How to create the perfect patio for entertaining outdoors

High end outdoor furniture

Don't be afraid to spend a little money on luxury furniture for your patio or deck. It not only looks beautiful, but lasts a lot longer than discount brands.

Here are a few of the best quality outdoor furniture manufacturers. See which brands inspire you and compare the materials and warrantees to find what works for you.

Take the time to consider the climate and environmental requirements of your space. Outdoor materials not only look different, but woods, metals and plastics each have their strengths and weaknesses in dealing with sun, rain and other weather factors. For example, synthetic all-weather wicker is a new durable alternative to traditional plant-based weaves - it looks great and requires very little upkeep. Taking care of your patio furniture also helps it last longer.

Luxury patio umbrella

Relaxing outdoors is difficult when the sun is too hot or the glare is unbearable. More importantly, you need something that will protect you from ultraviolet rays. There are a variety of sun shades out there, made from materials with varying degrees of sun protection, such as cabanas, shade sails and pavilions. However, buying a high end patio umbrella is a great investment that can last years.

But which outdoor umbrella is right for your patio, deck or pool area? Here's an insightful resource to help you evaluate the physical, environmental and aesthetic considerations for buying a patio umbrella.

Premium outdoor fireplace

A great fireplace goes a long way toward creating a warm and welcoming outdoor entertainment space. Even in the summer, the evenings can get a little chilly and who doesn't like the glow of a warm fire at night? There are many great fire pits or fireplaces to consider. One of the best brands is EcoSmart Fire. Their bio-ethanol fireplaces are smokeless, odorless and provide a beautiful accent to your outdoor area.

Party planning

Once you've got your lounge furniture, shade and heating taken care of, you should take a some time to plan out the festivities. A little planning helps to ensure that your event goes off without a hitch. Here are some helpful ideas from Cafe Mom.

Protect your yard and guests

In order to fully enjoy your time outdoors, be sure to take the necessary steps to ensure that your home (including patio furniture, deck, etc.) and yard are safeguarded against damage, disease and discoloration from unwanted pests. Keep everything clean and well-maintained, so that bugs and rodents aren't attracted to your backyard or pool area.

How to give your home a vintage look

Why is the old look in?

Restoration hardware and Rachel Ashwell helped to usher in the age of acceptable imperfection in interior design. By embracing the individuality and character that that comes from aging (or from being made to look old), they made it okay to show flaws. That mindset makes it easier to relax and eliminates the pressure to maintain unrealistic perfection. That's a big reason why these weather-worn, deconstructed and industrial collections have become so popular - people already have enough to worry about.

What vintage style are you going for?

Before you invest any money or time into redecorating, it's important for you to determine the type of old time look you want to achieve. Are you enamored with British Colonial or mid-century modern designs? Or maybe you're drawn to a more rustic aesthetic like French country or machine age.

Whatever the case may be, you also need to take the architecture of your home into consideration. If you have a coastal or cottage looking space, you might want to reinforce that with airy timeworn shabby chic furniture. Conversely, if your room or apartment has exposed ducts and brick walls, something a bit more industrial might be in line.

Buying retro furniture and lighting reproductions

The nice thing about updating your home decor is that you don't have to do it all at once or do a complete overhaul. In fact, transitioning your interior piecemeal is a great way to ensure that you create an eclectic, yet cohesive, look. Buying too many pieces of furniture or lighting from the same manufacturer in the same season is a recipe for disaster. Like Edward Norton's Pottery Barn obsession in "Fight Club," it can be tempting to get everything to match, but that defeats the whole idea of being imperfect and relaxed.

Fortunately, there are many brands that make high quality industrial and shabby chic style furnishings. Their gorgeous replicas and vintage inspired tables, chairs, lamps and lighting fixtures are eye-catching. You don't need many pieces to transform a bland environment into something memorable.

Do it yourself weathering and antiquing

If you're on a tight budget, you can still update your home's interior design. Refurbish your old furniture to look new...I mean older, but in a new way. You know what I'm saying, right? Use chalk paint and stencils, or layer multiple colors and sand them to give your furniture that timeworn appeal. Change out modern drawer pulls and door knobs for vintage ones. You can even give your mirrors a stylish antique look, if you're careful. There are plenty of cheap DIY ways to enhance your home's appearance if you just do a little online research.

