But for many people, the idea of decorating their outdoor space can be daunting, especially if they have a smaller space or budget. But I know from experience that even my most simple decorating tips will help transform your outdoor space into your own private oasis.
If you’re ready to turn your backyard into a paradise that matches your unique style, listen in. I’m giving you the exact steps I follow to design outdoor spaces for my clients and the tips I use to make my own backyard feel like summer vacation year-round. You’ll learn which fabrics to opt for, why accessories are the icing on the cake, and how to create your own little slice of heaven at home.
You’re listening to episode four of the Decorate Like A Design Boss podcast. On today’s episode, we’ll be talking about how to create an outdoor oasis.
Welcome to Decorate like a Design Boss, a podcast for design lovers who want to create beautiful spaces in their very own homes. My name is Kimberly Grigg and I’m a professional interior designer who teaches design lovers like yourselves how to decorate. And when I say decorate, I mean decorate like a design boss. If you’re ready to create a space that your family loves and your neighbors can’t stop raving about, well, buckle up honey because it’s time to design.
Well hello there design lovers. I absolutely adore spring and summer. It’s here, and I’m over here doing the big old happy jig as I refresh my own outdoor oasis. I’m busy decluttering, pruning, getting rid of dead and dead looking plant material.
Secretly I’m obsessed with my pressure washer. I bought a heavy duty one last year, and I literally taught myself—thank you Google—how to use it. Pressure washing for me is right up there with my favorite guilty pleasure. It’s powerful, but it’s effective. I love the way my outdoor spaces sparkle and shine after just a few hours of power washing.
I recommend that when you start getting your outdoor setting ready for the season or if you’re just starting to decorate it for the first time, then consider the same. Declutter, get rid of the old and the ugly, and spit shine your space. Well, that is with a pressure washer. Whether you hire a pro or you do it yourself like I did, it’s important to get everything ready so that you can have a lovely blank canvas from which to start.
All right. Well, I believe that creating a lovely space in your great outdoors is a wonderfully, wonderfully rewarding prospective. I assure you when you can go outside and be in love with your own outdoor space, you gain so many benefits. Like convening with nature, pure joy and relaxation, being able to have an extension of your home that invites entertaining whether it’s specifically just for you or neighbors or family and friends.
So how do you turn your outdoor space into an environment that is both beautiful, functional, and one that truly makes sure that you have a space that becomes that little slice of heaven? Your own oasis. Well, let’s get started, and I’ll tell you just how to do that.
So when approaching decorating any room, and this goes for your outdoor rooms as well. I like to do exactly what I would do if I were designing a room inside of my home or inside of the home for a client. I start first with your very own personal design DNA. This is the part of design where you discover, know, and understand who you are so that you can design spaces that resonate and that make you happy.
If you want to know more about discovering your own design DNA, well that’s easy. You’ll just want to go back and listen to episodes one, two, and three so that you can be in touch with yours. Knowing and understanding your design DNA is critical in the design process of any space. It is equally as important when designing your outdoor rooms. So once you’re in tune with your design DNA, then we can determine how the space needs to function.
Do you need an outdoor space where you can sit and ponder? Does your space need to encompass an activity such as swimming or games or some other activity? Do you need outdoor dining? Do you need a hot tub? A jacuzzi? Sit down and literally make a list of everything that you want to do in the space. You’ll want to rank these ideas in order of importance.
So what if you have a tiny space? Or what if budget won’t allow you to have everything you want on your list? Well, that happens all the time. So I say no matter the size of the space, section off your outdoor space and create areas or zones or mini spaces in which to conduct the activities that you want to conduct.
If your budget won’t support things like that jacuzzi, well then put it into the plan. Then you will have incorporated it already into your schematic and save that for the time when your budget actually does allow. Don’t just disregard it. Put it on the ‘someday I will add it list’. Leave space for this or other parts of the project and tackle them as you can.
Next, you should determine the mood and the style that you want to create in the space. My personal style is inspired by hotel lobbies. If you want to know more about finding your own personal signature style, then make sure to listen to episode three which is all about cracking the code to your signature style. I think the most successful outdoor spaces are ones that are a real extension of your home and its décor.
For me, you go from my signature hotel lobby inspired spaces immediately out to the resort. Canopied cabanas and arbors are paired with bright cobalt blue and white resort stripes. Then they’re accented with hot pink, green, and white. It reminds me of a resort, and it works beautifully with this desire to create an extension of my indoor spaces.
If you can approach your space in this manner, then you’ll end up creating spaces that actually don’t have boundaries. They’ll feel so much larger, and they’ll feel so much more connected. It will also always be nice to open the door and flow from inside to outside and vice versa effortlessly. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to use the exact same elements that you have inside of your home, but you are going to treat it as if it’s another space that belongs to your home.
