Aug 04, 2021

Expert Design Ideas For Your Outdoor Living Space

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Over the past year we have all been spending much more time outdoors entertaining, relaxing and spending time with our families and friends. During this time you may have re-evaluated how your outdoor living space is utilized. Now that summer weather is here and the days are longer, it’s a good time to think about how to spruce up our porches and patios as an extension to the living area. We’ve asked Charleston-based Tish Mills of Tish Mills Interiors to share her best tips for how to best design an outdoor living area.

What is the first step when designing the layout of an outdoor living area?

I always start by looking at the surrounding area. Look at your space and ask “What’s the focal point or ideal view to see from your space?” The second question is “How will the space be used?” Outdoor living areas are commonly used for lounging or al fresco dining. You will get much more use out of your space once you can answer these questions. Next, consider the interior spaces that are close by such as the living room, dining room or kitchen. I love to bring the inside aesthetic outside just as much as I like to bring the outside surrounding inside. It is all about creating harmony between the two.

What should be considered when picking out outdoor upholstery?

Because of rain, humidity, winds and other outside elements, the make-up and durability of upholstery is even more important in your outside space than it is inside. When your outside area is in the design phase, it is important to consider every detail, even including what type of upholstery thread should be used. People tend to think “a covered area, it will be fine.” That really is not the case. Even on a covered porch, use durable waterproof cushions with good fill for extended life and prevention of mildew. Since there are so many beautiful indoor/outdoor fabrics, you can get the same great, rich look outside as seen indoors by using fabrics like velvets that are able to be bleached.

What are some mistakes people tend to make when designing porches?

Hands down, the biggest mistake I see is people using indoor fabrics and pieces on a porch, such as lamps. Today there is a vast array of outdoor fabrics and lighting in the market. I love outdoor rated lamps. It’s a good idea to invest more for things rated for outdoor use so you don’t have to purchase these items twice.

What type of furniture do you recommend?

It’s a good idea to use a mix of different furniture types on porches as layering adds depth and is much more appealing to the eye. If the space is more traditional vs contemporary, try using upholstery mingled with teak or powdered coated metal. And, just like inside the home, you’ve created a fashionable look by including unexpected design pieces.

What’s a good rule of thumb on how much seating to include?

It’s a good idea to have enough seating space for your family and then add on at least two spaces for extra guests.

How should you design outdoor flooring?

If I’m designing a covered porch, I like to include rugs. Again, it is a great way to bring the feeling of the indoors to your outside living area. There are some fabulous indoor/outdoor rug options that are more comfortable than that plastic-like material you may have used in the past.

What type of additional lighting do you recommend – candles or lamps?

I am a big fan of using lamps to add dim lighting to an outdoor area. I would also consider a chandelier or lantern of some sort. Candles are fun to add a little lift to a table like they do inside. It is important to have good lighting so your outdoor space is just as inviting in the darker hours as in daylight.

What do you suggest for coverage?

Since we are in the south, I definitely recommend a screen for a porch to keep the bugs out.  For an outdoor patio, a large umbrella or sail shades are a good option.

How do you make an outdoor area inviting for all ages?

Just as you would inside, make sure that the seating isn’t too low or too deep for people to get in and out of, since that can be uncomfortable for young kids or more fragile adults. Also, make sure that your space is well lit. You’ll want brighter light when you’re reading a book or trying to enjoy each others company over games, meals or conversation.

What do you incorporate for entertaining purposes?

I’m Italian, so I really like a place to set out delicious meals and snacks. I love dining al fresco, so I prefer to incorporate a dining table into the space. However, if the space isn’t big enough, a coffee table is a great option – as long as you have a place to set dishes on. Music adds to every atmosphere, so I like to include a wire for speakers. Beyond that, I would say make sure that there is a comfortable place to lounge. Adding pull away pillows for napping is another sure way to invite unwinding.

Is it okay to decorate using indoor items for outdoor use?

I don’t recommend using indoor pieces outdoors because they typically won’t last very long due to weather factors. There are so many nice outdoor items that can be used that I like to incorporate. The one exception would be a teak root coffee table that I actually used in a recent design project.

Do you recommend ceiling fans in an outdoor space?

Yes! Living in the south, they are a must to keep bugs away and to create a breeze. When I am working in more temperate areas like California, they aren’t as necessary.

What are some sophisticated touches to add to give the feel of an additional room to the house?

Rugs, great fabrics like outdoor velvets, lamps, lanterns and décor accents. The ideal end goal is to make your outdoor space feel like a true extension of your home.

Outdoor living spaces are a great selling point when you’re thinking of moving and more buyers are looking for additional space when purchasing a new home. Discuss the best ways to enhance the design of your outdoor space with a designer like Tish Mills and a knowledgeable real estate firm like William Means.

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