Nostalgic accents

Sometimes, redecorating is as easy as changing a light bulb - literally. Swap out your commonplace bulb for a clear Edison bulb with the glowing orange filaments. Here's another great idea - drawer pulls and lamp shades. You can swap out real antique knobs and pulls or replicas for your current ones and your drawers take on a completely different look. The same principle works for lamps. Add the right vintage looking lampshade and your table or floor lamp quickly turns into a blast from the past. One more nice thing about a slow makeover is that you get the opportunity to stumble upon great finds in the most out of the way places. Flea markets, garage sales and hole in the wall boutiques are gold mines for unexpected treasures. Old metal signs, ornate picture frames, classic movie posters, weathered pottery and even oxidized iron gears, coils and pulleys make unique accents. So, use your creativity and experiment. A vintage look is all about time and there's no rush.

Image credits

  1. Go Home
  2. Aidan Gray
  3. Four Hands
  4. Eloquence
  5. Public Domain

Color Me Confused

There is an insidious agency at work in our country and it is called the Color Marketing Group. No, the members are not color repressed former officers of the Soviet Union, military olive palette all the time, that have broken out in a fit to ensure a more chromatic world. They're part of a group that is, if not trying to push the hot colors of the future, at least attempting to predict what will be fashionable in the near future. And if you think this is new, it's not. The Color Marketing Group has been around since 1962, which is much younger than the Color Association of the United States, which has purported to have a finger on the proper color choice since 1915. So we should believe the Color Marketing Group when they tell us purple will reign in 2009 right?

Mamagreen Allux Bistro Chair

Well, before you go out and buy ten gallons of purple paint and splash it all over your walls, consider the words of Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. Her prediction for 2009? She says she is "starting to see some corals coming into the marketplace."
Well, that clears things up. Now that you have moved your accent chairs and end tables into the center of the room and covered it in advance of purpling the walls, you need to figure out a way to get coral colors involved in the mix, because we have to be "current." After all, our friends are paying attention.

Department of Color Redundancy Department
Now we're worried that maybe there are more colors that we need investigate in anticipation of a 2009 home makeover. Pantone, the self-regarded global authority on color for the design industries, announced the 2009 color of the year is Mimosa, a warm engaging yellow that represents the hopeful and radiant characteristics associated with the color yellow (their words, not ours).

Barbara Schirmeister, a member of the American Ministry of Color, I mean, the Color Association of the United States, issued her thoughts on color for 2009. "The (popular) colors themselves are interpreted in various textures," says Schirmeister. "Reflectivity is all important in the selection of colors. Satin, high gloss, luster or matte, and metallic effects determine the appearance of a chosen hue. These finishes lend a subtle quality to the palette."
  • Metals - the copper family, bronze, and graphite/pewter are growing in popularity.
  • Gray is a dominant neutral. Gray, creamy whites, and varied colors of taupe make up the contemporary palette titled "urban chic."
  • Colorful mid-tones remain a favorite choice for the home.
While all segments of the spectrum are represented, there is also a new emphasis on blue. Schirmeister says, "From soft to vibrant blues, the above popular neutrals provide a beautiful foil (background) for an extensive palette of new blues, ranging from turquoise to periwinkle to peacock. The blue palette works very well with the metal colors."

Barbara Cosgrove Scaled Table Lamp

Trust Your Gut
Your floor is littered with gallons of paint now, right? So what's a trend chaser to do?
You ever notice that before an area of a city becomes popular to live in the artists and musicians and creatives have been there for years? Our belief is that you never catch up to a trend, it only slows up to meet you on its slip back towards monotony. Instead, look and consider all the colors and textures offered in the array of choices we have in home decor, from funky faux hide lounge chairs to iridescent turquoise glass table lamps. When you feel that spark light inside yourself, you know you've found your personal color of the year for 2009.

Go Home Chillin Chair

So do we believe that all the differing opinions make these groups evil marketers attempting to implement planned color obsolescence? No, we actually like them and agree with their objective, which is to enliven our living environment and inject new life into a room that has begun to feel drab. However, in economic times that are uncertain and with the general populace stashing money away "just in case we need it," there are ways to enjoy a hot new color without breaking the bank. Splash, don't douse, your room with the new color that resonates with you through accents. You'll enjoy the energy of a new jolt of color without encountering buyer's remorse. Don't go out and buy a purple couch (artist formerly known as Prince and drug-induced ankh symbol aside). Instead, keep your beige-toned sofa and toss a few decorative pillows on it.

If you like the pewter color that Barbara Schirmeister says is getting popular, there are ways to incorporate the color into the room and also accomplish other functional goals such as adding a room screen to divide up your loft or apartment into different living spaces. Purple with doses of pewter and silver - very cool. Or bronze?

It goes on and on. Once we really look at the "new" colors, we realize that they aren't new at all, they're just fresh. After all, everything old is new again. We have to admit that we've not been paying attention to what the new 2009 color should be. In a post election world in which Obama stands tall, we thought green was supposed to be the color of the year. What do we know? You and I are not the color experts. Or maybe we really are.