Now I want you to measure off your space and commit the dimensions to a piece of graph paper. One block of the graph paper equals one foot. Now you can make a graph paper template of the furniture that you’ve already chosen or will choose. I cut these little pieces out, and I use them as what I call furniture paper dolls.
If you’re not sure what furnishings you’ll be using, you can go over to a site that sells outdoor furniture and start selecting pieces that you think you might want to incorporate. Especially if they fit the mood, the function, and the style of the space. Cut these little furnishings out of your graph paper, and now you can move your paper doll furniture all around on your graph paper floor plan. This will help you achieve a good furniture arrangement.
If possible, try and find a good focal point. Something that you can focus on. If you happen to have a fire pit, well there you go. That can be your focal point. Then you can arrange your furniture around it. If you’re going to watch outdoor TV, well this also can become a focal point. You can use it as the centerpiece for placing your furniture. Trust me. It is so much easier to move these paper dolls around on a paper floor plan than to move them as an actual object. Plus you’ll be able to fit and place pieces that you already own. If you are purchasing, you’ll know exactly what to buy.
So once you know what pieces you need, based again on the mood, the style, and the function that you’re trying to create. Well, then you’re ready to shop and/or repurpose what you already have.
So let’s talk about the options in outdoor furnishings. If your style denotes wicker or rattan furniture, you’ll want to search for outdoor synthetic wickers. Be very careful and read the details including the fine print of the furnishings if you’re purchasing. If you’ve inherited a wicker set, I’m just going to warn you right up front. That will not withstand the elements over time. You could possibly use it in a covered sun porch area, but I don’t think many of those sets will last the elements of outside. Especially outside uncovered.
You will need to know specifically about the durability and the care of the items that you’re considering. You’ll want to address whether or not your furnishings will be under a covered structure, or will they be out in the open? If out in the open, know that you will need the most durable pieces you can acquire.
Then you’re going to have to decide how do you keep those pieces fresh and clean? Outdoor furnishings are not inexpensive. You’ll want to protect your investment. You can buy covers for your furniture which will help. I actually live in a very humid client. So, for me, that just produces mold and mildew. So I end up storing my outdoor cushions in a few of the winter months in an outdoor shed on the side of my house.
If your style denotes that you want an outdoor living room, well rest assured that the furniture manufacturers have been extremely sensitive to this feature. Many have added fully upholstered items to their lines. You can now purchase pieces that look just like your living room sofa but are made of materials and fabrics that will withstand the test of sun damage, fading, and of course all of the elements that will enter into the picture.
If this option is of interest to you, well you might want to consider checking out Bernhardt’s outdoor collection. Lee Furniture, Century has this kind of look. And a couple of other brands who have these types of products. It really makes for a beautiful setting.
If you live in a climate where there is a lot of rain, you might want to consider sling style furniture. Which is strappier and doesn’t have the additional cushions that require drying time and a good bit of upkeep. Tropicasual is a manufacturer of this type of furniture. What I love about this type of furniture, it’s very low maintenance and very durable. If you have a more minimalistic style going on within your home, well this kind of look would be perfect for you. The maintenance is a breeze.
So maybe you’re going for a wood or a teak look. There are plenty of options available here as well. I am especially drawn to a company called Uwharrie. This particular manufacturer also offers a lifetime warranty, which is extra nice.
So let’s talk a little bit about fabrics. You will want to use something called solution dyed acrylic fabrics. Now many of you just same, “Oh I want Sunbrella fabrics.” Well, actually Sunbrella is a brand. It’s not a type of fabric. Many people confuse this. Sunbrella, of course, does have solution dyed acrylics. But I just want you to be aware that there are some excellent products in this category, and they don’t have the name Sunbrella in them.
So what you want to look for is solution dyed acrylic. What this means is that the fabric is actually treated with a saving material at the fiber stage. So the fibers are actually dyed, and the fibers are actually treated so that they can withstand the elements before the fabric is ever woven. Now, unlike some other outdoor fabrics where the solution is just placed on top of the fabric once the fabric is actually made. That will hold up in a covered sun porch situation, but if you have blowing rains and open areas with blowing rains, they won’t last very long. So you do want to be wary of that.
I will say this. The upkeep of cushions and outdoor fabric can be really daunting. I like to treat mine once a month in the summer with a spray protector. I actually try to spray protect my cushion once a month every single month that I have them out. There’s a product by Fire Force that is a protector. You can get this from Amazon. Then Fire Force also makes a spray cleaner. I spray this cleaner once a week and try to keep the mildew down.
