Our 20 Best Outdoor Decorating Tips Ever
Boost Your Brights
Here’s a little-known designer secret: When you think you’ve gone bright enough with your shades outdoors, go brighter. Why? The abundance of natural light tends to temper bright hues, so even shades that seem a tad over-the-top in a showroom might be just perfect under the afternoon sun. Some of our fail-proof faves? Pineapple yellow or kiwi green—both sure to sweeten up your outdoor space.
Raise the Roof
Bold ceilings may be seriously trending indoors, but outdoors, it’s all about the pastels. Shades of seafoam, turquoise, and robin’s egg blue are timeless on porch ceilings thanks to their soothing qualities and (of course) resemblance to the sky on a crystal-clear day. Bonus: Some theorize that blue porch ceilings also ward off insects. Bye, bye, citronella!
Call for Curtains
One of the best ways to make an outdoor living room feel as indoorsy as possible is by hanging outdoor curtains. In addition to framing a space and upping the comfort factor, they’re also practical as barriers from the sun, wind, and—let’s face it—nosy neighbors. As with all fabrics used outdoors, drapes should be water-, fade-, and mildew-resistant.
Go Out Swinging
What’s so classic about this beachfront perch and star of our April 2012 cover, aside from the uninhibited ocean views and nature-inspired palette? The pair of swinging daybeds that take the place of traditional sofas. Swings (especially when suspended from the ceiling with nautical rope) are casual and coastal—and oh-so-tempting for that late afternoon post-beach snooze.
Elizabeth Burns is a lifelong New Englander and avid gardener, but when she purchased this Santa Barbara cottage, she traded in familiar lush lawns and perennials for a yard of primarily hardscape and succulents. “I had to learn a lot of new lessons, but I love that although it’s a year-round garden, it’s not a full-time job like it was during peak months back east,” Burns says. Relocating means embracing the coastal landscape you’re gifted—doing so will not only create harmony with the home’s surroundings but will result in lot less maintenance over time.
Pump Up Your Palette With a Single Surprise
Earthy shades are mainstays outdoors, particularly when your landscape is the wild, rugged foliage of Maui, like this cottage. But stick exclusively with deep greens and natural wood and you run the risk of falling a little flat. A quick solution? A single pop of color, preferably one that draws from one of Mother Nature’s more vibrant shades (think sunshine yellow or the pink-coral of a sunset).
Step Up Your Surface Space
“Two things to make sure you have plenty of are seating and surfaces—spots for people to set drinks and snacks,” says Savannah architect Eric Brown, who designed our 2016 Outdoor Oasis in Beaufort, South Carolina. Multifunctional surfaces—like the surround of a fire pit, built-in seating, or even garden stools—are smart to have, especially if you plan on hosting large gatherings.
Earn Your Stripes
Pattern can add a playful touch to a porch or patio, and there’s no other one that’s as foolproof as the classic cabana stripe. The motif brings to mind beach breezes, long summer days, and resort pools, and while it graces everything from swimsuits to wallpaper, we especially love it on outdoor curtains or seating. This outdoor “sofa” is actually crafted of concrete and painted with green stripes for a fun and unexpected twist. "We needed something that marked the boundary of the pool area," says designer Amanda Lindroth. "Landscaping was the obvious answer, and I thought, 'Wait, let's do something more fun!'"
Play it Cool
It may seem impractical in the summer months to lounge anywhere that’s AC-deprived. But this outdoor living room is about as equipped as any to stand up to warm temps and humidity, thanks to its high ceilings and louvered shutters that allow beach breezes to pass through.
Vary Your Lighting
Creating the perfect dinner party ambience takes a bit of trial and error, but one thing you can count on? You’re going to need more than one light source. The party-ready alfresco dining area of this Nantucket cottage pairs mod iron sconces with two large, movable lanterns to keep the space feeling cozy. “The resulting ambient light is charming, especially when you add candles,” says designer Lee Ann Thornton.
