Monday, June 10, 2013

let's take it outside

Back yard entertaining becomes key for us during the summer months. Entertaining larger groups of people can be a challenge in our home. The modest brick Tudor that we live in is square foot challenged. I realized over the years that if I am going to entertain more than eight people at one time I best take it outside! So when the weather warms up - so does our back yard!

Through trial, trial and more trial, I learned a few tricks to make the transition from back yard to delightful al fresco dining a breeze.

It doesn't have to be just outside the kitchen door (although that does make setting up a lot easier).  Your perfect spot might be on a second patio, under a favorite tree, on the dock, or in the middle of your lawn. 

If you are lucky enough to have an expansive deck, patio or terrace right outside your kitchen then, as the saying goes, you are lucky enough!

A side terrace makes the perfect spot for entertaining. Think about the sun's location and the views when determining where to place your table.

Creating a 12x12 dining area can be easy! Frame in an area with pavers purchased from  Home Depot and add pea gravel, rock or pavers on top. This makes for a defined dining room area. 

Use a path of lawn or pavers to lead guests to an elevated room.  Adding stone steps and flooring makes this spot extra special. 

Carving out a special dining spot like this can take some time but may be well worth it if you live in an area that allows you to use it year-round!
If all you have is a patch of green then go for it....look how special this simple table, bench and chairs are in the middle of a back yard!

MAKE IT comfortable
Lingering is numero uno in our books and how we gauge if our gatherings are a success. Make sure the chairs you choose are comfortable and durable.
Today's outdoor wicker is designed to withstand the elements.

Add cushions to iron for true comfort.

Teak is an ideal wood for the Northwest and adding simple cushions makes them even more comfortable.
Adding fluffy pillows and cushions go a long way in making a hard chair or bench comfy!

When you're thinking about where to set up your outdoor dining room, think about the natural beauty your yard offers. Is there a special tree that would be ideal to sit under?

An outdoor trellis planted with a shade-creating vine adds drama and creates a lovely cocoon for guests. 

Think about creating some delightful scents, au naturel, to your outdoor experience.  We have two trellises on either side of our back yard. One is planted with a grape vine and the other with a potato vine. Both provide wonderful shade and go a long way in creating a natural room but they don't offer much scent. We planted jasmine on support posts and the scent in the summer evenings is intoxicating.  

If this all seems too much right now, then consider planting some delicious smelling roses in a container (or two) and placing them next to the table!

MAKE IT special
I learned a long time ago that life is too short to not use fine china. I think we can all agree that dining at a table with pressed linens is by far nicer than paper.  Whether you use color or white, wrinkled or pressed, adding linen dresses up the table. During one "budget challenged time" I bought some burlap by the yard ($1.99/yard) at JoAnn's and had them cut it to my table's length. I left the edges raw and the effect was lovely!

Setting this table with china, antique glasses and a pressed cloth brings a richness to the outdoor dining experience. 

It's easy to rent tables, chairs, linens, china and glassware from a local party rental company. My go-to company is AA Party Rental because they have all the basics for a good price. I in-fill with my personal items to create a more individualized and special event.

There are not many expansive covered porches in the Northwest (living in a home with a wrap around porch has always been a dream of mine). 

Clients have created the perfect shelter by adding an overhang to a back yard garage. 

If you don't have a permanent structure that provides coverage, then you may need to get a bit more creative so your guests and you don't get rained out.

Planning to tent an event makes the most sense. Unless you own your own tent, this can get expensive.  
Investing in a 10x10 or a 12x12 canopy might pencil out if you do a lot of outdoor entertaining. 
There are plenty of tent rental companies in the Northwest that will deliver, set-up, tear-down and haul away. Sizes vary as do the prices. Some rental tents (depending on the size) are easy enough for you plus one to install.

If the budget doesn't allow for a tent or you are looking for a more custom look, creating a temporary cover can be easy. Bolts of fabric can be grommeted and tied off to poles, trellises or tree branches adding coverage from the sun and, depending on the material, from the rain.

This bolt of floral fabric tied to poles creates intimacy in this large field.

Billowy chiffon is tied over the beverage table to soften the sun and add drama. 

At minimum, a large market umbrella is key to outdoor dining!

SET UP support stations
To make your life a little easier and allow guests to help themselves, set up a serving table or two to play host to side dishes, beverages and desserts.

There's nothing like music to set the mood. Adding outdoor speakers can be a breeze.   

These are the speakers we have - they have worked great and my husband even installed them.
Speakers housed in rocks seem interesting.

illuminate THE NIGHT
Creating ambiance can be as simple as tea lights in mason jars hanging from branches. Or try buying vintage chandeliers on eBay or etsy and hanging them up for a special event. Make sure you are aware of electrical issues for outdoor wiring. Oil lamps and hurricane glass help keep the light burning even during windy nights. 


When the sun goes down our air gets chilly. Keep the night young by adding outdoor heaters or having blankets and throws readily available for guests to use. 

I hope these few tips help you plan a summer filled with simple and easy outdoor dining! 

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur


  1. I love this. When I think of a gathering at your place - outdoors is what always comes to mind. Love the images. So inviting, it is.

  2. Rather belatedly, I am only now reviewing this post Darcy! What beautiful images... Reminiscent of Adam's and my "Meditations on Design" book! (One of our many gifts and learnings from you!) Thank you for this inspiring post :-)