creating an outdoor room

by Amy Azzarito

Kevin O’Shea has spent a lot of time lately designing outdoor spaces. He recently finished the Sky Terrace at the Hudson Hotel, and he’s also designed the outdoor waiting lounge for the Agua Spa at the Mondrian Scottsdale. Kevin is a firm believer in using your outdoor space as an extension of your indoor living space. His finds have me dreaming of dinner under the stars. Unfortunately, I have a terrace-less reality in Brooklyn. Dinner on the fire escape, anyone?  OK, Kevin is the expert here, so I’m going to let him take it away! Thanks, Kevin! (And don’t miss the sneak peek of Kevin’s New York City home.)

The key to creating a unique environment outside is to approach the exterior spaces of your home in the same way you created your interiors. One should consider style, function, lighting and mood, and your outdoor room should be an extension of the aesthetics within your home. Retailers have vastly improved the quality and variety of outdoor goods being sold over recent years, which makes it easy to put together an outdoor room that not only fits your own aesthetics but can be tailored to fit any space and budget. This year, don’t settle for the first patio set you see at the hardware store; instead, with a little creative thought, you can create a dynamic outdoor space that reflects your unique tastes and style.

Keep it eclectic; don’t match all of your outdoor furniture. Rather, buy individual pieces from many sources to create a unique arrangement that reflects your own style. Mix in thrift store finds that you coat in outdoor spray paint for a really unexpected addition to your outdoor room that is also friendly on your wallet. I usually recommend splurging a bit on the items you use the most (sofa, dining table, etc.), and then pairing those with the funkier spray-painted tag-sale finds that may only last a season or two but allow you to refresh your space from year to year.

Image above: 1. Ceramic Books, $159.60; 2. Ceramic Buddha Fountain, $129.95; 3. Right Cornice, $299.95; 4. Perch Planter, $119.99; 5. Folding Metal Chairs, $198; 6. Calypso Double Glass Hurricane, $59; 7. IKEA Outdoor Folding Table, $19.99; 8. Street Fair String Lights, $59; 9. Chinese Garden Stool, $129; 10. Diamond Kilim Indoor/Outdoor Rug, $49–$199

There are four more styles and roundups after the jump….

Think about how you intend to use the space and then buy accordingly. For example, if you only use the space in the evening, you don’t need an umbrella, and if you don’t intend to serve meals outside, you don’t need a table. Focus on how you like to entertain, and make sure all of your furniture and accessories support that. Because you are building your room item by item, you are not forced into the prepackaged furniture sets that often have pieces you end up not needing.

Image above: 1. Dexter Outdoor Coffee Table, $254; 2. Doily Coaster, $6; 3. Tiered Metal Stand, $179; 4. Duet Seat, $2,600; 5. Round Market Umbrella, $99–$179; 6. All-weather Rug, $207; 7. Royce Lighting, $146.86; 8. Thomasville Southpointe Seating, $399; 9. PG Tips Tea, $12.11; 10. Tea Set, $150; 11. Outdoor Pillow Covers, $46–$62; 12. Reclaimed Wood Barrel Planters, $99–$179

A mix of electric lighting and candlelight is important to creating a warm ambiance in your outdoor room. I love to use outdoor lamps that look just like the lamps in your home; they are made to withstand wet weather conditions (if you search “outdoor lamp” online, many options will come up). String lights are another great option, and there are so many varieties of summer-themed strands now available that your patio lighting won’t look like Christmas leftovers. For the candlelight, make sure your flames are protected from the wind. Put your candles into lanterns or hurricanes and mix up the height — put some on the ground, some on tables and, if possible, hang some from hooks or branches above.

Image above: 1. Roseto Bench, $849.15; 2. Aged Nursery Pots, $20–$42; 3. Reclaimed Kasbah Rug $49-125 4. Moroccan Jewel Lantern, $98; 5. Banda Armchair, $298; 6. Sea Striped Tumbler, $8; 7. Saraha Throw Pillow, $129; 8. Hanging Wire Lanterns $69 9. Floor Cushion, $75; 10. Frog Rain-Drum Accent Table, $499; 11. Butter Churn Vessel, $44

Decorative accessories and artwork are what make any interior room successful, and the same can apply outdoors. Put inexpensive posters in thrift store frames and hang them on a vine-covered trellis or exterior wall for some added whimsy. Rethink the standard flowerpot, and instead, plant your flowers in unique vessels like old teapots, wooden crates or, my personal favorite, old drawers.

Image above: 1. Lighthouse Outdoor Torch, $90–$230; 2. Dexter Outdoor Bench, $279; 3. Rectangular Dining Table, $509.15; 4. Rectangular Umbrella, $199; 5. White Tray Table, $49.95; 6. Cargo Pendant String Light, $69; 7. Steel Wire Chair, $398; 8. Water Glass, $34.80; 9. Purple Rug, $50–$400, 10. Lyle Side Chair, $199; 11. Ladies-in-Waiting Dinner Plates, $24


If space is limited, keep it flexible. Your furniture should pull double duty — use stools as extra seating or small tables. Lacquer trays are a great way to serve dinner if you don’t have room for a table; your guests can set the trays on their laps and enjoy their meals.

Most importantly, have fun and challenge yourself. Look around your home, take the elements that make you the happiest and figure out ways to interpret those for the outdoors. You will never look at that boring five-piece patio set at the hardware store the same again.

