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Dan and I love to entertain at our home. When we lived in our grand old Greek revival in Atchison, Kansas, welcoming large groups was no big deal. But our snug little lake cottage where we live now just doesn’t have the space for big gatherings. So when we renovated the house, we decided to make the most of our outdoor spaces so the party could spill outside.

Our cottage has a walkout lower level that looks down toward the lake, so we turned the space just outside the ground floor door into an outdoor living room and dining room. A vine-covered wooden arbor keeps the spot shady in the summer and the house, which edges the patio on two sides, protects it from some wind and rain.

We use the patio all year long, whenever weather permits. This is where you’ll find Dan and me every evening, enjoying dinner or a drink as we watch the sun set on the lake. During the warm months, this is the spot for parties, giving guests the ability to spread out on the lawn and on down toward the lake and dock. In the colder months, we have more intimate gatherings, ringed around a roaring fire, snuggled up under throw blankets.

Instead of using furniture that is made for the outdoors, I colored outside the lines by decorating this open-air space much as I would my indoor rooms, with comfortable furniture, artwork and accents. Some people think I’m crazy to risk using beautiful things outdoors in our harsh Midwest climate, but I really like it when my outdoor rooms are decorated similarly to those inside. When necessary, I baby the pieces that are more delicate, like cushions and pillows on the chairs. This extra hassle is worth it to me because the comfort and beauty of the space makes the difference between us really living on the patio every day or opting to stay inside.

The main artwork in the patio is nature itself, with vistas of the lake, the gardens and the wild animals that share the land with us. But I’ve also hung a few pieces to help make the spot feel more like a room. Above the stone fireplace mantel, I secured a blue and white platter that has withstood two winters without mishap. On one wall is a collection of framed mirrors. On another hangs a painting with the poem “Lake Isle of Innsifree” by W.B. Yeats, Dan’s favorite poem, from which our cottage got its name.

Another trick for making your outdoor rooms beautiful is great lighting. Adding an interesting chandelier that hangs over our dining table is on my to-do list for this spring. Right now when we entertain outdoors, we use strings of party lights and bathe the area in candlelight. When I entertain outdoors, I use seasonal table linens and dishes because I like how luxurious and impractical it feels, making even a casual event feel special.

Our dining table on the patio stays out year-round. It’s an old piece that had some flaws in it but was still sturdy and solid, so I decided it would make a great outdoor family dining table. Every year, we cover it with a few coats of Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane and it still looks tremendous.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at nellhills.com.

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