instead of that large teak dining table, look for a charming bistro set that won't consume all of your usable space." Discovering pieces that can serve multiple uses is a great way to get the most out of your space: A small side table can hold a pile of books by your favorite chair or a platter of drinks and snacks next to the dining table.

"You can even incorporate relaxing and dining into the same space," she adds. "A group of lounging chairs around a coffee table recalls the informal 'great room' we use in the house so much, rather than a formal dining room."

Furnish for comfort — and function!

Peterson advises home decorators to choose furniture that is physically comfortable (no stuffy camelback sofas, please!) and add pillows and cushions if necessary. For a relaxed, casual look, she loves to mix up styles and sizes of furniture.

Dickhoff's recommendation when shopping for furniture is to consider the intended use of your space and purchase furnishings accordingly. Rooms may include any of the following:

  • Seating: Easy chairs around a central coffee table, a sofa positioned against a long wall, stuffed cushions or cubes, or a wide upholstered ottoman. Any of these will work, depending on the level of flexibility and mobility you desire.
  • Dining: A traditional dining table surrounded by chairs or cushioned benches, a couple of round bistro tables set in front of an outdoor sofa, upholstered cushions or cubes surrounding a coffee table or low dining table.
  • Serving: A console or buffet table, a wheeled trolley, a smaller (possibly folding) side table and an ice bucket.
  • Storage/Display: A small side table or set of nesting tables — both are ideal for displaying your accessories, as is a metal or wooden rack. They're also convenient for holding the books, drinks and small items you take outside with you to lounge.
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