Award-winning designer Kerrie Kelly shared 10 tips for designing the ultimate outdoor living space.
By Dianne M. Pogoda
What works and what doesn’t work in the outdoor space?
It’s a question Kerrie Kelly gets a lot, as outdoor spaces have evolved dramatically in the past few years, often now requiring as much thought and planning as indoor living spaces.
“I like to blur the lines from indoors to outdoors,” said Kelly, principal of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab, hosting an NKBA webinar, “Design it! Connecting the Interior Aesthetic to the Outdoors,” on the topic. “With innovative materials, fabrics and design, we can have the interior flow to the outdoors. You can consider the same elements you use inside your home, and have it look just as beautiful outside.”
Kelly said most people spend 90% of their time indoors, so when they can create a beautiful outdoor space, it expands the value and usability of the home. “Designing an outdoor space should be fun and creative, and the space should be versatile. When the outdoor space is as well-thought-out and maintained as the indoor space, it helps with the overall perception of the house and adds value.”
She offered 10 points to consider when designing an outdoor space.
1. Consider the client. As with almost all conversations about creating or remodeling a space, the designer must do a little investigating about the client’s lifestyle. Who will be enjoying the outdoor space? Kids? The chef? Guests? And what type of events will be in the space – big parties? Weeknight dinners? End-of-season team celebrations? Consider lighting and landscaping, plantings as well as the hardscape. Work to develop and stick to a budget. Remember that sometimes higher-quality materials may be more expensive, but they tend to last longer outside. And be sure to account for the permit in the process.
2. Lay the foundation. Regardless of the size of your space, use every inch to maximize the area. You can use the same principles as you do indoors. Visually, start with a large area rug to anchor the space. There are lots of furniture options, from a simple bistro set to an island with storage, barstools, etc. You can add a fountain or water feature, fireplace, fire pit, grill, seating and more. Create zones for cooking, dining, relaxing.
Kelly has a license with Coyote Outdoor Living for three furniture collections — Laguna, Catalina and South Beach —
that goes with Coyote’s family of outdoor appliances.
3. Look up! Think of the ceiling and floor as the fifth and sixth walls. A pergola or awning, like those from ShadeTree Canopies, can provide protection from sun or rain, add some architecture to the space, and be rolled back for stargazing. Consider the weather extremes in your area. Stainless steel is a favorite for outdoor cabinets and structures.
4. Create some privacy. You can do this with floating wood panels, draperies, decorative fencing, tall plantings like bamboo or hedges. This creates intimacy and a sound barrier, too.
5. Think of your space as if you’re inside. Incorporate sofas, side tables, chairs, ottomans, even outdoor lamps. If you extend the color scheme from indoors, it expands the visual and makes your space seem larger. Create multiple areas to eat and drink.
6. Create a focal point. Guide guests to a specific area. You can have some artwork, a fire pit, sculpture or a fountain. This draws guests through the space.
7.Remember, you’ll get hungry! Stock an outdoor entertainment center with beverages and remember the appropriate cooking equipment. Today, this can go beyond the grill — which can be gas or charcoal — and include an Asado smoker, pizza oven and more. It allows for a great cooking experience. Your appliances should be versatile. Definitely include a refrigerator, and an ice maker is great, too. Make sure these are high-performance models and appropriate for the outdoors. You can build storage into islands. This rounds out the entertaining experience and elevates the “wow” factor!
8. Accessorize! Potted plants, mirrors, pillows, lanterns and artwork all let your personality come through. Outdoor rugs, like my collection with Feizy, are now made of materials like 100% PET [polyethylene terephthalate], made from recycled plastic water bottles, so they’re also sustainable. These can be hosed off, making maintenance easy. [Kelly has outdoor as well as indoor rug collections with Feizy.]
Be careful of cushions and pillows that aren’t weather-resistant: I use Dry Fast, a brand of high-quality, open-cell foam. Dry Fast foam is formulated with an antimicrobial agent to prevent mold and mildew. When paired with an outdoor cushion fabric or Phifertex Mesh, open-cell foam creates a virtually maintenance-free cushion in sun, rain, and snow.
To determine if your foam is of high quality, pour a cup of water on it. The water should run straight through the foam and drain out the bottom. If the water runs off the sides of the foam, this is an imitation product.
9. Light the night. This is the key to enjoying your space after dark, for ambience as well as safety. Have task lights for cooking, light pathways, suspend pendants over a bar area, and incorporate dimmable lighting in an eating area. Be wary of solar-powered lights, however. They can look very florescent, defeating the purpose of intimate mood lighting. To incorporate outdoor overhead lighting and fans (which sometimes include a light), run electric wiring through the structure of a pergola or awning frame. Layered lighting is great, and dimmable sconces also help create a mood.
10. Set the mood. Audio and video technology creates the mood, whether it’s music for a dinner party or team pride on game day. Be sure your space caters to all ages of the family.
As for maintenance, Kelly recommends that designers consider stainless steel for cabinets and structures; a manmade engineered countertop product like Dekton by Cosentino resists cracking that can come with natural stone and tile.
“Similarly, use outdoor pillows with a polyester base that breathe and dry quickly,” she said. “The moisture-wicking properties prevent mold.”
She also recommends covering patio furniture and storing it in a garage or shed if possible in really bad weather.
The cost of building an outdoor kitchen depends on size, but it can approach the price of an indoor kitchen depending on the level of stainless steel that will make grills and appliances last longer in harsh weather. Teak is always a good choice for wood, and some man-made element woven into materials helps with durability and stain-resistance. Finally, staining and oiling wood surfaces and the deck is especially important outdoors, and maintains the longevity of the product.