Do you want to create a welcoming outdoor space, one that you want to return to again and again? This guide will walk you through the steps to plan your outdoor space, make design choices that reflect your style, and shop for patio furniture.
Start with what you want from your outdoor space
A key to creating the perfect outdoor space is to ask yourself what you want from it. Will it be a quiet retreat where you can relax and recharge? Do you want your backyard to be the gathering spot for extended family and friends? Are you thrilled by the city skyline and want to capture the views from your balcony?
Next, pinpoint how you want to use your space. Do you want a spot for a couple of plush chairs to settle into with a glass of wine and a good book? A large dining table for outdoor dinner parties and late-night snacks and a card game with the neighbors? A fire pit for s'mores with your grandchildren?
Identifying what you want from your space and how you plan to use it will make it easier to decide on and prioritize patio furniture and accessories. Use the information to create a wish list of outdoor furniture and accessories, and note the number of people you want to host in your backyard so you can be sure to have enough seating for everyone.
Map your outdoor spaces
Your next step to creating your outdoor space is to sketch out a dimensional map.
Get out your tape measure and layout your spaces. Draw your patio, deck, pool area and any backyard structures to scale on grid paper or use a design program. This overhead view will help you see the area and define zones, especially helpful if you have a large outdoor space.
Note the natural flow of traffic through the space and start to plan which types of furniture (seating, dining, fire pits and others) suit each area. Also look at how your patio furniture can help move people from one outdoor space to the next. For example, a sofa at an angle instead of lined against an exterior wall may complement a walkway and create a focal point.
Look at your structures and focal points to make sure you're positioning your furniture well and thinking through your needs. For example:
- A seating wall makes a natural gathering spot. Consider keeping some outdoor poufs or small chairs handy to create a relaxed, casual setting.
- A small balcony that overlooks a great city skyline calls for orienting your furniture so you and your guests can drink in the view.
- Shade can be at a premium during warmer months. If you're lucky enough to have a shade tree, think about furniture that can move out onto the lawn when temperatures soar. Otherwise, plan for an umbrella or other shade structure.
- Look for quick-drying materials around a swimming pool.
Don't forget to check your plan from inside your home. You'll want your outdoor space to look great from there, too.
How to choose color
Color is personal. And just like there are many colors to choose from, there are many ways to pull together a color scheme. Some tried-and-true strategies from home designers:
- Create a cohesive look that draws you outdoors by bringing one color from the inside of your home to your outdoor spaces. Your outdoor space will feel like an extension and make your space look bigger.
- Starting with the color you plan to repeat, build a color palette. Take your home's exterior into consideration so they complement each other.
- Try the 60-30-10 rule. One color makes up 60 percent of the space (think large items like a sofa), a second color makes up 30 percent (such as side chairs or an outdoor rug), and the third color makes up 10 percent (accessories like throw pillows and planters). This keeps everything balanced.
BONUS TIP: Feel free to experiment with bold, bright colors or fun, funky prints in your accessories. Accessories are often the least expensive items, so it’s easy to change your look by changing your accessories.
- Forget the rules and let your color reflect you. If you want all white or hot, tropical colors, go for it. It's your home! And as long as it truly reflects who you are and makes you happy, others will appreciate it.
More insider tips:
- It's okay to pair patterns you love, especially classic ones. For example, bright navy stripes pair well with large, green leaf prints.
- It's okay to use bold, vibrant colors. Natural light and big spaces tend to tone them down.
- It's okay if you're overwhelmed! This is where a good patio furniture specialist can help. When customers admit to us they're afraid of color, we start with what they are comfortable with. We then offer ideas and options, and together come up with a design plan.
Find your (furniture) Style
If you aren't sure which furniture style you want, gather ideas from websites and visit patio furniture stores. Note the styles and colors that draw your eye and reflect your vision for your outdoor space. Have photos of your deck, patio, pool area, garden and other spaces on hand to help you envision how the furniture will look.
