Design //

Perk Up Your Patio With These Designer Tips

Easy ways to refresh your outdoor space no matter what your budget.

Erica Riveraby Erica Rivera
Photo: Maria Pogony, Getty Images.

Summer may be halfway over, but it’s never too late to refresh your outdoor party space. Entice yourself and your guests away from the air-conditioned comfort of the indoors with a vibrant patio area. All it takes are a few tweaks: incorporate a splash of color, hang some art, and cue mood lighting. Most major retailers carry lines of patio furniture and accessories, so it’s up to you to decide if basic outdoor decor from Target will suffice, if you’ll splurge at a specialty store like Crate and Barrel, or if you’ll find a happy compromise at Ikea.

Seating

This is where major purchases and decisions will have to be made. You need a place to relax and a place to eat; these are generally not the same place. If you have the space and a generous budget, go for a couple of pieces that are cushioned, comfortable, and will allow you to put your feet up while reading or sunbathing. Whether that’s a chaise, a chair with an ottoman, a sectional, or some combination of those three is a question of personal preference. Want to go all out? Hang a swinging day bed. As for seating for eating, you’ll need a table and chairs. For smaller patios, scout out a bistro set or a stowable table and folding chairs; for larger areas, invest in a drop-leaf patio table with matching chairs.

No matter what form your outdoor furniture takes, stick to waterproof cushions in solid, neutral colors; the personality will come later, courtesy the accessories. If you’re working with major square footage, keep the socializing and eating sections of your patio separate, just like you do with living and dining rooms.

Accessories

This is where the fun—and pops of color—happen. Go bold with outdoor pillows designs, add texture with throw blankets, and incorporate patterns with rugs. A tablecloth is a simple way to amplify the elegance of your summer meal. Outdoor dinnerware (yes, you should have a separate set, and don’t be shy about going shatterproof) makes dining al fresco stress-free. Wall décor—an oft overlooked element of outdoor spaces—can take the form of wood panel art, wrought iron sculptures, or a statement mirror. (A caveat for renters: before you get out the hammer and nails, make sure to clear your decorating plans with your landlord.)

Photo: Caiaimage, Tom Merton.

Photo: Caiaimage, Tom Merton.

Lighting

Repeat after me: No. More. Tiki. Torches. String lights make everything magical. Vintage Edison bulbs are chic. Lit candles inside lanterns make for a romantic table setting. Whatever your preference, make sure the lights are wired for the outdoors elements.

Umbrella

If your patio doesn’t provide shade naturally, you’ll need an umbrella. Don’t just buy the first one that catches your eye; there are many factors to consider. First, you must measure. How much space do you want to cover? If you’re honing in on the dining area, measure two feet beyond the edges of the table. Check that the umbrella fabric is waterproof and won’t fade due to sun exposure. A fiberglass frame will hold up best in windy environments, but wood is also sturdy and certainly more stylish. Finally, the heavier the stand, the more stable your umbrella will be. Not sure where you want the shade? Opt for a freestanding, offset umbrella that you can move around and adjust at a moment’s whim.

Photo: @honestlywtf on Instagram.

Photo: @honestlywtf on Instagram.

Bar Cart

This water hole on wheels isn’t only for booze; it’s also a place to display knick-knacks, books, and conversation-starting items. If you’re more of a beer-and-soda kind of guy, galvanized metal tubs filled with ice will keep those canned or bottled drinks chilled and will look cooler than, well, a cooler.

Plants

Yes, you’re already outdoors (and hopefully surrounded by greenery), but that doesn’t mean you can forgo thoughtfully arranged flora. Ask your local greenhouse for help with selecting the right variety of plants to suit your patio’s sun-to-shade ratio, pick out a few pots, and vary the height of their placement around your patio. A vase or two of flowers is a fetching detail for your tablescape–look no further than your own garden. (Don’t have one? Get on that!) Feeling ambitious? Create a vertical garden by making a few holes in the bottom of empty aluminum cans, spray-painting them, and attaching to a fence.