From outdoor rugs to all-weather fabrics, furnishing an outdoor space is a breeze
Story: Catherine Stewart
Outdoor rooms have to do double duty — we want the feeling of alfresco, of air and light and greenery around us, but at the same time, we want our creature comforts of big, soft couches, ambient lighting and to be surrounded by beautiful things. Gone are the days of a cheap plastic dining setting and some old terracotta pots. Outdoor rooms are now very difficult to pick from indoor rooms, except for the absence of full-height walls and maybe the ceiling as well!
Outdoor environments, even those that are protected, are still punishing on materials. UV light, heat, rain, wind and falling debris such as leaves and twigs, as well as damage from pets, birds and insects, mean many pieces will fade, buckle, rust, spot and stain. Furniture, fabrics, lights and artwork have to be specially built from carefully selected materials. The good news is that the choice and availability of beautiful and enduring furniture and decorator items will have you wanting to use them inside your house as well.
Just like indoors, the most appealing outdoor rooms can’t be pigeonholed as one particular style. Mixing some solid, neutral-toned basics with an eclectic array of colour and pattern combinations or ethnic imported pieces give just the right balance of solid comfort and interesting detail.
Nothing says “outdoor room” quite as loudly as outdoor lounge furniture and there’s nothing like a big, comfy couch and coffee and side tables to draw you outside. Woven outdoor furniture made from synthetic materials is very much in vogue at the moment for lounge suites, daybeds, sunlounges and dining settings with international brands such as Dedon taking Australia by storm. Of course, furniture is also available in wood, rattan, wicker or timber, with steel or aluminium frames. Choose tables to match or consider polished concrete, marble, slate or Corian table tops for a hardwearing surface.
Today, we have a lot more choice in the fabrics we can use outdoors. Once outdoor cushions used to feel like they were plastic coated, and they got mildewed and smelly in damp weather. Now outdoor fabrics have a coating bonded onto the yarn before weaving, so the fabrics feel soft and pliable but have the UV resistance to stand up to many hours of sunlight. Water and stain repellence mean that furniture coverings and cushions keep their bright designer colours and patterns while being easy clean. Look for cushions that have a quick-draining foam fill like Dacron.
As outdoor environments have much brighter light, pastels tend to look too pale. Use scatter cushions to bring a vibrant note into your outdoor room, mixing up patterns or colours for some real designer zing. You can buy off-the-shelf or have something custom-made from an outdoor fabric such as Maroc and Aitutaki from Mokum Textiles.
Outdoor fabrics can also be used for wall hangings and banners that pick up the same theme and liven up a dull wall or dark corner. You can find outdoor cushions and banners in textile art fabrics, individually produced to custom sizes. For screening and a light, romantic feel, you can use floaty fabrics around daybeds or as a curtain to divide spaces within an outdoor room.
Use rugs to anchor your furniture within the space of your outdoor room. Colourful and interestingly textured outdoor rugs are now available from various sources. A company called Gaiam sells rugs fashioned from recycled plastic bottles, which are made by a Fair Trade group in Thailand. At the designer end of the market, there are products like the Bicicleta Rug from Nanimarquina, which is hand-woven from old bicycle tyres.
Look for a rug that’s designated an outdoor rug or you can use an indoor-outdoor rug made from polypropylene, such as the Hampen rug Ikea, which comes in red or green. You wouldn’t leave them out in the rain or uncovered areas, but they’re great for covered outdoor areas because they’re durable and easy to clean.
Then there are bamboo rugs for a more neutral-toned alternative and in the United States you can buy beautiful, woven, outdoor rugs made from Duracord, a soft and completely weather-resistant yarn, which means it probably won’t be long before we see them here.
Framed artworks may seem very “indoors”, but some artists are now offering original works created in outdoor-rated paints so you can enjoy quality art everywhere, even beside the pool. Weatherproof outdoor prints come in a range of styles, such as the Weatherprints collection and there are companies such as Colour Rush in Queensland producing designer wall plaques for outdoor use. Another option is to buy outdoor photographs in large sizes to give you the view you wish you had, but can’t afford.
Using mirrors is a clever way of increasing the apparent size of a small balcony or courtyard or reflecting light into a dark corner. Outdoor mirrors (you cannot use indoor mirrors as they will quickly deteriorate) work best set at an angle where they don’t easily reflect the viewer. Mosaic frames do double duty as a colourful artwork.
Mirrors and screens in metal seem natural in outdoor settings, such as galvanised wrought-iron, which is then treated to give it a selected metal finish, like faux rust or copper verdigris. Several artists specialise in this type of outdoor metal work but Rivas Designs in Sydney is one of the best. Another option is to use Corten steel mirror frames, which are favoured for the beautiful, rich rusted surface.
While you could choose a large statement sculpture or fountain to dominate your outdoor room, there are more subtle alternatives for balconies, tight corners and small tables. Sydney designer Annie Storey makes delicate sculptures or fountains in recycled copper inspired by beautiful plant forms. The malleability of the copper allows infinite adjustment to get the sound of the falling water just right and several will fit in bowls only 30cm across.
If a wall fountain is more what you had in mind, perhaps something with a collecting pond that recirculates water would suit. There are plenty of options around, ranging from off-the-shelf features to custom-designed products from companies such as H2O Designs.
Your outdoor space needs quality lighting to give the real feel of an outdoor room. Using downlights, floorlights and table lamps will bring all the right ambience. LED lights can be used indoors and out, but make sure the lights have the right IP (ingress protection) rating for outside use.
To make the most of your outdoor room you need to achieve the right balance between task, accent and ambient lighting.
We all hate housework, but don’t neglect the regular cleaning and maintenance necessary to keep your outdoor room in top condition. There’s nothing worse than mildewy cushions, bird droppings, insect spots and splintery wood to turn a beautiful (and expensive) outdoor room into a place you no longer go.