It's okay to experiment with different styles, especially in smaller doses. If your home is sleek and modern, some boho accent pieces may be just what's needed to keep it from looking cold. An ornate, traditional home may benefit from some transitional pieces to keep it from looking too stuffy. The key word is balance. A good outdoor furniture store will have designers on staff to help you.
Choose your outdoor furniture: 5 things to ask the store
Outdoor furniture that is long-lasting is an investment. Below are five questions (and a few tips) to help you in your search.
1. How will this patio furniture hold up to the weather?
Your patio furniture is going to live outdoors. It needs to handle whatever Mother Nature throws at it: rain, snow, wind, sea salt, and extreme heat and cold.
Look for furniture that’s well constructed and comes with a warranty for the frame and finish. You want a warranty that covers the construction and the finish of the patio furniture for more than two years.
2. Will this fabric fade or rot?
Good outdoor fabric brands are UV and water resistant and come with a minimum one-year warranty. Look for cushions in easy-to-clean fabrics that will retain their color. We recommend 100% solution dyed acrylics for because they are durable, resist fading, and are easy to clean and maintain.
3. How can I get service if I need it?
Quality outdoor furniture will come with a warranty for the frame, finish and fabric. Find a retailer who can help you should you have an issue. Reputable retailers will help you with a warranty claim.
4. How do I clean and maintain my patio furniture to keep it looking nice?
Your patio furniture should need no more than some mild soap and water to keep it looking new. Cushions with quality outdoor fabrics can be cleaned with a mild soap in water and can take some bleach if needed.
5. Can I add matching pieces in the future?
In other words, will I ever see this brand and design again?
Maybe you’ll expand your patio and have more space. Maybe you’re managing your budget by buying a few pieces of patio furniture at a time. Maybe you'll host an important family event and need extra seating. Whatever the reason, you want to be able to add to your patio set when you’re ready.
BONUS TIP: Ask your sales associate about the brand you're considering. How long have they been in business? How often do they change designs? Is the design or fabric slated to be phased out? This will give you an idea of how long you have to add to your patio set.
Choose your frame material
Aluminum. One of the most versatile materials for patio furniture frames. It’s rust proof, durable, can be made into a variety of shapes, and can be finished in a range of colors and textures. It's also low maintenance and easy to clean. Look for furniture that's powder coated for a durable finish, and has smoothly welded joints.
Wood. Teak and Ipe (pronounced ee-pay) are warm, natural and beautiful. Look for furniture made from the heartwood -- it will be more expensive but it also tends to be stronger and more durable.
Teak has been the wood of choice for patio furniture for more than 100 years. Most plantation teak is grown and harvested in Indonesia. Its golden hue works with everything from a modern aesthetic to a traditional garden setting.
Ipe is incredibly durable -- in fact, the Coney Island boardwalk in New York City is constructed of Ipe. It also has the same class 1 fire rating as concrete and steel. Harvested in Central and South America, it boasts a rich, chocolate brown hue. Jensen Outdoor is the leading Ipe patio furniture manufacturer.
Teak and Ipe will naturally silver in the sun but can be brought back to its original color with some simple maintenance. Look for 100% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification to know the furniture is harvested with environmentally sound methods that benefit the communities living around the forest.
Wrought iron. Heavy and strong, wrought iron furniture is a great solution for spaces that have high winds. Wrought iron is malleable and lends itself to hammering and bending into elaborate shapes. Look for garden furniture that's powder coated for a durable, long-lasting finish. Inspect your furniture annually for rust and treat any spots right away.
All-weather woven. Crafted to look just like natural wicker but made with long-lasting man-made materials, all-weather woven patio furniture is a great choice for creating a natural setting. It comes in a range of textures, styles and finishes, from traditional patio sets in deep, rich brown, modern sets in cool gray, or coastal styles in natural tones. It's also easy to clean and maintain. Look for woven furniture that's built on durable aluminum frames. The weave should be closely woven with no frayed edges or corners.
