The first step to creating a stylish and comfortable outdoor entertaining area is to assess the space you have available so you can choose furniture and a layout to suit, according to Cat Brown, marketing and PR manager at interior design firm, The Designory.
“There is nothing worse than trying to squeeze eight people around a six-seater dining table, or everyone having to move to let one person out,” she says. “If you’re tight on space, consider more streamlined pieces that don’t waste room.”
When planning your layout, be sure to include any features that will help make entertaining easier and more enjoyable, says Brown. If, for example, you prefer to spend time with your guests rather than running backwards and forwards to the kitchen, make provisions for this. “Look to incorporate an integrated barbecue into your set-up so you can cook outdoors. Or get an outdoor bar cart to keep drinks close at hand – this way you’re never out of the conversation when you’re mixing a cocktail,” she says.
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding where to position outdoor furniture, says Rohan Smith, senior interior designer at Coco Republic. “Think about whether there’s a view worth facing, how far away you are from the kitchen, and how the sun moves across your outdoor area,” he says. “If the afternoon sun hits a certain section of your outdoor space, then avoid placing furniture there, as it won’t be a pleasant place to sit.”
Brown concurs, adding, “If you’re creating a lounge space that you plan to use in the afternoon and evening, be sure not to position furniture towards the setting sun, as this will blind your guests”.
Also think carefully about how you like to entertain. “If you like to host sit-down meals, then a large outdoor dining table and comfortable chairs are key,” says Smith. “If cooking for a crowd isn’t your thing, then outdoor lounge seating is great for relaxing with a glass of wine.”
If space is tight, look for flexible pieces that be adapted for the occasion. “Ceramic stools can be used as side tables or seating, or they can be clustered together to form one large coffee table,” Smith adds.
Other space-savvy designs to consider include outdoor coffee tables with storage for items such as cushions and table accessories, and platform-style sofas that boast built-in ledges where you pop a glass of wine or a plate of nibbles.
When selecting furniture, seek out quality, weather-resistant pieces that will require little ongoing maintenance.
Comfort is another key factor, according to interior designer Camilla Molders. “An outdoor sofa should be structurally sound and comfortable or you won’t want to sit on it,” she says. “If it’s going to be left outside, it should be made of a material that can handle the weather conditions.”
If you live in a high-rise apartment, seek out pieces that are heavy enough not to blow around in windy conditions, adds Smith.
Keep your guests cool and comfortable in the summer months by providing adequate shade. There are a number of shading options available so think carefully about which one best suits your outdoor space. “If you don’t have a permanent structure such as a pergola or covered patio, then an umbrella that can be moved around to provide shade exactly where you need it, is a great solution,” says Smith.
For something more permanent, consider a retractable awning attached to the wall. “An integrated, automated awning can be a great investment and will allow you to use your outdoor area in rain or shine,” says Brown. Molders is another fan of this motorised shading solution. “It can be extended right over your table and you won’t end up with any unsightly poles blocking your view,” she says.
A fire pit is less energy efficient and won’t provide as much heat, but is sure to add a cosy touch to your get-togethers.
Scatter cushions are one of Molders’ favourite ways to add style and flair to an outdoor entertaining space. “I always vote for cushions,” she says. “Be it for extra comfort – placed behind your back or to sit on – or to visually tie the colours in a space together.”
“It is important to buy the right-sized cushions, as there is nothing worse than an oversized cushion on a small chair,” adds Brown. “Look for ones in high-quality outdoor fabrics that will last. Invest in neutral basics that allow you to update your themes with ease.”
Flowers and candles are a great finishing touch to any alfresco table, says Smith. The more relaxed nature of outdoor entertaining allows you to have a little fun with your styling. “Hide a vase in a basket, a terracotta pot or even an old watering can,” he says. “Candles placed in hurricane vases are another nice way to dress your outdoor table. Or, for a more casual look for a summer barbecue, add in a cluster of old mismatched jars containing tea-light candles.”
When it comes to greenery, Brown prefers potted succulents over cut flowers. “Fresh flowers tend to wilt quickly outdoors and lose their fragrance. I prefer to use beautiful pots filled with succulents – they create a gorgeous centrepiece and can be enjoyed for years.”
Good lighting is just as important outdoors as it is indoors – not only will it allow your guests to move around safely, but it helps set the mood for cosy entertaining.
For Molders, there is nothing more magical than a string of fairy lights arranged in the trees or on the corner of your balcony. She suggests warm white globes over cool white ones as they create a more inviting light.
If you’re looking to boost visibility at night without creating glare, consider low-voltage flood lights installed in the eaves or on the walls of your deck. For an environmentally friendly and cost-effective lighting solution, solar lights might just fit the bill.