Why Outdoor Design Matters
Now that it’s finally summer, my husband and I (and our dog, Ludo) spend a lot of our free time outside, either sitting with a coffee or newspaper, drinking an evening glass of wine, or hosting a dinner with friends. I love the fresh air and the greenery around me and our protective screen of shrubs, trees and tall grasses. Sometimes it’s hard to come back inside! Well designed outdoor spaces like patios and decks really amplify the experience of a home because they bridge the gap between house and landscape, creating a sense of calm and comfort throughout. Even when I come inside I know I’ll carry a bit of that outdoor breeze in with me.
When I design homes, I like to focus on the home’s connection to the surroundings and outdoor space is a huge part of this. It needs to both work with the building and the interior space. The layout of windows and doors and the views need to be taken into consideration and because the outdoor design space might always be on display it should look good all year round.
Climate is a Key Factor in Outdoor Design
One of the key factors designing the outdoor spaces is the climate you live in. The seasons, temperature and rain will decide how much you use the space, how much it changes throughout the year and also what kind of decor you can keep there. Climate is one the most important factors in choosing outdoor furniture and decorations, because some materials may not withstand the elements.
Choosing the Right Materials for Outdoor Design
No matter where you live you should invest in good quality outdoor furniture, just as you would with indoor furniture. Buying cheap may end up costing you more in the long run. But just because you found it in the outdoor section it doesn’t mean it is suitable for your climate or outdoor situation.
All of the different materials you might see for outdoor furniture have pros and cons that make them ideal for certain climates and not for others. Some of the most common materials are teak, cedar, eucalyptus, stainless steel, aluminum, wrought iron, synthetics like plastic and synthetic resin wicker, and synthetic fabrics. While you should always seek out the best you can buy, choosing between these materials can make or break your perfect outdoor oasis.
If you love the warmth of the wood, teak or cedar are two of the most popular choices. All woods can be degraded by temperature and moisture so no matter which one you choose you should remember to treat the wood often to keep it in good condition. Teak is generally the top choice timber, the most expensive option for its durability, density, and beautiful honey color. It requires relatively little maintenance, but it does change appearance with age. Both cedar and teak will age gracefully, fading to a beautiful silver patina. Cedar is less expensive than teak, softer, lighter and less durable. Because it is more readily available, cedar can be used for larger furniture pieces like the chairs pictured above, made by Riva 1920. One of the cedars defying characteristics is its aroma which helps preserve the timber from insect damage.
Eucalyptus is also relatively durable and weather-resistant. Thanks to the high oil content in the wood, eucalyptus can handle moisture and wet, rainy climates. On the other hand, because it is susceptible to temperature, shrinking and expanding in the cold, eucalyptus may not be the best choice in places with big seasonal changes. Many people find the reddish brown of eucalyptus as appealing as teak and, if properly cared for, eucalyptus can age nicely as well. But it is important to remember that if you don’t treat the wood it will flake and weaken.
Paola Lenti, one of my favorite furniture designers, is known for her bold colors, shapes and inventive applications of felt. I love her outdoor designs. In this covered patio, playful shapes in subdued colors contribute to a relaxed, beachy vibe. The chairs here are made of stainless steel and rope cord, Paola Lenit’s signature material.
The most common metals used for modern outdoor furniture are aluminum and steel. Aluminum is lightweight, durable, incredibly low maintenance and doesn’t rust like iron when exposed to salty or moist air, although its weight means it is not ideal for locations prone to high winds. Steel is heavy and durable. Galvanized or stainless steel are the best options for outdoor furniture. Galvanized steel, because it is coated with zinc, changes into a nice greenish/silver color with a matte, textured hue over time. Wrought iron used to be more popular, but its weight and the amount of maintenance it requires means it isn’t used nearly as much today. Some people still find the classic look of wrought iron very appealing.
In the last few years synthetic materials have become a lot better looking, more durable and even cheaper too. But, as with everything, you get what you pay for and the differences in quality can be really huge. High-quality synthetics can withstand any kind of weather better than wood, and look stylish while doing it, but cheap plastics are likely to fall apart after a couple of seasons. When considering a synthetic resin piece of furniture, ensure you are getting High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) wicker. HDPE is a higher grade thermoplastic with higher strength, durability and heat endurance than PVC. Molded plastics are another durable option. They are lightweight, offer infinite options for shape and color and can even integrate lighting features.
I like working with plastic-based and synthetic materials because they allow me to incorporate interesting shapes, sculptural touches and bright colors into the outdoor space design. Try adding a splash of some bright summer color to chic oversized chairs, or creating a central seating arrangement with an unconventional outdoor couch. Synthetic furniture also lets you experiment with patterned surfaces, textures, combinations with other materials (like wood), or even with modular pieces that can be arranged however you want. Flexibility and fun is the name of the game, and you don’t even have to sacrifice on style.
Rarely do people think of putting a rug outdoors and yet, thanks to synthetics, an outdoor rug can sometimes be the perfect way to divide up the outdoor space and create the illusion of a room outdoors. Quality outdoor rugs are made of long-lasting materials that will hold up against weather, dry quickly, and resist stains and fading.
Outdoor Built-In Elements
On the farther threshold of outdoor design materials you have the option of adding built-in elements to the outdoor space, such as this banquette pictured above. Larger furniture objects like this are a perk when it comes to entertaining and they work wonders with shaping the space, even more than any synthetic or wood pieces would be able to.
Pick Carefully to Make it Last
The key to getting creative with outdoor design is to focus on mixing up the furniture, lighting and plant arrangements and picking the furniture carefully to make it last. Don’t be afraid of the bold or unexpected. Whether your goal is cozy, showstopping, eccentric or classy, picking the right furniture is a matter of adjusting to your surroundings, being mindful of materials and thinking outside the box with shapes and arrangements.