Over the past year we have all been spending much more time outdoors. We’ve been entertaining, relaxing, spending time together with our families and when time allowed,  eventually back with friends. We have also used the outdoors as a tranquil respite. During this time we have re-evaluated how we have utilized these spaces. Now that we are in the Porch Life Season,  its time to think about how we can step up our porches and patios as an extension to our home.

What is the first step on layout when creating an inviting porch or outdoor living area?

First off, I always start with the surrounding.  Look at your space and ask What’s the star view or draw outside?  What should you be looking at when you are gathered and is there a focal point inside like a fireplace? The second question is, How will the space be used? Maybe it will be used for lounging or a combination including dining. You will get much more use out of your space once you figure those out. Then, consider the interior spaces that are close by such as a living room, keeping room or kitchen.  I love to bring the inside aesthetic outside just as much as I like to bring the outside surrounding inside.  It is all about creating harmony between the two.

What do you need to consider when it comes to upholstery ideas?

Because of rain, humidity, winds and other outside elements, the make-up and durability is even more important on your outside space than it is inside.  When working on the construction, it is important to consider every detail, even what outdoor thread is being used.  People tend to think, “ a covered area, it will be fine.”  That really is not the case.  Even on a covered porch, use outdoor fill and good construction for cushions to extend life and avoid interior mildew.  As there are so many beautiful indoor/outdoor fabrics, you can get the same great, rich look outside as inside including things like velvets that are even bleachable.

What are some mistakes people tend to make with porches?

Hands down the biggest mistake I see is people using inside fabrics and pieces on a porch.  Even lamps. Today there is a vast array of outdoor fabrics and lighting out in the market. I love outdoor rated lamps. You really want to spend a bit more for all things rated outdoor use, and you’ll only cry once!

What type of furniture do you recommend?

Use a mix of different furniture types on porches. The layering adds depth and is much more interesting. Try some great upholstery mingled with teak or powdered coated metal, depending on if a space is more traditional vs contemporary. And, just like inside, you’ve added interest by including something unexpected.

Do you have a good rule of thumb on how much seating to have?

Well you want to always have enough for the family. I’d then add on at least 2 spots from there.

How should you treat floors?

If I’m doing a covered porch, I would use a rug.  Again, it is a great way to bring the feeling of the indoors outside.  There are some fabulous indoor/outdoor rug solutions out there now that don’t have that plastic feel of the past.

What do you do about additional lighting – candles or lamps?

Oh lamps for sure.  I would also consider a chandelier or lantern of some sort.  Candles are fun to add a little lift to a table just like inside. It is important to have good lighting so your outdoor space is just as inviting in the darker and cooler hours than in daylight.

What do you suggest for privacy and sun protection?

For a porch, since we are in the South, definitely a screen to keep the bugs out.  For outside, a great umbrella or sail shades.

What do you keep in mind on how to make it inviting for all ages?

Just as you would inside, make sure that the seating isn’t too low or too deep for people to get in and out of their seat. That can be awkward for young kids or more fragile adults.  Also, make sure that your space is well lit. No one likes a dim porch when you’re reading a book or trying to enjoy each other’s company over games, meals, or chats. 

What do you incorporate when you use your porch for entertaining? Unwinding?

I’m Italian, so I really like a place to put out delicious food or snacks.  I love dining alfresco, so I prefer to include a dining table. However,  if the space isn’t big enough, then a great coffee table can also work well to set out snacks or a light meal. As long as you have something to set dishes out on. Music on a  porch adds to the atmosphere,  so make sure to wire for speakers. Beyond that, I would say make sure that there is some place to be able to lounge. Adding pull away pillows for napping is another sure way to invite unwinding.

Is it okay to decorate using indoor items for outdoor use?

No, I wouldn’t. I don’t typically do that as they will not last in the South.  There are so many good outdoor items that can be found, that I tend to lean in that direction.  The one exception would be an item that is typical to inside, but ok outside such as the teak root coffee table that I used in a recent project.

How do you feel about ceiling fans?

Yes! They are a must for bugs and heat in the South.  It’s when I am working in more temperate areas like California, where it wouldn’t be as necessary.

What are some sophisticated touches so it seems more of an additional room to the house?

Rugs, great fabrics like outdoor velvets, lamps, lanterns and décor accents.  Your end goal is to make your outdoor space feel like a true extension of the indoors.

Tish Mills Kirk of Tish Mills Interiors, a preferred vendor of The Meridian Real Estate Group, is an award-winning interior designer who has been working with clients in their homes for more than two decades. She believes that it is essential to put together a cohesive plan for your home renovation before you get started that can be carried out by the team of experts you assemble. www.harmoniousliving.net

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