Outstanding Outdoor Room Inspiration

Top designers share their ideas for making the most of your lawn, lanai, backyard or barbeque


By: Susan Kleinman

BBQ With a View

Whether it's a lanai or a loggia, a rolling green lawn or a tiny concrete terrace, your exterior space can add a whole new "room" to your property, providing additional square footage and setting the stage for al fresco dining, après-swim relaxing, and easy, breezy entertaining.

If you had a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean, wouldn’t you want to enjoy it as often as possible? Designer Nicole Sassaman (www.nicolesassaman.com) and her husband have optimized the grand coastline vistas from their Malibu home by creating an expansive space for cooking, dining and relaxing — all just beyond the bi-fold glass doors of their indoor family room. On the upper level of the patio, an outdoor kitchen includes a 37-inch grill, a wok, a warming drawer, a refrigerator and a sink. A table and chairs of Sassaman’s own design allow for comfortable al fresco dining, and the couple cooks outdoors at least two or three times a week when the weather cooperates.

Down a flight of stairs, a firepit is the perfect place for roasting marshmallows or just warming up on a chilly evening; a separate deck above the guesthouse overlooks the entire property. "For us," says Sassaman, "it was important to create harmony by bringing the inside outdoors and the outdoors in. We wanted there to be the same comforts outside as we have in the house itself."

Al Fresco Fabrics



The chairs and hammocks in the backyard of designer Sherri Donghia’s summerhouse are stylish and comfortable. The views are lush and verdant, and the swimming pool, sparkling and clear. But what really makes this space sing are the fabrics — colorful patterns from Donghia, Inc. (www.donghia.com), made of waterproof, weatherproof Sunbrella.

"The lounge chairs are covered in our Sombrero line, inspired by the textiles of Central America," says the designer, "and the arm chair is covered in an African-inspired print. Using the different patterns — and including all the different colorways of the Sombrero — really adds a touch of magic."

Bold color was especially important on this lawn, says Donghia, author of Donghia: The Artistry of Luxury and Style, and is something you should consider when placing seating near a grove of trees. "The trees are all green," she notes, "and our house is grayed shingle. Against that backdrop, the fabrics give you this amazing burst of color."

Whatever fabrics you select, says Donghia, make sure there is a variety of seating available in various parts of the outdoor space. "Not everyone is comfortable in a lounge chair," she says, "and there are always people who prefer to be in the shade."

Casbah Cabana



As exotic as a vacation, as comfortable as home ... and, like every room created by interior designer Jamie Drake (www.drakedesignassociates.com), this cabana at a designer show house in Water Mill, N.Y., was a riot of delicious color — coral and peach with accents of pale greens and blues.

"Inspired by Moroccan interiors, this cabana was to be surprising, romantic and lush," says Drake, author of Jamie Drake’s New American Glamour (Bulfinch, 2006). "The tables are Syrian, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and exotic woods. The lanterns are Indian, and add another exotic note from another country. The banquettes — inspired by furniture typically found in Morocco and Turkey – are actually two custom made twin mattresses on upholstered divan bases," explains Drake, "so they are perfect for lazy day naps, and could be pressed into service as extra beds for overflow houseguests."

Because this space is, technically, indoors, Drake didn’t need to use weather-proof fabrics — but since the room could also be left wide open, he used natural fibers, which "breathe" and dry quickly, and installed a marble floor, impervious to the elements.

"My main goal," says Drake, "was to create a delightful retreat from the heat of the day, and a sparkling lounge for evening entertainments."

Day or evening, a glamorous space like this is likely to have you longing for the summer — or pulling on an extra sweater to enjoy the outdoors long after Labor Day.

Lovers' Loggia



Although everyone loves a backyard party, there are times when the great outdoors are even greater enjoyed a deux. The couple who own this house in the foothills of Northern California were college sweethearts. Now in their 60s with their children grown and gone, they still enjoy gazing into each others eyes as the sun sets — and one of their favorite places to do just that is on the loggia created for them by Marie Christine Peterson of Chelsea Court Designs (www.chelseacourtdesigns.com).

Thanks to comfortable seating — weather-resistant teak with cushions in shades of green and white that echo the interior decor — it’s easy to spend an entire evening out here, and close proximity to the kitchen and to indoor and outdoor dining tables make this the perfect place for a nightcap or a romantic dinner for two. The loggia offers gorgeous views out to the gardens and swimming pool, and a wood-burning fireplace makes the space comfortable even on chilly evenings.

"The husband has these very herbaceous logs flown up from Santa Fe," says Peterson, "to remind the two of them of a beautiful weekend they once spent in New Mexico." The extravagance is well worth it, not only for the heavenly aroma of the logs but also for the gesture itself. "That sort of touch," Peterson says, "really sets the emotional mood for happy times."

Outdoor Luxury



Come summertime, designer Barclay Fryery (www.askbarclay.com) spends as much time as possible outside his house in Greenwich, Conn. To accommodate his outdoor lifestyle, he decorates his patio with tables, boxwood trees and even real paintings. And when the party’s over and the guests go home, you’ll find him on the fire escape, stretched out on a daybed of his own design. The frame is sturdy teak painted in an opaque black stain that never needs to be repainted; the fabric is a leopard print intended for indoor use but weatherproofed.

In spaces where mother nature proves plenty of color and pattern, Fryery leaves leopard-print behind, and often opts for simple, stand-out solids, like the French blue on this patio that Fryery created for clients who love to entertain outdoors. But while the color scheme here is simple, the space is far from spartan. Chairs are deep and cushy; a market umbrella provides plenty of shade, and an outdoor bar helps make entertaining easy and elegant.

"The outdoors is the most versatile part of your property," he says. "You can have music piped out onto the patio ... or you can enjoy the silence and the sounds of chirping birds. You can bring your phone and laptop out and work ... or just sit around and do nothing. But even if you’re working, it’s important to get outside as soon as the weather turns nice. We all spend way too much of our lives indoors. If you ask me, we can all use a whole lot more fresh air."

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