HDPE (high-density polyethylene). Quality furniture made with HDPE is durable and will look great in your backyard for years. It resists fading, cracking and chipping. It also requires little to no maintenance -- just a quick wash with the garden hose and you're good to go.
POLYWOOD is a leader in sustainable HDPE patio furniture. Each piece is made from post-consumer plastic crafted into elegant and comfortable patio furniture. They are one of the few companies with an on-site recycling center, and their own HDPE lumber is recyclable. Scraps from the production floor go to the recycling plant to be reground, extruded and made back into HDPE lumber.
Create your perfect environment
Once you have your furniture and layout determined, it's time to think about accessories that make your outdoors as comfortable as your indoor space.
Shade. Outdoor patio umbrellas are an important accessory for any outdoor space. Along with adding color and interest, they reduce the sun’s UV rays and help to keep you cool. Plus, they signal to family and friends that you care for their comfort and have created a welcoming gathering spot. Look for an umbrella that has an easy-to-use tilt function, is large enough to shade your furniture, and has quality materials and construction.
For more tips, read The Secret to Buying the Perfect Patio Umbrella
Lighting. From string lights to lanterns, outdoor lighting makes your patio or deck safer to navigate after dark and creates ambience. Allsop makes solar and electric lanterns wrapped with Tyvec, the same all-weather material used to wrap houses in home construction. The lanterns are lightweight enough to hang from an umbrella, deck roof or tree branch.
Heaters. Extend your outdoor season with an overhead infrared heater or a fire pit table.
An overhead infrared heater will keep your friends and family warm and be up and out of the way, freeing up floor space.
Shop infrared heaters
A fire pit table comes in many shapes and sizes for lounging, dining and enjoying drinks. Look for one that fits your design and space.
Sound. An outdoor speaker system lets friends and family groove to the music at your get-togethers and makes sure you never miss a moment of the big game. Sonance offers an in-ground sound system that controls the sound dispersion -- meaning awesome sound for you that won't bother the neighbors.
Well-tuned wind chimes create a symphony on every breeze. The harmonious tones are great for a moment of calm as you sit with a cup of tea and enjoy a good book.
Add personality with accessories
An outdoor rug is an easy way to show your design personality since they come in a wide range of colors and textures, from go-with-everything neutrals to eye-popping patterns to classic colors and designs.
These decorative and functional accessories help define your outdoor space and make it look finished while pulling your colors together. If you're unsure of which outdoor rug to buy, look for a shape that complements your patio furniture - for example, a round rug with a curved sofa or a rectangle rug with a long dining table. If you have a separate lounge and dining area, you can create a cohesive look with matching rugs. Be sure to only purchase outdoor rugs that are all-weather, pet-friendly, and mold resistant.
Just like an outdoor rug, throw pillows help bring color and texture to your deck or patio. They also provide support and make your space more comfortable and inviting. Poufs and upholstered stools can do double-duty as a side table or an extra seat. Look for outdoor pillows made with durable fabrics that are water-repellant and designed to resist mildew, fading, chlorine and stains.
Finally, complete your outdoor room with plants in decorative planters, wall decor, and a beverage station or bar cart.
4 Mistakes to the perfect outdoor room
Buying individual pieces that are too large or too small.
Furniture that's too large will make the space feel cramped and may make it awkward to move around. A patio set that's too small will look lost in the space.
Buying low-quality furniture.
It's difficult to repair and often ends up in the landfill. It ends up being more expensive in the long run because it has to be replaced.
Not taking advantage of your best views.
Be sure to situate your main set of furniture -- dining or lounge -- so that you capture them.
Letting someone talk you out of a color you love.
If you really want a white patio set but have a big, muddy dog, look for easy-to-clean HDPE furniture like POLYWOOD.
Why fit in when you were born to stand out?
Love your outdoor space!