As a young married couple, my husband and I were thrilled to buy our first house. It was a small Cape style house with a view of distant mountains.
Less thrilling to us, it came with an unsightly above-ground pool which we planned to dismantle. However, having purchased the house in the Fall, by the time summer arrived we had grown accustomed to our pool — the floating deck supported by pressure treated lumber pilings and the rumpled looking plastic liner. So, before we scrapped it, we decided to give it a try; we topped it off with water and turned on the filter which actually worked (amazing considering our inexperience).
After our first dip, we were hooked. Soon we had floating rafts, deck chairs, a hibachi, an ice chest and even a collection of container plantings all artfully arranged on our miniscule pool deck. Neighbors showed up bringing potato salad and hotdogs and the parties began. I look back fondly on my first "Outdoor Living Room" — what it lacked in space and beauty was more than compensated for by the exuberance of spirit it engendered.
Never underestimate the value of a pool — or indeed any kind of water feature. Water has this uncanny attraction for us humans — just as we want our fireplace in the family room for the dark winter months, we want the sparkling presence of water for the summer. Water seems to be endlessly fascinating for us — if we don’t actually want to get in the water we want to sit by it, watch others frolic in it, see and listen to it. So, if you are planning an outdoor living space, find a way to include water — if you are lucky enough to have a pool, great! Otherwise try a fish pond, a fountain, a hot tub, or maybe just a kiddie pool.
Fully equipped outdoor kitchens are beginning to rival indoor kitchens in complexity of design and choices of appliances. Huge and complicated outdoor grills are installed in stone counters along with sinks, refrigerators, and icemakers. If you have the resources to build and maintain an extra kitchen — go for it; this kind of set-up is fabulous for parties. Personally I prefer to keep things simple; a gas grill and an ice chest works best for most households. For a party — set up two tables — one for the bar and one for the food. Dress them beautifully — use the lace tablecloths and the silver wine buckets, fresh cut flowers, and elegant serving dishes. It’s surprising how well it works with paper plates and plastic cutlery.
If you have the space, why not have fun with your outdoor furniture — how about a round chaise or a double chaise? Put a bench under an arbor and train a vine over it to create a special romantic spot; put up a big double swing, a double hammock, or an oversized rocker.
Just in the last few years, fabric houses have come up with fun and colorful 100% acrylic outdoor fabrics. Scalamandre has polka dots, frogs and turtles; Schumacher shows vivid stripes and plaids for cushions and sheer fabrics for outdoor curtain effects; Beacon Hill has an overscale Sunflower design that feels like chenille! There is a lot to choose from.
Plants and Architecture
Plants and architectural elements bring beauty and definition to your outdoor space. Build a sitting wall around your patio and you both define the space and make it useful. Build a pergola, buy an arbor or an iron canopy — create some sense of enclosure in part of your outdoor room.
Plant a shade tree if you need one. Container plantings are a great way to add color to any outdoor space and containers themselves can create borders, fill up empty corners or be spectacular focal points.
Even though it’s mid-summer, it’s not a bad time to start planning your outdoor space. And it’s a good time to pick up deals on outdoor furniture and equipment. You might be lucky enough to enjoy it all before the season closes but if not, you’ll be glad to have it for next summer.
Barbara Sternau is an Interior Designer with offices at
37 Main St., Tarrytown, NY