Interior decorating for the great outdoors

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Who says interior decorating just has to be for interiors? Apply some interior design principles to the great outdoors to improve your deck or patio, and you’ll wow your friends when they come over for a barbecue.

Create a focal point

Well-designed rooms have a focal point, a center that draws the eye and gives a room a sense of purpose. In a dining room, for instance, it’s likely the table. In the den, it might be the TV, a fireplace or a comfortable couch.

Backyards can be problematic because they are big, open spaces with no natural center. You can solve this problem by creating a gathering place for guests. A fire pit, for instance, will keep your guests warm on cool nights and give them a place to relax after dark. A large picnic table can help stoke conversations over dinner and drinks. Or maybe you just need to arrange your patio furniture so that guests face one another in an intimate semi-circle.

Negative space

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To prevent a room from feeling crowded, interior decorators make sure that a room has plenty of negative space. Of course, backyards are usually pretty spacious, but people often make poor use of this space by clustering the patio furniture, barbecue and picnic table to closely together. If you’re hosting a backyard barbecue, make sure there is plenty of space for the kids to scamper about and guests to mingle. And while you want to create a focal point where guests can gather, there should be plenty of room around the feature, so that people can move in and out.


Rhythm in interior design refers to certain design elements -- colors, highlights, or patterns -- that repeat throughout a room, giving it a sense of cohesion. All too often, outdoor spaces become a dumping ground for a mishmash of past purchases -- for instance, half-rusted lawn chairs that are forced to mingle with plastic tables or wobbly TV trays. To start, you want to invest in a decent set -- an actual set -- of lawn furniture. To take rhythm a bit further, pick out a few features -- a color, perhaps, or a certain shape -- and repeat that theme throughout your backyard setup. The goal isn’t to make everything look the same, but merely to bring some unity to the back yard. You might, for instance, pick up the color in your patio furniture and repeat it with similarly colored outdoor planters.

Set the mood with lighting

Most people don’t give much thought to their backyard lighting. They slap up a floodlight and maybe a security light by the back gate and then call it a day. These harsh lights make your porch or patio feel more like a prison yard than a place for relaxed entertaining.

To put your guests at ease, replace bright lights with warmer, more diffuse lighting that is spread evenly across the porch or yard. You want it to be bright enough that your guests aren’t straining to see one another in the dark, but not so bright that you lose the romance of a summer’s night under a starry sky.

To start, why not dress up a nearby tree or bush in white mini-lights to cast a soft glow over the patio. For more accent lighting, you can turn to tiki torches for a tropical touch. And paper lanterns are a cheap way to create a mood for a single event. Lighting doesn’t have to come from above, either. In-ground lighting around the deck, or surrounding a backyard bar, can help create a warm vibe while keeping guests from stumbling around in the dark.