The Summer Room

Summer in Rhode Island is glorious.  It is easy for those of us who live here to forget that many people who reside elsewhere save their pennies all year in order to spend one week of summer in the Ocean State.  And whether you are looking for a quiet spot to read or a place to entertain, during the summer you most likely want to do it outside.  As such, a well-designed and functional outdoor space can expand your living area and allow you to get the most out of the season.

Designing an outside space is not so very different from designing an interior one; the same principles apply.  First and foremost, consider the way it needs to function.  Whether you are working with an expansive yard or a petite terrace you want to maximize its use by making it suitable to your lifestyle.  Start by defining the priorities for your "room".  How much seating do you need?  Will you be enjoying meals there?  Do you require privacy and shade?    Understanding these requirements is the foundation for putting together a successful plan.
Once you have established the fundamentals it is time to measure out the space.  Much like the old saying "measure twice, cut once", skipping this step can often lead to frustration.  Use your measurements to plot out a simple "floor plan".  If you are looking for a lounge/living room environment you know that you want to have comfortable seating arranged in such a way that you create an inclusive conversation area.  If you are planning more of a dining room you can now establish what size table is appropriate and how many chairs it will accommodate.  Armed with proper dimensions you can move on to choosing furniture and architectural elements with the confidence that you are working within the proper scale and have fun doing it
Next, define your focal point.  An exquisite view? A festive umbrella?  An unusual light fixture?  Planters filled with colorful blooms?  In successful design, the focal point gives you a dominant feature from which all other elements visually radiate.  It is also a good place to look to for developing an overall color palette.  Establishing this palette prior to shopping will make the process much more productive as you are able to immediately eliminate options that do not satisfy your design plan.
One of the greatest challenges to creating a successful outdoor room is defining its visual parameters.  An exterior space will likely not have the luxury of actual walls to make that statement.  The goal is to design something that is at once open and yet intimate.  If you are working with a space that does have some architectural structure to it, such as a deck, the railings alone are a good start but consider adding an outdoor area rug to really punctuate the seating area.  In the case of a more natural setting, arrange planters at the four corners to emphasize its boundaries.  Continue by positioning tall posts at those corners and string lanterns from one to the other.  Or use simple translucent outdoor draperies to create the illusion of walls.  These ideas when well-executed elevate a yard to actual gracious "living" space.  
Finally, as with interior decorating, the accessories are what ultimately give a room its true character.  In a subtle color palette consider one splash of color, perhaps in the cushions or in a planter.  Big hurricane lanterns add great visual appeal and light.  Furnish them with citronella candles for added functional value.  Woven linens on a glass or stone top table create intriguing textural contrast.  Attention to these last details will ensure that the design is a delightfully seamless extension of your home.
Photos by Heidi Farmer Piccerelli