When the weather is nice enough, entertaining guests outside is generally much more preferable to hosting gatherings indoors. There’s just something a little more luxurious and pleasant about having outdoor dinner parties, cocktails, or just having the neighbors kids’ over for an outdoor play date.
The focus tends to be less on TV, and more on spending valuable time with your guests. The fresh air and warm sunshine, or the cool evening breeze and the gorgeous colors of dusk can make for magical moments with family and friends.
With this in mind, today we will examine how best to maximize your outdoor space for entertaining purposes, furniture placement, and overall design.
Step 1. Find the Size of Your Space For Outdoor Entertaining
Time to pull out the tape measure! If you have a deck or patio, get the length and width of those spaces. If you have an expansive lawn area, get a general idea of where your boundaries are, and draw that up on a piece of paper.
Multiply the length by the width to get the area of patios and decks, and do the same for overall usable back yard space.
Step Two: Note Natural and Man-Made Features
Consider the locations of shade trees, stone walls, hills, gullies, etc. when mapping out your yard space. These locations can be invaluable in creating a winning over-arching design for you back yard and patio space.
Mark them on your plan, and ponder how you can best take advantage of the various features of your back yard space. Hilly spots may get more sun than shaded areas, and mulched areas with bushes could form a nice little zen flower garden.
Think about the sun, shadows, and the play of light in the yard over the course of the day.
Step Three: Break the Spaces into Outdoor Rooms
Using the original layout plus any significant sub-areas, break the outdoor space into rooms. These rooms generally won’t have walls in the traditional sense, but thinking of your outdoor space in the same way you think of dividing your indoor space will result in a much more dynamic flow and feel that simply plopping some furniture down on the patio and calling it a day!
Think about how you want to present these rooms: usually patio furniture like sectional outdoor couches, patio sets, and the like will most naturally be located on a brick/concrete patio space, and grassier sub-spaces may be more effectively used as children’s play areas, quiet reading spaces, zen hammock spots, etc.
Step Four: Consider The Views From Each Room
Stand in each of the rooms, especially in the areas where you may be planning on adding seating, and look at the views from each spot. Think about how you can add interest from the other areas, and how you may draw guests from one space to another. For certain areas, you may want to have a clear view (such as children’s play areas) while for others, like quiet reflecting ponds, it may be wise to hint at the spot without revealing everything from certain angles, to encourage guests to travel to these areas.
Step Five: Furnish Your Main Sitting Area
Once you have the size of your patio space calculated, you can start to consider furnishing it. Pay close attention to circulation through the patio and on to the rest of the yard. Most patios and decks are attached to the house, and then flow onward to the yard. You want to make sure guests have an easy path out to the patio, and also out to the yard beyond.
Rectangular Dining Tables
If you want a rectangular dining table and chairs, this will usually require at least 10′ in width to accommodate the chairs, furniture, and circulation around the furniture. The length will depend on the choice of table. Typically tables are 5-7′ long, and there should be buffer space for chairs and circulation on each end.
Round Bistro-Style Dining Tables
If you are planning to use a smaller round bistro-sized table, you can get away with 6′ at minimum around the table. It may look like you can squeeze a bistro sized table into a smaller space than 6′, but it really doesn’t work very well because it will be difficult to get in and out of the chairs.
Outdoor Sofas and Sectionals
Typically outdoor sofas, sectionals, and luxury patio furniture sets are approximately 2′ deep, and can range in length from 4′ to 10′ and beyond. You generally want at least two feet in front of a sofa for circulation, and ideally 3’6″ to enable guests to easily pass by a sofa.
Depending on the nature of your space, you may want to float the couch, and use the back as a dividing line for an outdoor room. Alternately, if you’re on a deck with a railing, or have a half wall around your patio, it may be best to rest the back of the outdoor couch against that barrier.
Step Six: “Furnish” the Other Outdoor Rooms
Now that you’ve broken down your yard and patio space into rooms, and have got the basic furniture located on your main patio space, begin to focus on the other outdoor rooms. Depending on what you plan on using these rooms for, consider your “furnishing” options.
If you plan on adding a children’s play area with a swing set, sand box, or other play features, you will obviously have those items on your list, but also perhaps playground mulch and other kid-friendly materials.
If you have a pleasantly shaded area, or an outdoor space that you’d like to use as a quiet retreat space, focus on plants with soothing scents, some shade trees, maybe a reflecting pond. Think about finding a beautiful zen view from the retreat space, and make that visual focus when standing or sitting in the retreat space.
Perhaps a low bench or a couple of Adirondack chairs would be ideal for such a space.
Flower gardens can be great outdoor rooms, and often function best as sub-spaces in a larger area. Think about creating a meandering path through this outdoor room; unless you have a very large space, you don’t want to have a straight walkway through a flower garden. Make a meandering path, and find a few sitting spots to accentuate the beauty of the garden.
From the main patio sitting area, you may want to create at least a partial visual barrier to a flower garden, so that the flower garden can be enjoyed without starting at the grill and the cooler.
Vegetable Garden or Greenhouse
Raised Bed Planters. Source: Hative.com
If you plan to have a vegetable garden room, obviously you need to consider how sunlight will play over the particular space, so that you will be able to grow the plants you intend to eat. Raised beds can create interesting visual and physical barriers, and can be effective in helping to define the barriers of your outdoor rooms. You also need to clean vegetable room with some best garden carts.
By creating attractive raised beds, you can bring the focus of a space to both the geometric design of the beds, and also the sumptuous vegetables that will be thrown on the BBQ later in the evening!
Step Seven: Entertain Your Friends
Now that you’ve got your outdoor rooms laid out, identified in use patterns, and generally furnished, it’s time to bring some guests over for a delightful gathering!
John has decades of experience in the home design and residential construction industry. OutsideModern.com is dedicated to modern living in the patio and garden, with a focus on interesting patio products, helpful guides and tips, and patio and back yard design ideas.
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