Saturday, September 13, 2014

Interior design goes exterior

Stacey Wiedower -

We’re moving from the heat of summer into fall’s cooling down period, which means barbecues and tailgates, fall parties and porch sunsets. In my house, our favorite way to say goodbye to summer is brunch on the back patio.

The South has always had a grand tradition of outdoor entertaining, but today it seems like more people are taking the concept to a new level — meaning “interior design” isn’t limited to a room’s four walls.

Often these days when skimming through magazines and checking out houses in person, I’m noticing backyard oases that look a lot like indoor spaces. That’s due in part to the burgeoning world of outdoor fabrics; today’s consumers have easy access to rugs, pillows, curtains and cushions that are fade-resistant, waterproof and generally built to last.

Not only do these materials withstand the elements better than in decades past, they’re available in a wide range of patterns, colors and textures. A “velvet” sofa on the patio? It’s not unheard of with today’s resources. No matter your style, you can probably find products that can carry your look from your living room to your backyard.

That’s good news for anybody who’s feeling cramped in their home’s square footage. It’s also easier on the budget to expand a patio or decorate an outdoor space than it is to add on or build up.

I’ve heard more homeowners, too, say that being in their outdoor rooms feels “like being on vacation” or at a resort. This makes sense, since the touchy economy in recent years has caused many people to cut back on actual travel. It’s another reason we’re doing more entertaining at home.

“Southern hospitality is coming back,” said Melinda Keyte, a designer and sales representative with Jack Wills Outdoor Living in Cordova. “People are doing a lot more outdoor entertaining, and something really big right now is outdoor kitchen spaces.”

Instead of cooking the side dishes indoors and hauling them out to the patio to join what ever is coming off the grill, people want to do the prep work outside. It mimics an indoor trend, if you think about it — kitchens are now open to a home’s living spaces, so the cook doesn’t have to feel cut off from the activity of the house.

Not everybody has the time, desire or budget to install a full-fledged second kitchen in the backyard, but even small touches can go a long way toward turning an outdoor space into a comfy room to hang out in. Here are Keyte’s tips for enjoying your own little plot of the great outdoors:

Buy furniture that will last. Keyte said well-made outdoor furniture can last as long as 25 years. Though the upfront cost of these pieces is high, their durability offers savings in the long run. “If you look at the bigger picture instead of the immediate here and now, you’re saving probably thousands of dollars down the line because you’re not having to invest in the same thing over and over again.”

On that note, avoid trends when buying big items. Keyte advised going with neutral colors and patterns on bigger pieces like outdoor sofas and chairs. “Then really spruce it up season to season by pillows,” she said. Besides, these days neutrals are stylish themselves. “Gray, beige, cream — those colors are very popular right now, very trendy,” Keyte said.

If you build a kitchen outside, think function. If you want to prepare and enjoy full meals outdoors, a few key elements are needed to keep you from constantly trekking from patio to house. Keyte recommends a grill, refrigerator, side burner and trash and storage centers. “A sink is optional,” she added. “It’s good to have, but it’s a splurge because you have to run a water line.”

Consider a gas fire pit. Built-in, gas-burning fire pits are becoming more popular among homeowners who are tired of cleaning up ashes and soot. Keyte said outdoor furnishings have expanded to include tables with fire pits built right in. “They double as a table, a fire pit, a footstool,” she said.

Now that’s backyard luxury. Who’s ready for some cooler temps?

Stacey Wiedower is a Memphis-based freelance interior design writer. Contact her at

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