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Outdoor furnishings designed by Interiors by Donna Hoffman, Photography by Peter Rymwid

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Backyard Oasis

How to avoid common mistakes in outdoor design

Question: What do you get when you cross chaise lounges and a patio with a grill and dining table for 8?

Answer: Either your little slice of outdoor heaven, or a trip to that other place!

People consistently err in outdoor design in the same areas and to the tune of dollars shredded, opportunities missed and abounding frustration. Outdoor design is not without cost or complexity so this article is intended to see your safe passage to the outdoor space that will feed your soul.

What is at Play:

There are certain, “rules of the road’ – for indoor or outdoor design – that are ignored at your own peril.

The first of these rules is that form (beauty) follows function. One of the first lessons taught in design school: You must optimize function of any space first, then you make it beautiful.  

In the vernacular, as applied to your outdoor space:

+ Make sure you can comfortably and safely move around and between all furnishings themselves as well as the functional hardscaping (patio edges, deck steps, railings, pools, etc).

+ Make sure your outdoor furnished spaces seat the number of people you want AND in the way you want – sitting upright, lounging or reclining. 

+ Try not to fall into the aesthetic trap shown in catalogs of matchy-matchy with a side order of more “matchy-ness”. (Thank you Grandin Road catalog)

Let’s break it down and pull no punches …because I love you.

Rule #1: Furniture layout and spacing will either make a space feel and look fantastic, or, if you blow it,  your outdoor space will look and feel like @#%*. PERIOD. 

Think about it. I could design the most stunning outdoor patio and pool deck for you, but if it is underfilled with too little furniture, it will forever feel cold and unfinished to you, no matter how handsome the furnishings. Conversely, if I packed the furnishings so tightly that you can’t comfortably move between the end of a chaise and your pool, or the back of a dining chair and the grill, the space would forever feel crowded and uncomfortable, looking terrible too.

Furniture layout - specifically space planning – is the most misunderstood and underrated piece of design. But I ask you: Did Coco Chanel ever build a dress without a sketch and a pattern?

I want you to channel your inner Coco.

You need a space plan. Don’t shortchange this step, and don’t rely on a talented, green-thumbed landscape architect to save you here. Completely different skill set. I do suggest a professional designer if budget affords – or if you’re DIY all the way – invest in an online space planning program and self-educate the best you can.

Rule #2: Make sure your outdoor space seats the number of people you want and in the way you want.

I always ask clients how they want to use a space. Do you like to have your feet up while you hang in a lounge chair, then a firepit with a generous ledge might do the trick. Prefer to sunbathe with each of your kids? Then having a chaise lounge per family member is must. That is….if there is an available 72” of length for the chaises before the pool’s edge, plus 36” for pass through.

Design is math…who knew?

Be sure to answer the question: How do I want this Patio/Deck/Pool Deck/Outdoor Room/Covered Porch to function and then work backwards from there.

Rule #3: Outdoor design is trending into greater sophistication with vendors pushing the limits of indoor aesthetic and comfort into outdoor fabrics and frames.

Designers achieve a high-end look by mixing textures and silhouettes, rather than settling into matchy-matchy – the way the catalogs show. Must you use the exact furniture suite all over a yard? A design professional would say no, instead suggesting layering silhouettes, finishes and fabrics as we do indoors. This said, try to keep your finishes and fabrics to a contained minimum for a truly elegant and resort feel.

And, if you feel this is all above your paygrade and you don’t want to blow it after investing as you have in your hardscaping, I encourage you to find one of the fabulous interior designers available to you here in the great County of Bucks. A good designer is worth her weight in gold….or pool floats.

Happy designing lovely! 😉

About Donna Hoffman: A multi-award-winning Bucks County based designer, Hoffman’s company, Interiors by Donna Hoffman, specializes in new construction, renovation, whole home and full room design, delivering livable luxury to discerning clients. Seen in Forbes, Real Simple, TV and radio, Donna is considered a design thought leader. Called the nation’s #1 design coach because she founded, Donna also loves providing on-line courses that empower DIY’ers across the country. 

  • Outdoor furnishings designed by Interiors by Donna Hoffman, Photography by Peter Rymwid
  • Outdoor furnishings designed by Interiors by Donna Hoffman
  • Outdoor furnishings designed by Interiors by Donna Hoffman
  • Outdoor furnishings designed by Interiors by Donna Hoffman