The unofficial start to summer has come, and we’re ready to take to the great outdoors—or at least to the patio. But, with a new season, comes a new opportunity to both decorate and make decorating mistakes.
From forgetting to properly light your space to choosing fabrics that can't stand up to the elements and selecting dinnerware that’s an accident waiting to happen, here are the mistakes you might be making—and what to do instead, according to pros.
Meet the Expert
- Katie Vail is the blogger behind Stripes and Whimsy, where she shares personal style tips and DIY project ideas.
- Melissa Smrekar is an interior decorator and lifestyle blogger.
- Michelle Cannon Smith is an Atlanta-based gardener with incredible outdoor décor and an eye for garden design.
Forgetting to Consider Lighting
An outdoor space that bakes in the sun all day long is no more functional than one that is pitch black after sunset. You have to get the lighting right and that means taking into account both the natural light your space gets from morning to night, and the mix of artificial light that will cast an ambient glow after hours.
Consider how you’ll provide shade via umbrellas, pergolas, or trees, then look into creating a light landscape with twinkly bistro lights, outdoor chandeliers, pathway lighting, task lighting, and more depending on how you plan on using the space.
Neglecting to Use Textiles and Warm Up Your Space
A set of outdoor chairs might look incredible, but left to their own devices, they’ll simply look like floating islands. Just like you would indoors, you need to bring in textiles, color, and texture to visually warm up the space and tie it all together.
Use outdoor pillows, outdoor rugs, and even outdoor drapery, to take your space to the next level. But, this also brings us to our next mistake.
Ignoring Your Outdoor Space Because It’s Not Your Forever Home
Have you ever lived in a home that had outdoor space, but you ignored it for one reason and one reason only: you weren’t sure how long you’d be there? Planting flowers can seem pointless and investing in furniture for a deck that may not be yours in a year feels like a waste of money.
Or, is it? Think of your outdoor space as you would any other room in your home—even if you’re a renter. You wouldn’t let the kitchen go unfurnished for a year, would you? Think of your patio in the same way.
Katie Vail, the blogger behind Stripes and Whimsy, has spent the past year turning her 1923 Virginia craftsman into a cozy home for her family—and that includes taking advantage of outdoor space that was in need of attention and creative touch.
“We may be renters, but creating an outdoor oasis, no matter how small, was incredibly important to me," she says. "We invested in a porch swing and a bistro set, and these two things helped set the tone for the whole space and we use them both daily. It’s easy to not want to spend much money when you know it’s not your forever home, but by doing some research and investing in some affordable yet durable pieces, you’re able to create an outdoor living space that’s inviting and functional, too.”
Not Choosing Furniture and Fabrics That Stand Up to the Elements
If you’re going to spend time and energy on your outdoor space, make sure it lasts! The last thing you’ll want is pillows that look sun-worn or dotted with mildew after just a season. Look for outdoor pillow and upholstery materials that are both mildew and fade-resistant.
Marine vinyl and polypropylene are two popular and durable choices, while Sunbrella is the name in outdoor fabric. When it comes to furniture, wrought iron is always a timeless choice that will last, but you’ll also find great options in teak, plastic, resin wicker, and more.
Melissa Smrekar, whose sophisticated Dallas backyard feels like stepping back in time to an era when guests put on technicolor caftans to gather around the pool and drink tiki mug cocktails, has a warning from her own experience.
“Mind the elements," she advises. "I owned my gorgeous glass-top outdoor dining table for three days before a giant gust of wind picked up my patio umbrella and completely shattered the glass-top table, and I learned my lesson."
Even furniture intended for outdoor use is subject to the wear-and-tear of Mother Nature. Always lower your umbrella when not in use, and stow your outdoor pillows if a thunderstorm is brewing.
Using Dinnerware and Dishes That Are Too Fragile
Michelle Cannon Smith, an Atlanta-based gardener with incredible outdoor décor and an eye for garden design, is an expert on creating liveable outdoor spaces. So, when she says to use shatterproof dinnerware for outdoor entertaining, we listen.
“Hands down, I think melamine drink and dinnerware is a must for any outdoor space," Cannon Smith says. "With so many options available, pick a set you love, then enjoy and dine outdoors stress-free.”
You have our permission to put away the beautiful (and breakable) china, and pull out something a little more casual for your patio. And, really, who wants to clean up a broken wine glass from a brick patio?
Most of all, however, you want to design a space that makes you happy each time you step outside—isn’t that what mother nature is all about? As Cannon Smith told us, “When it comes to decorating outdoors, I think it's as simple as creating a space that's going to bring you joy. Oftentimes, people quickly forget that their outdoor space is an extension of their indoor one. Don't be afraid to make it personal—plant a favorite fragrant flower or a regularly used herb to add to a dish.”