To get those creative juices flowing, I have put together a few inspiring collections of some of my favorite outdoor products currently available online. Enjoy!

Image above: 1. Madame Tallien Bust $106 2. Mexican Glass DOF Amber Rim, $6.45; 3. Side Table, $129; 4. Faux Bois Rug, $149; 5. Trumpet Tuteur, $188; 6. Ceramic Lantern, $19.95–$24.95; 7. Wicker Sofa, $79.99–$1,499.00; 8. Terracotta Urn, $178; 9. Hanging Lanterns, $12; 10. Oslo Bowl, $59.95; 11. Nest Chair, $399

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  • The Wicker Sofa looks awesome and comfortable. I think metal might be more worry free but the folding chair in the first ensemble looks great but I worry it might be kinda uncomfy.

  • This’ll definitely prove helpful! My dad just moved to an apartment on the Upper West Side, and lucked into a first-floor place with a patio. He’s got no idea what to do with it, but this post is a great start.

  • Hey! Just wanted to let you know that I love everything about the new site design EXCEPT for the huge banner ad at the top. It would be perfect if it weren’t for that!

    Also loving the outdoor room looks. That wicker chair in the second set is adorable!

  • Oh goodness, these images are beautiful. I wish I had an outside space of my own to do this – someday someday and this’ll be my inspiration. :)

  • I love all these ideas . . . we are so lucky to have a big verandah looking out at our garden and we have been shockingly lazy about doing anything interesting with it. Now, fully inspired!

    And I second the objection to the banner ad on the top of the home page – so distracting, and planted RIGHT ON TOP of the beautiful new logo. Too sad! On principle, I ignore the ad (whatever it is selling, I’m not buying).

  • This is such a great round up! I so miss having a balcony… although I am tempted to buy one of these outdoor rugs for our living room {our cats claw the crap out of our current rug} something more durable would be nice!

  • Dear Design Sponge,

    I’m wondering if you read minds, because whatever I suddenly become interested in ALWAYS appears on your blog. It’s been this way since I started following about a year ago. Telepathic abilities or not, your posts are always insightful and very inspiring.


  • Your terrace is certainly space restricted making it difficult. Yet, the wicker chairs and flowers add charm to the space. Enjoy it!

  • Thank you! I’m getting my very first (and very TEENY) backyard in a couple of months and I plan to spend every possible moment soaking up the fresh air. I want my outdoors to be just as much (if not more) a part of my home as the indoors. I love the Modern Morocco look. What is the opinion on hammocks?

  • Thanks so much for this, our landlord is building us a deck and I can’t wait to decorate it. I especially appreciate the rugs, I’ve been looking for weeks and hating everything I see.

  • Love, love, love this post. It has inspired me to get back to work on my own front porch to create a space we can enjoy on summer evenings, rather than sitting in front of the TV!

  • We have a roof deck we love using but no space for storing furniture, pillows, etc. through the winter. So whatever furniture we put up there has to be able to withstand the elements year-round. Right now that means a sturdy wooden table with several layers of deck varnish and plastic chairs (alas). I’d love to hear more about furniture that won’t rust or otherwise disintegrate through the winter — but that won’t break the bank, either.

  • We fashioned our outdoor space (chairs, table, rug, 3 to 4 pots and 5 plants) for less than the price of your normal bog box store patio set. We have great bones, but I’m grateful for this post so now I can get pretty accent pieces! Being in Tennessee, most of our outdoor living happens in the evening once the humidity (and the cicadas) have died down.

  • When we got back from our trip to France I wanted a bistro table asap. We bought that Ikea folding table and I love it. It also looks great as a little plant stand like in the photo above!

  • These are spectacular combinations and mood boards! Thanks for making them and sharing them with us. Im a gardener myself, but I love “help”with the decorations aspects of patio gardening.

  • Congratulations on the new look of designsponge, like it very much, specially the color range and fonts. you all must be very happy to have it up and running after being waiting for so long…
    Love this outdoors ideas, I am hoping weather stay stable in London so I can make my garden terrace to look a it nicer, unfortunately u never know when it is going to rain next…

  • I love the patio and the red here and there. May I also say I love the new format of the blog. At first it threw me off but it was the second blog that day that had changed on me and I was not ready for it. I really love the days laid out below the main content. Awesome.

  • I love the first space. I had a patio about that size and was able to fit a lounger, a love seat and a table and have a crazy garden.


    Now I live in the city and have a patio that is half the size but my love is gardening and I chose that over lounging. Because it an L-shaped patio, taking pictures is quite difficult:

  • These are great ideas for set ups. I particularly like the English Garden. Its so classy and romantic. I have started my patio area revamp but so far all I have are the outdoor dining chairs I found on this site. In case anyone is interested, I found a really good selection here. Thanks for the design ideas! Hope to read more soon.

    outdoor dining chairs

  • Love this! Fabulous ideas really! Along with the small space=big possibilities, I would suggest a leather storage ottoman. I LOVE mine. And you can get it in sooo many different colors. They’re convenient and look nice. :) I think anyway.

  • These are all really great ideas! I love spring because you can be so creative with your colors! One thing that my neighbor did that I really liked was that she hung some flour sack towels on the walls. They looked great, and you could use them if you got your hands wet and were coming outside.

  • I so love this look!!! I’ve been wanting to do something like this for years but I didn’t know where to begin, Absolutely beautiful! Great job and than you for the inspiration!!!!