How to Design a Beautiful Outdoor Living Space

How to Design a Beautiful Outdoor Living  Space

For most of us Spring is in full bloom. Which means many of us are daydreaming of our outdoor spaces right now! I think we are all tired of staring at our walls inside, right? I believe that outdoor living especially now, in these unprecedented times is important. Did you know that spending time outside can improve your physical and mental well-being? Spending time in nature can help you live a happier life, too. Seems like a good reason to me to get outside. So how do we juggle the indoor demands with getting outside?

It all starts with treating your outdoor space like an extension of the indoors, or another room, big or small. It’s the perfect opportunity to add more living space! I’ll walk you through 5 easy steps to creating that beautiful outdoor space, so you can stop dreaming and start living…outdoors.

I hope you get some great ideas to bring spring and summer outdoor enjoyment to your home.

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Step 1: Imagine How You Would Love to Use the Space

The first step in creating any space indoor or outdoor is asking yourself how you want to use the space. Do you want a place to drink your morning coffee and listen to the birds? Will it be a place for family gatherings or future entertaining? Do you want to take you WFH outside? Think this step through carefully, and plan for any future additions to the space. You don’t want to have to go back and re-do any of your hard work.

*This part does take some careful planning and attention to details but so worth it to take the time to plan.

The function of your space will influence the overall design and layout. When it comes to furniture setup, having multiple areas to sit is best. Divide your space into designated areas, no matter the size!

Step 2: Plan to Layer the Space from the Ground Up

Outdoor spaces aren’t really all that different from indoor ones. It’s all about layering from the ground up (literally!).

1. You need a “floor”. A floor is an essential feature of any room. It should feel solid, level, and secure underfoot. This can be a wide range of materials from inexpensive pea gravel, stone or brick pavers, concrete or decking materials. Consider your home’s architectural style and interior design when you’re choosing materials for your hardscaping/landscaping. You want all your spaces to feel cohesive. The end result will be much more visually appealing and connected to one another.

2. You need “walls”. Indoor rooms have walls that define each space. You can create a similar sense in your outdoor space with what we call visual boundaries. You don’t literally need walls here, unless you want them or already have them. If you have the space, map out roughly the size of your indoor living room. This is typically big enough for your family but small enough to feel intimate and inviting.

To define your outdoor boundaries use vertical elements like screens, railing, tall potted plants, hedges or a water feature.

3. Think Lighting -Just like the indoors, you need to think about lighting. Sure the daylight is great but what about when you want to hang out in the evening? Unless, you like sitting in complete darkness… in that case that’s cool. Skip this step.

Luckily, outdoor lighting has never been easier. There are so many great solar light options on the market these days. From lamp posts to walk way lights to pot lights you can now get all your lighting needs taken care of courtesy of the sun!

4. You need Furniture. Choose furnishings that fits the space to create a sense of flow and expansiveness. No matter what furniture you are selecting, make sure it is comfortable. It doesn’t matter how much time, effort and expense you put into your outdoor furniture if it is uncomfortable.

5. You need Accessories. This is the designers “trick up their sleeves.” This step really elevates and finishes off your space. This is the opportunity to make it uniquely you!

Don’t be afraid to add stylish and traditional indoor accents to your outdoor living space. Rugs, throw pillows for furniture, candles and fresh cut flowers will finish off your space beautifully. Just make sure they’re rated for outdoor use if exposed to the elements.

If your layout and/ or framework can accommodate drapes, they can add an attractive, cozy cabana vibe. Choose indoor-outdoor fabrics in cotton/poly blends that dry quickly and resist mildew.

That Staycation is looking pretty good!!


Step 3: Considering Outdoor Furniture

IMHO Sturdy outdoor furniture never goes out of style. So, if you can buy good quality furniture, do it! Not only are you saving yourself money in the long run, but you are also saving tons of items from going into our already overflowing landfills. I preach this to all my clients about indoor furniture as well.

Now, I admit I’ve had to learn the hard way in my hot climate here in NC. What worked for our life in the PNW would not work here in HOT NC weather. So, think/ research carefully about your climate and what will and will not work in your area of the country.

Here are some outdoor frame material options. (There are many more…these are just some of my suggestions for durability and life span of the product)

– Wrought Iron: It is one of the most durable and longest lasting type of outdoor furniture available. It has a very heavy frame. Great for areas you will not be moving it around a lot.

– Polypropylene: It is virtually impenetrable. Extraordinarily strong and durable, it’s immune to the effects of water. Moisture simply can’t permeate its dense material, and because it’s slick, mildew and rot can’t get a grip. Great for coastal areas.