Our big enemy here is mildew and mold. Even though I’m in a hot climate, it’s not so much the sun fading that’s a problem. It’s the mold and the mildew and really the staining over time. If you keep up with this, it actually can be less of a chore. But I will tell you, you can get overwhelmed with cushion maintenance really, really quickly.
So you do want to consider this when you think about how you’re going to design your outdoor spaces. I, as I said, try to store my cushions in our side yard shed for a few months during the year, and that does seem to help some.
So in my own backyard, which is rather large, I have these wonderful seven inch deep cushions. They are very luxurious and very comfortable. They’re on all of the furniture. In fact, there are 57 of them. You might be wondering how I know that there are 57 cushions in my backyard. Well, when you have this many cushions, you may or may not be aware of the exact number, but you better darn believe I know. Here’s why.
One year I was having a Cinco de Mayo party at my house. I was expecting about 200 guests, and I was determined that I was going to host this party in my backyard instead of inside my house. Well, mainly because I had found the coolest and cutest giant flower cart that I wanted to use as a taco station. Well dang it, my goodness, it was so cute. It was worth it. So I decided to go with the outdoor plan even though the threat of rain was around 50%.
My husband kept warning me, but I really wanted to use that cart. My backyard was looking so pretty that year. So I went about setting everything up. At about 1:00 in the afternoon, it began to drizzle. I was fearful that it would become an all-out downpour. So I gathered up all of the cushions, and I put them into the storage shed. The rain was light and lasted only about 30 minutes. My cushions are the fast dry kind, but even so they take a good hour or more to fully dry. That is if they aren’t soaked all the way through.
So I then went about putting them back out and back into place. This happened three more times to me that day. During the course of that afternoon with varying degrees of light to heavy rain, you can darn bet that by the fourth time I was putting those darn cushions out I was counting their number. And I was cussing at the darn things before finally deciding to take all the furniture out of my sunroom and place it in the garage. I brought the cart in from outside and some of the outdoor furniture. The rest, as they say, is history.
I used the cart, and it was an amazing taco station. No, it wasn’t as cool as it would have been if it had been outside. But we made the best of it. It has since been a staple at many outdoor soirees. I’ll never forget hauling those cushions. Let’s just say those things were about the death of me. It was a very memorable event. Well, at least before my husband’s famous ‘rogeritas’ were served.
So there are a couple of additional pro ideas that I want to share with you that you can incorporate into your outdoor décor that I find to be a little unexpected and will give you a polished yet livable look. The first. Use thrift and junk store wooden furniture pieces. You definitely can use them outside because you can take them to a professional Line-X company. Line-X is a very durable finish that can be sprayed on a piece such as a wooden piece. It will actually help preserve it forever. Even outside.
It’s the same coating that is used in the back of a flatbed or pickup truck. It’s the coating that kind of has that bumpy finish. You know the ridges that are in the back of a truck. Over the ridges you’ll see this little bumpy coating. Well, that’s actually Line-X spray. Sort of think of it as a protective anti-bacterial spray paint. You can choose any color. You can’t do it in clear.
Please note you will have a bumpy texture as it’s just indicative of the finish. Choose a color, basically any color, but do make sure your finisher sprays the inside and the outside of the piece. I’ve experienced great success with this idea. Although I mostly have used these on pieces that are placed under a covered outdoor space.
The next thing you can do, well, add a chandelier to your outdoor space. Take the decorative part to your Line-X pro. Then the working part of the chandelier to your electrician so it can be wired with outdoor wiring. You’ll also want to make sure that you have a pro install this chandelier so that you are using appropriate ground fault breakers. You can also de-electrify a chandelier and insert candles instead. You can try adding café and string lights for a bit of romance. This is not just pretty in Paris, but it makes one heck of a statement in a backyard.
I say become the Audubon Society. During the pandemic, my husband, kids, and I purchased five bird feeders with five different types of bird feed. We also bought a book on the types of birds that were indicative to our area. We had so much fun bird watching during this time. We would see a bird and try and capture it on camera. Then search and search and argue and argue about the identification of its type. This really, however, whiled away the hours. We enjoyed it so much that for Christmas I gave all the neighbors and clients bird feeders and bird seed from the Grigg Audubon Society.
Is there any way in your outdoor space that you can add an arbor, a pergola, or some type of structure? This is money well spent as it anchors the space and provides a sense of definition for some of your areas, and sometimes needed shade or protection. Home improvement stores—Sam’s, Costco—all have these structures. If you use drapery on them, well they look pretty darn professional.
