Ask a Designer: Transitioning outdoor spaces for fall
Outdoor decorating often focuses on turning decks, patios and porches into summer destinations. But some people love their outdoor entertaining space even more when the weather turns colder.
“Being outside with friends and family on a slightly chilly evening is about as good as it gets,” says Florida-based interior designer Andrew Howard. “I have a lot of great memories with drinks and good friends sitting around a fire. Often I don’t remember the weather, but more that we enjoyed each other’s company.”
New York interior designer Young Huh agrees: “I love being outdoors as the air becomes crisp and cold,” she says. “The light seems brighter and glows more golden in the evenings.”
We’ve asked Howard, Huh and Massachusetts-based designer Kristina Crestin for tips on the perfect mix of accessories, colors, scents and firelight to make an outdoor entertaining space fall-friendly.
Crestin has decorated her patio in Massachusetts in shades of turquoise and chartreuse, which look cool in summer. Then she easily updates the look for fall by adding throw blankets and other accessories in plum tones.
The same concept works if you’ve got a crisp blue and white color scheme outside: It looks nautical and cooling all summer long, but with the addition of throw blankets in navy and camel-colored fleece, or woolen plaids, the space feels right for fall.
To make these transitions easier, keep a set of outdoor pillows specifically for colder weather, Huh says. Or change the pillow covers out for some warmer tones as the weather changes. Consider your current color scheme, and then get creative. Huh suggests considering patterns like a brown-and-white check, a tartan plaid in shades of brown, orange and cream, or even warm, orange polka dots.
Fall plants can also change the space. Huh loves yellow, orange and red chrysanthemums in rustic baskets, and uses hay bales at different heights to create high and low displays for dahlias and chrysanthemums, dried corn, pumpkins and other items.
Another powerful transformer: scented candles. Howard recommends them year-round; they can keep mosquitoes at bay in summer, and scent the air in fall, winter and spring. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and pine are great choices.
Table accessories can also signal the transition of seasons: “Fall is the ultimate ‘eat outside’ season,” says Howard. Opt for table linens and dishware in fall colors that complement your outdoor table and chairs. Huh says touches like bowls of apples with walnuts and pecans can finish the look.
If you’ll be buying any new outdoor furniture at end-of-summer sales, look for pieces with thick, deep cushions. They “allow for more pillows and blankets,” Crestin says, and let you nestle deep into the cushions for warmth and comfort on cold nights.
Another consideration when buying seat cushions and pillows for use in the fall: They might get sooty if they’re close to a fire pit, so choose items that are machine washable or easily replaceable, Crestin says.
She also suggests looking for flexible seating options that are durable but also easy to relocate if guests want to move closer to a fire or cluster together in cooler weather. She uses ceramic stools that are “heavy enough that they’re not going to blow away” but are easy to lift.
A fire pit is often the most crucial piece of an appealing outdoor space in colder weather. “I would rather have a fire and a great conversation than worry about pillows and changing them by season,” says Howard. Even in Florida, “I put in fire pits all the time.”
Beyond warmth, a fire offers beauty and a focal point.
“An outdoor fire is like nature’s TV,” says Huh. “Wood fires are mesmerizing to watch, smell good, and give us a wonderful sense of coziness and wellbeing.”
A wide range of styles and sizes of fire pits are available. “I love a simple copper kettle fire pit,” says Huh. “They look warm and lovely even in the daytime without a fire. Of course, if you can manage it, having a built-in stone fire pit can fit in both modern and traditional styles.”
Fire pits don’t have to be large, says Howard. And the location can vary depending on your space and preference.
“Ours is sunk into the patio” along the edge of the grass, says Crestin. Guests sit in chairs or stand nearby, or they can spread out a blanket on the grass nearby.
Crestin recommends using color bricks that you can throw in the fire to add color to the flames. “They’re almost like a graham-cracker size,” she says. “It isn’t totally seasonal, but I find that we’re using those more in the fall.”
And if you’d prefer not to light a fire or you’re seeking even more warmth, “outdoor heaters are a wonderful new invention,” Huh says. “Clustering a few around a seating area can really emit a warm and cozy feeling even on the chilliest fall evenings.”