– Rattan Wicker: Resin wicker is a great alternative to natural wicker, as natural wicker can be very vulnerable to the elements. Rattan wicker is made of braided synthetic materials, there’s no place for water to settle so mold and mildew can’t settle in.

– Aluminum: Aluminum metals are strong, unyielding, and seemingly invincible, champion of rain-enduring metals is humble aluminum. aluminum can’t rust because it has no iron in its composition. aluminum is scientifically proven to be an excellent choice for rain.

– Stainless Steel: Stainless steel offers a modern style to any outdoor space. Proven as a superior outdoor material, it has found its way into outdoor furniture with amazing results. With its resistance to corrosion and oxidation, it makes an excellent choice.

-Polystone: It doesn’t absorb water, it’s a great choice for rainy climates. Because it’s a cemented mix of powdered stone and polyurethane resin, polystone can be moulded and sanded into any shape.

-Polyethylene: Exceptionally durable hard plastic that has infinite recyclability. Made from recycled plastic materials.

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Above: I have selected a modern frame sofa, mixed with a fully upholstered outdoor lounge chair to create a modern, yet comfortable and casual gathering. I paired the seating with a cast concrete coffee table perfect to take on any weather. To bring…

Above: I have selected a modern frame sofa, mixed with a fully upholstered outdoor lounge chair to create a modern, yet comfortable and casual gathering. I paired the seating with a cast concrete coffee table perfect to take on any weather. To bring a natural element to the grouping I selected this cast concrete dining table which has those beautiful rustic wood legs.

NOTE WORTHY NEWS: Seasonal Living’s dining table above was selected as a favorite by Style Spotter, Nancy Fire of HGTV, for Spring HPMKT new intros. I agree Nancy-It’s a winner!

You can purchase by clicking on the links of each image, and if you do, I will make a tiny percentage of the price, which helps me pay for running this blog – and I’m thanking you in advance if you do!

Step 4: Embrace Outdoor Fabrics for Comfort

The best way to approach outdoor fabrics is to think of them like indoor fabrics. All fabrics are created for a purpose, so they are made accordingly and used for weather extremes.

I highly recommend: 100% Solution dyed acrylic for outdoor applications: When considering long-lasting color, solution-dyed acrylics are like a carrot, meaning the color is the same for every layer. This weather-resistant upholstery lasts longer than traditional fabrics. I highly recommend using for applications that are constantly exposed to the elements, like seat cushions, awnings and umbrellas. The days of scratchy stiff outdoor fabrics are long gone. There are a number of soft textures on the market today.

*Designer tip- If you’re on a budget. Try an inexpensive aluminum frame and upgrade your cushions with a solution dyed acrylic like Sunbrella. This will take your furniture to the next level and last a lot longer in the elements.

Step 5: Add Some Beautiful Final Touches

A final functional consideration you might make for your outdoor living area is a garden. Growing vegetables, fruits and herbs can be fun and rewarding. The best way to make sure your food is fresh and sustainable? Grow it yourself! You can easily add gardens to small containers.

Some other fun final touches to consider are a bar carts, outdoor statues, outdoor rugs (under furniture rule still applies), solar lighting and find some color planters that really show your personality!

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Finish off your outdoor oasis with all the right fixings. The finishing touches are what make “YOUR” space. Don’t forget this part! From side tables, to sweet dog statues to cool planters and you definitely can’t forget the bar cart and solar lighti…

Finish off your outdoor oasis with all the right fixings. The finishing touches are what make “YOUR” space. Don’t forget this part! From side tables, to sweet dog statues to cool planters and you definitely can’t forget the bar cart and solar lighting.

There are lots of elements that can go into making a great outdoor space really GREAT. So take a moment to organize yourself before you start. While there is truly no right or wrong way to design your perfect sanctuary, a little editing and planning can go a long way to create a comfortable, inviting, beautiful oasis!

Be sure to follow along with me for the next 8 weeks, starting May 7th as I make over 2 areas (hopefully) at my house. This post might be a little hint on one! 🙂

MORE outdoor living inspiration…

I’m so honored and excited to have been invited to participate in a blog hop showcasing shoppable outdoor living spaces. Now I’d like to invite you to click the links below to see my interior design friends beautiful blog posts on all things outdoor living below:

Laura Muller – Four Point Design Build

Linda Holt – Linda Holt Creative

Jeanne Chung – Cozy, Stylish, Chic

Carla Aston – Carla Aston Designed

Ready for an outdoor space that spoils you silly? Contact us and we’d be delighted to help!

As always, thanks for reading & subscribing to my blog – I appreciate each of you.



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Comments (23)
  • Leslie Carothers
    | 2 May 2020

    Hi Jana!