Don't Forget the Accessories
Outdoor rooms are just as important as their indoor counterparts, especially on the coast. So approach the design just as you would the rest of your home. Things like area rugs, throw pillows, artwork, and lamps can—and should—be used. If you’re worried about wear from the weather, keep a storage chest on your patio and stow away your delicates (breakables or anything that might mildew) when not in use.
Mirror the Landscape
If you’re not quite sure how to approach the hunt for outdoor-friendly artwork, consider hanging a mirror instead. Outdoors, mirrors work wonders by making a small outdoor room feel much larger and reflecting the picture-perfect landscape. Here, designer Tim Clarke made an alfresco fireplace feel indoors-inspired with a driftwood mantle and mirror frame.
Create a Living Wall
Anyone who has a home on the beach might know this conundrum: We all want to peer out at the views yet we don’t want others peering right back at us. While walls and fences would feel too restricting, greenery provides just the right amount of privacy. At this Bahamian getaway, purple ruellia, tropical grasses, and tall palms create a natural border between the home and the beach.
Soften Your Landing
The secret to cozying up even the tiniest of nooks? Plenty of outdoor-friendly pillows. These plush accessories make an armchair more inviting, a couch cozier, and a built-in concrete bench look like the dreamiest spot in the world to spend an afternoon. They’re also the easiest ways to bring color, texture, and fun little details—like tassels—into your décor. And if you tire of something? They’re also the cheapest to swap out.
Design From the Outside In
Entertaining spaces shouldn’t be limited by their interior (or exterior) square footage. Instead, make the most of both by blurring the lines between the indoors and out. Consider installing doors that are designed to remain open when the weather permits, and go a step further by continuing your outdoor flooring choice throughout the ground floor for a flow that feels seamless. (This Mexican hideaway uses an indigenous sun-washed stone inside and out.) Bonus: You can worry less about post-beach messes when your floors are outdoor-strong.
Say Goodbye to Fair-Weather Furniture
If you want your outdoor décor to hang in for the long haul, pay close attention to your materials, says designer Meg Braff. “I recommend sticking with tropical hardwoods like teak that can be left outdoors year-round and are heavy enough to stay put during wind and storms.” In our Mahogany Bay Village showhouse in Belize, designer Amanda Lindroth paired solid teak chairs with lighter wicker pieces for a nice balance of weight.
Dial Up Your Texture
Get inspired by the great outdoors by incorporating multiple textures into your décor. Wicker and seagrass are beach house staples (indoors and out) but consider incorporating a wild card as well. This rooftop deck in Alys Beach kept a neutral palette so its unique mix of materials could shine: Bleached concrete pavers (a practical choice for a sun-soaked space because of its cooling qualities) pair with a bleached teak coffee table and coral rock planters for a look that feels cool and collected.
Go For Statement Greens
Every porch, patio, and balcony should include not-so-subtle nods to the neighboring landscape—meaning: plants. Greenery brings life, color, and art to every space and is essential in outdoor décor. But among the endless array of plant varieties, we love this simple set-it-and-forget-it tip that makes a big impact: Choose a single stem (or pair of stems) from a large-leaf plant like a palm frond or monstera leaf (pro tip: go faux!) for a look that’s modern and beachy.
Outfit an Outdoor Shower
At the beach, outdoor showers are one of those things that you wonder how you lived without once you have it. Not only are they practical, particularly with kids and dogs around, they’re also a great value, starting at less than $1,000 for a basic installation. If you choose a full-on enclosure, make sure to build something that matches the exterior of the house for cohesion. Or, save money and opt for a secluded nook on a side of the home with no enclosure, like at this Bahamian home. A showerhead and paved platform, garden stool, and hooks for hanging towels outfit the space simply and efficiently.
Create Cozy Nooks
Make a sprawling backyard more approachable by breaking the space up into several hangout areas. A paved patio is a practical place for things like an outdoor kitchen and dining area, where you want to be able to access the indoors with ease. But smaller conversation areas such as sun decks, fire pits, and even tiki bars can spread out into the lawn or (better yet) sand, creating more intimate spaces for guests to congregate.