Mark Samojedy
Decor Interiors - Furnishings to Fit Your Style

Arranging Furniture

Have you ever noticed how sometimes you walk into a room and something doesn’t feel quite right? There’s a disturbance in “The Force,” but it’s often hard to pinpoint the source of your discomfort. Well, over time, we absorb a lot of visual information that we use to develop a framework for assessing color, proportion, perspective and space on a subconscious level. When we enter environments that conflict with those ideas, we experience tension. In psychology, it’s referred to as cognitive dissonance, which differs from personal taste in that dissimilar styles can still adhere to common idea of visual harmony. We might not like someone else’s style, but it can still “work” in a room.

Got it? Me neither. I’m totally confused, so I’d better simplify things. There are many obvious and subtle considerations to ensure that your room is functionally and aesthetically pleasing. Therefore, arranging sofas, chairs, tables, lamps and other furnishings should be planned, rather than haphazard. Arranging furniture properly can improve the traffic flow and organization of a room, while helping to highlight whatever aspect of the room is most important to you. For the sake of sanity, we’ll forget about Feng Shui, which has its own esoteric perspective on interior design, and focus on a few concrete things.

Measuring Up – Floor Plan
First, we have to figure out how much space we have and how much room our stuff needs. Draw up a floor plan of the room and be sure to note the location, heights and widths of doors, windows, heaters, electrical outlets and switches. Use lined graph paper to help ensure that your scaled drawing is as accurate as possible. A quarter to a half-inch per actual foot is a pretty good scale to use. Next, measure each piece of furniture that you plan to use in the room. Focus your attention on the largest and most important pieces. Draw a basic outline of each table, sofa, bed, desk, chair, lamp, TV and dresser on different colors of construction paper. Use the same scale as your floor plan, so that you can see how much relative space you have. Label them and cut them out.

The Three “F’s”– Function, Focal Point and Flow Considerations
Function – What kind of room is it? Arranging furniture in a dining room is much different than in a living room, bedroom or office. Does the room need to accommodate a lot of people or just a few?
Focal Point – What do you want to emphasize? If you have a big bay window that looks out over a scenic vista, perhaps you want to highlight the view. Maybe your pride and joy is a majestic decorative fireplace. Orient your furniture to direct attention to the focal point. If viewing a widescreen HD television is important to you, the optimal distance between the TV set and any seating is roughly three times the size of the screen.

Flow – Can people move easily from place to place? Notice at how people enter and exit the room, and how doors open and close. Cluttered pathways can make you feel like you’re in a pinball machine, so avoid placing large pieces of furniture in the natural lane of traffic if at all possible. Allow at least 3 feet of open space for your primary traffic routes

Placing Furniture
First, place the larger pieces of furniture (e.g. couch, loveseat, desk or bed) facing the focal point. To ensure a cozier, more intimate setting, move seating in from the walls, placing pieces within 8 feet of one another. Angling a few pieces of furniture can give a softer, more casual feel to a room, while geometric alignment conveys a sense of formality and seriousness. Sofas and chaise lounges make great dividers, if you need to separate areas of a room.

Next, arrange related pieces (e.g. tables and chairs) accordingly. Place tables within easy reach of all chairs and make sure that coffee tables allow 14-18 inches of legroom. In dining rooms, be sure to account for the fact that people will need to pull their chairs out from the table before they are seated and that someone may need to walk behind the chair.

Last, add accents to make your room more functional or aesthetically pleasing. Shelves, accent lamps and floor lamps improve storage and general visibility, while wall art and rugs add to the ambiance of room. Accents also help you direct how people’s eyes move up and down as they scan the room. You can balance a room by placing furniture of similar height (with or without accents) across from each other.

Optimizing Space
The smaller the room, the more concerned you should be about using the available space efficiently. People who favor a Spartan décor have a distinct advantage over those with luxurious tastes - the less stuff you have, the easier it is to accommodate. Additionally, multifunctional furniture can provide invaluable benefits. Futons are ideal for small apartments, since they serve two functions - sleeping and seating. Ottomans, tables and beds with hidden storage compartments help keep a room uncluttered and stylish at the same time. And don’t forget about vertical space.

Shelving provides a home for books, photos and other accents, while wall or ceiling-mounted racks can store bikes and save precious floor space. Wall mirrors can give the illusion of a larger room and alleviate claustrophobic feelings, especially if there are few window treatments (e.g. curtains or blinds). The brighter the room is, either from natural or artificial light, the more open the room will appear.