    Good morning and what an inspiring post! I love how you broke down how to think about creating an outdoor living space, especially the idea of walls .. even outdoors. I can’t wait to see how you transform your outdoor living area for the #oneroomchallenge !

    I am going to hop on over to the other blogs you’ve mentioned, too, to see what ideas they have!

    Have a great day ahead!

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Thank you Leslie. Excited to get started on my own outdoor living space!

  • Carla Aston
    | 2 May 2020

    Love these outdoor rooms you’ve created here, Jana! This is the perfect way to "extend" your square footage and make every part of it livable and useful. Beautiful!

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Thank you Carla. I think more and more homeowners are looking to add in outdoor living to their sq. ft.

  • Gary Pettitt
    | 2 May 2020

    Jana – What an inspiring blog. You gave me a lot to think about and as you say, there’s so many think about in outdoor living spaces. Taking the time to think about important environmental considerations so helps you orientate to not just creating an outdoor space but creating an outdoor living room where the space is truly maximized, loved and your investment really pays off. As I read through your inspirational blog, I had some other thoughts that I hope might help readers add some other thoughts: Think about temperatures – you might have an amazing view, but if cocktail times means having your face scorched then think about how you can use vertical outdoor blinds, sheers and other diffusers whether they even be a mass of potted plants (think urns in stunning architectural or complimentary shapes (to your designs) complimented by pops of complimentary design colors and hues) with differing tree and plant heights to create incredible vistas – What I love about plants is that they can be changed and moved in and out of outdoor living spaces according to their prime. I often think that landscape architects sometimes get overlooked in planning memorable outdoor spaces. Designers are invaluable in developing concepts, but sometimes their fingers may not be so oriented to green vertical plants…..planning together is an amazing and worthwhile experience as it amps up the outdoor space….for example, understanding which plants are not only suitable from a growing perspective but how they can compliment color schemes, how they fare in certain light situations, how they perform at the times of day you want to be there, how they can maximize the visual and olfactory senses – a gorgeous jasmine or climbing rose to start my day, brunch besides calming lavender bushes and then dinner with the scent of blooming Regal Lillies or Evening Primrose to name a few. With all that’s going on in the world today, our homes are more than ever are becoming a sanctuary in or outdoors and planning for those family members with allergies (even our furry four footed family members) should be considered. Thank you again for the great ideas

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Thank you Gary for your added advice. You made some very excellent points. One’s that I will personally be thinking about as I redo some of my outdoor spaces. I have worked with some landscape designers and they are just as important in this process, I agree. They know plants and such like I know the inter-workings of a sofa. Both are equally important!

      On another note: I just wanted to mention how much I love the new introductions and congratulations on the clip table being selected! I hope we will get to see them at market very soon.

  • lisa Peck
    | 2 May 2020

    I’m inspired to get going on an all-new look for my outdoor space. I think a Staycation is what we are looking at this year.

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Thank you Lisa! Yes, I think many of us are looking at staycations this year. Make the best of it, right!

  • Jeanne Chung
    | 2 May 2020

    Jana! Great tips and a wonderful round up of furniture and accessories. Love the modern vibe!

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Thank you Jeanne! So many of us are thinking all things outdoors now. This was a fun way to showcase it all this weekend!

  • Mary Ann Benoit
    | 2 May 2020

    Beautiful picks, photos, tips and inspiration!

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Thank you so much!

  • Great tips!

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Thank You!

  • Jillian
    | 3 May 2020

    I love the idea of treating it like an indoor room with "walls". Great ideas in this post!

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Thank you Jillian. To feel that sense of security and privacy. I think it’s important to create the"walls" somehow in your outdoor environment. 🙂

  • Sheri Bruneau
    | 3 May 2020

    As I have mentioned on the other designers in your blog hop, this is very timely for me as we are redesigning our backyard. I love all of your tips as well as your selections!

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Yes, I agree this is a timely post. I’ll be re-doing our backyard for the ORC.

  • Laura Muller
    | 4 May 2020

    Jana! This is such a fantastic post!!! Definitely a strong resource guide and invaluable tool for designing your own perfect outdoor space!!! Love it! xx

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Thank you so much Laura! Hugs to you in Ca, today!

  • Shannon Ggem
    | 4 May 2020

    Outdoor spaces are so wonderful. So much good info here!

    • Jana Donohoe
      | 4 May 2020

      Yes I agree Shannon. You are lucky to be able to take advantage of it nearly all year round. Here in NC, the summers can get a bit humid to enjoy but I love being outside!

  • Suzi Rugg
    | 4 May 2020

    Beautiful and loved the finishing touches!

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