Do you need an outdoor water feature in your space? Well, I do. In addition to becoming a pretty good power washer last year, I also have learned quite a bit about installing and maintaining fountains. I love the soothing sound of water. And I have five fountains in my backyard in addition to a fairly loud one that is part of our pool waterfall. I love taking care of these fountains because what I receive in return in terms of joy and peace just by listening is well worth the effort to me.
I’m actually secretly considering adding a goldfish pond next year, but I just haven’t gotten up the nerve to tell my husband yet. I’d love to sit and swoon over the movement of the fish, and I am sure this will be an entire future podcast. But for now, let’s continue on on little tips and tricks that you can do to make your outdoor space more of an oasis.
You know what I like to say. No space is complete without draperies. Don’t cheat your oasis out of a drapery it deserves. If the opportunity is available, then seize it. Of course, a structure like an arbor can be the perfect space to hang flowy beautiful draperies. There are lots of sources for outdoor drapery. I typically use drapery panels. You can try Amazon and Overstock for these. Don’t invest a lot of money as these will not really last that long. They are so exposed to the elements.
I use simple white grommeted panels that are unlined. I change them out about every other year because I leave them up year round. They are relatively inexpensive. Then I have my seamstress make a color coordinated tie back. This adds just a touch of a custom element and makes them look really expensive.
Consider an outdoor rug. Remember. Decorate just as you would an indoor space, and rugs are a necessary component. Look for rugs made of polyester or olefin for maximum durability. If you have a space that doesn’t drain well like I do, then you will have to use a rug that is made of PVC and is truly an outdoor rug. Anything else just sits and absorbs water and will very quickly be covered in mold and soon disintegrate.
The PVC outdoor rugs do look a little plasticky, I warn you. They’re not my favorite. But each year they get better and better in terms of design. You can source a rug like this at Lowe’s Home Improvement store or any other home improvement store.
I say it is perfectly acceptable to use blue and white porcelain or other porcelain as accents and accessories. I have done this with less expensive pieces just to try it out, and I’ve had great success. Don’t forget to add toss pillows, lamps, and accessories. A great source for this is Surya. They have even a few styles of outdoor lamps. I love using lots of blooming plants, statuary, garden stools, and insect repelling candles.
I am searching for some products right now that can treat canvases or giclee paintings so that you can have outdoor art in your spaces as well. I am also looking for another product that you can use to seal porcelain pieces. I did use a spray last year for a client to preserve a very inexpensive giclee painting. My client says it’s still in really good shape. It hangs under a covered porch. I never tried it in the open elements, and I’ve really only attempted this once. So I’m really experimenting before putting on my stamp of approval. I’ll keep you posted on this.
Just like accessories are vital to your interior for making a home feel unique, personal, and lived in, accessories in your oasis are also icing on a cake.
So what can we learn from today’s lesson? I think the most important thing is you want your outdoor spaces to feel as significant as your indoor spaces. In fact, if done well, you just gained square footage and an opportunity to have moments at home that feel entirely different than anything you can create inside. Set a budget and make a plan just as you would any room in your home. Set about making the space as beautiful as you possibly can. Declutter, get rid of dead plants, pressure wash often, and maintain this space just as you would maintain an inside space.
If you have a structure and can add some type of fireplace or heating element for cold months and/or fans for cooling off in the summer months, then the hope is to create a year round extension of your home. Use whimsy and fantasy as you approach your outdoor rooms as this is a place that you can allow your imagination to soar.
I have a friend that loves the great outdoors, and truthfully just loves being outside. He’s in the landscape business, and he is outside most of the day. He decided that he wanted to enjoy the evenings outside at his home as well. So he installed a lovely clawfoot tub on the corner of his rather large deck. He used an arbor type system that looks a little boho chic, as does the inside of his home, and then hung twinkle lights all up inside of it. He has breezy gauzy curtains in a cotton print fabric, and the space is honestly enchanting. He says that the bathtub is the best room in the house, and I believe him.
So I hope that you’ll use these tips and tricks to make sure your outdoor space is inviting and is an oasis that you adore. The benefits are so rewarding. Well, that’s it for this episode.
To celebrate the launch of this podcast, I’ll be giving away my favorite accessory, my infamous monkey bowl, to three lucky listeners who subscribe, rate, and review this show on Apple podcast. This monkey bowl is made of porcelain and would be great in your outdoor setting. Go to kimberlygriggdesign.com/podcast launch to learn more about the contest details. And remember, as I like to say, don’t wait. Today is a great day to decorate. Bye for now.
Thanks for listening to Decorate like a Design Boss. If you want more info on how to decorate your space like a pro visit kimberlygriggdesigns.com. See you next week.