Fun and Functional Outdoor Living

Kate Says...

Whether you live in a warm climate, have a vacation home, or are thinking about the summer, designing outdoor spaces seems to stump people more often than not. So how do we design our exteriors to be as comfortable as our interiors? And how can we best invite the outdoors in?

When it comes down to it, designing outdoor spaces is all about what you enjoy and what will get you outside. Here are some basic guidelines for creating outdoor spaces that are functional, fun, and beautiful too.

How will you spend your time?

Outdoor poolhouse space Design by Martha O'Hara Interiors
Design by Martha O'Hara Interiors

One of the first mistakes people make when they buy outdoor furniture is they don’t start by giving honest consideration to how they want to spend time outside. Be realistic. Are you truly going to choose a sun-drenched lounge for reading a book on lazy days? Are you actually going to sit outside with your friends on the weekend? Having an honest conversation with yourself about how you’ll use your outdoor areas will save you time, money, and a sunny day spent indoors.

Create outdoor rooms

Once you know how you want to spend your outdoor time, you can start thinking about the furniture you’ll need in each area. Unlike our home interiors, our exteriors often don’t have clearly delineated boundaries for “rooms.” Find your spot, imagine walls defining the space, and then layout your outdoor rugs and furniture. With that complete, you may discover that you need to add planters or outdoor lighting to give these spaces a sense of completion.

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3

Are there any parts of your home that bug you? Maybe when you first set up your kitchen, you filled an easy-to-access cabinet with things you never use, and you wish you hadn’t done that but never change it. Maybe you’re constantly tripping over a pet’s water dish but never move it. It sounds funny, but we often wind up living with designs that don’t work for us all because we think of our homes as finished before we give spaces a test run.

Outdoor space Design by Martha O'Hara Interiors
Design by Martha O'Hara Interiors

So give it a whirl! You’ve got your outside spaces set up, but don’t think of them as finished yet. Test them out! Do you keep running inside for things that you could just as easily store outside? Do you have places to set things in easy reaching distance? Do you wish your whole setting was four feet to the left, so you could charge your phone while you’re soaking up the sun? Whatever they are, identify the nuisances before you get used to them. You’ll use your outdoor spaces much more often if going outside is effortless.

Easy breezy!

You wouldn’t believe how often people take the time to consider steps one and two, only to put uncomfortable furnishings outside. So, I’m going to state what should be really obvious here: your furniture should be as comfy outside as the things you have inside. Don’t miss out on an amazing sunny day because you forgot that your iron chairs need pillows, or that a sofa is a better place to read a book than a pouf. Otherwise, you and your family will simply head back indoors where you already know you can relax and enjoy.


So you’re focused on comfort. Now, make sure you’re selections are outdoor friendly, even if you’re working within a covered area. The good news is that today’s outdoor materials are created better than ever before, with sun and stain resistant fabrics that can stand the elements while remaining as soft and comfortable as you’d expect from indoor-only selections. It’s no wonder then that designers are often opting to bring their outdoor favorites back inside. Outdoor rugs can hold up against high traffic areas like an entryway or as a kitchen runner, after all.

Create transition areas

Transition spaces Design by Martha O'Hara Interiors
Design by Martha O'Hara Interiors

We also have to adjust our interiors to encourage us to go outside. Sometimes this can mean rearranging a room layout to allow traffic in and out of an entry that you haven’t been using. Other times it might mean setting up an indoor area where food and drinks can be easily nabbed from outside without tromping through the house. Find ways to make your outdoor spaces extensions of your interior spaces, and you will be much more likely to use them.

Casual colors

For those of us with three-season porches, spring is a time to clean them up and get them ready for heavy use. One of the best ways to make these spaces inviting and fun is to choose one or two bright summer colors to use throughout the room in flatweave rugs, pillows, throws, and accessories. Design can be a daunting task, so make your life a little easier by keeping your color palette simple.

What’s more, three-season rooms are spaces where you can let loose and try things you might never consider in our main interiors. Got a shade of lemon yellow that you adore but are afraid to commit to inside? Now’s your chance to give it a trial run! Plus, bright colors look amazing when you bring out bowls of fruit and glasses of lemonade on a warm summer day.

Outdoor space Design by Martha O'Hara Interiors
Design by Martha O'Hara Interiors