Styling it Up
This is where it’s really up to your own sense of décor. Metal, stone and straight edges convey a rigid, but orderly feel, while woods and curves are softer and more casual. Solid colors tend to complement, while complex patterns draw attention. It’s okay to mix contemporary furniture with traditional, but look for items that can complement each other through shape, color or texture.

Arranging furniture is more of an art than a science, so try a few different arrangements on your paper floor plan before attempting the real thing. It’s a lot easier moving a paper sleeper sofa than a real one. Modular furniture (e.g. sectional sofas and stackable storage units) allows for an endless array of arrangement possibilities and provides a cohesive look. Keeping in mind the concepts outlined above should help you avoid major problems and enhance the “feel” of any room.

Bill Ferris
Decor Interiors – Furnishings to Fit Your Style

Buying a Table Lamp or Floor Lamp

You spent weeks intensely window shopping and surfing online, before you finally found the perfect lamp. But now that you have it at home, it doesn't look or feel quite right. It looked so cool in the photos on the website, so why doesn't work now? Manufacturers and retailers aren't stupid (well, most aren't). Beauty shots are meant accentuate the best visible characteristics of products, either by isolating them on a solid background or placing them in complementary decor. Photo stylists with a strong understanding of interior design and proportion ensure that everything coordinates. So, of course the lamp looks amazing in the photograph. Stylists also have an extra advantage - they don't have to consider the functional requirements for the lamp in the room, just the aesthetics. Do you need an advanced degree in rocket science to choose a simple table lamp? No, but you should be aware of a few things as you evaluate different lamps.

Location, Location, Location
Where are you planning to put the new lamp? Is it going to go on a table or on the floor? Will be in a high traffic area?
Table lamps are the right choice for placement on tables and floor lamps for the floor...shocker. If you're buying a lamp for an end table or desk, it's important to consider the strength and durability of the table. If the table is delicate or the top is easily scratched, you might want to consider a lighter weight lamp with a round or padded base. Obviously, the sturdier the table, the heavier a lamp it can accommodate.

Arteriors Bronte Lamp
High traffic areas can spell trouble for top-heavy lamps with wide overhanging shades. Be sure that the shade doesn't extend beyond the edge of the table. Not only does that make the lamp dwarf the table, but it also makes it more susceptible to being bumped into by passersby. A heavy base is less likely to be knocked over and should be used in areas where kids roam.

Form vs. Function
How are you going to use the lamp? Is it for general lighting or subtle ambient lighting? Is it a task light or an accent light to highlight something special? Whether it needs to be functional or just pretty makes a big difference in the type of lamp you should consider.

Go Home Head Honcho Lamp
Torchier lamps and other styles of floor lamps can provide a decent amount of general light to illuminate a room. Multi-purpose reading lights should cast enough light to allow you guessed it, read. They should produce a minimum of 100-150 watts of light. Many on/off lamps with a single socket use a light bulb with a maximum of 60 watts, so look for reading lamps that can handle higher wattages and three-way bulbs. If you prefer a stronger task light, look for something glare-free with tungsten, fluorescent or halogen bulbs to minimize eye strain.

If you simply want a lamp that complements your existing decor, ignore the previous paragraphs and get yourself something pretty...ooh, sparkles! A dramatic pair of Foo Dogs lamps from Barbara Cosgrove are a great way to enhance a Chinese or Asian style room.

Authentic Models Coast Guard Patrol Spotlight Floor Lamp

Size Matters and so does the Shade
Have you ever sat down and been blinded by the exposed light bulb in a nearby lamp? Unless you enjoy frying your corneas (I supposed there may be a few masochists out there), it can be painful and more than a little annoying. As a rule of thumb, the bottom of the shade should be more or less at ear/cheek level. So unless you hang out with a lot of basketball players or jockeys, use a five to six foot tall person as a gauge. If you're planning to read by the lamp, make sure that the height of the lamp and the angle of the shade allow for the light to pass over your shoulder and onto the page you're reading. This will probably require you to measure the height of the table, as well as the distance from the floor to your ear while seated. And you thought that you'd never use trigonometry again.

Barbara Cosgrove Patterned Porcelain Table Lamp

Traditional table lamps have avoided looking top-heavy, with their shades no more than two-thirds the height of the base (covering the harp and neck metal underpinnings). But more contemporary lamps adhere to less stringent constraints and even welcome design with atypical proportions. As far as shade shape goes, it's wise to follow the shape of the base, lest you face the whole square peg/round hole dilemma. A white or translucent shade allows for greater diffusion of the light, while darker colors and more opaque materials provide a subtler ambient glow.

For insight on selecting the right kind of light bulb for your lamp or fixture, take a look at our lighting guide.

I'd say that I hope this article shed some light on the subject of buying lamps, but that would be too corny.

Bill Ferris