By design: An invitation for outdoor living

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal Uclick

Warm weather and sunshine can do wonders for your body, mind and soul. And if you have an inviting outdoor living space where you can stretch out and chillax with your fave frosty beverage, all the better!

A few years ago, talk about patio, terrace or deck shifted to "rooms," as the idea of extending interiors became a goal. Now it's not so much about rooms, but style. Keeping it consistent, so there's a seamless flow from furnishings and palette in your home to what you choose to surround yourself with outside.

Even al fresco cooking styles have expanded, with debates about charcoal versus gas, Green Egg or Kamado and Argentinian grills. How about a pizza oven? Sometimes more than one style of cooking is now part of an outdoor kitchen, which, depending on your space, may include a sink, fridge, wine cooler or even beer dispensers.

Although outdoor furniture still is sold in "suites" -- groupings of sofas and chairs, dining tables with chairs in the same style -- some manufacturers are beginning to rethink the sameness and mix it up a bit.

That's especially true in Europe, where designers are masters of the mix -- pairing concrete or porcelain with wood or metal and rattan, for example, and combining unexpected palettes, not just summer brights.

"There are definitely international trends emerging in outdoor furnishings," says Richard Frinier, a lauded designer who creates collections for both American and European companies. "Modular pieces have become the centerpiece of most outdoor living spaces. Seating for lounge chairs and sectionals is slightly deeper. Left and right units can be added on to create different shapes for entertaining or used as chaises or grouped and clipped together as daybeds.

"The ability to mix materials, textiles, textures, constructions and patterns has never been as accessible. And color trends incorporate every combination imaginable, allowing people to really express themselves without feeling like they have to follow any particular trend."

Part of what's driving this enormous accessibility, of course, is social media.

"Social media continues to be the main influencer," says Frinier. "Brands from every corner of the world show their designs on their websites, blogs, videos and across social media platforms with a click of the mouse."

A playful pattern of check and flowers is underfoot in this charming setting with colorful bistro furniture. The Oaxaca design by Nani Marquina is part of the first collection of outdoor rugs for the eponymous Spanish brand Nanimarquina.

And reporting from international shows has fed Instagram with images of all the latest textiles, lighting, rugs and accessories. Seasonal Living (, a manufacturer whose products include modern outdoor furniture, lamps tables and sculptures made of colorful ceramics, recently launched a free magazine whose mission is "to inspire you to live a life of wellness and sustainability -- in harmony with the beauty of nature's season." There are articles on "off the beaten track travel destinations," food and drinks, recipes and entertaining.

Perhaps part of the seduction of European-designed outdoor furniture is fearless color combinations, form and surprising influences. A new table by Antonio Citterio from B and B Italia, for example, has a slender frame, shown in a rich terra cotta. But one surface choice is extraordinary: enameled lava stone with clay decoration that appears to be a lacey overlay, especially striking in charcoal over the burnt orange.

Gloster's new Dune seating by Sebastian Herkner, honored as designer of the year in January at Maison and Objet in Paris, takes cues from indoor upholstery features like quilting. The way Herkner puts dusty shades together, like cinnamon, a pink and lavender, is appealing.

Of course, there's nothing more inspirational than a fabulous image, to be drawn into a shot with a gorgeous landscape. It's the aspirational aspect that Frinier long has embraced. His newest Tangier collection for Century Furniture takes architectural and design elements from Morocco -- one of his favorite destinations.

"Among all of my travels to more than 40 countries across five continents, my time spent in Morocco was extremely inspiring. It's really the ultimate nomadic travel experience for its sense of allure, mystery, rich history and artistic heritage.

"While the colors of souk markets, with their inspired foods, aromatic spices, mint tea, roses, clothing, shoes and crafts, are incredibly memorable, it is the remarkable architectural style and design elements that captivated me. White stucco walls, arches, domes, blue doors and windows, geometric patterns, romantic courtyards with tiled moriscas and lavish gardens are remarkable."

Sometimes even the simplest addition of greenery can be huge.

At Maison and Objet, the Italian brand Gervasoni paired tall-backed strappy chairs and two totally mismatched chairs with a curvy concrete base table topped with marble -- all whites, grays and black. A montage of dripping greenery and lights was constructed above, like a chandelier hanging overhead -- and it was design genius.

Don't forget about accessories -- pillows, rugs, lanterns and small garden stools or tables -- that can add a pop of color and pattern. Elaine Smith ( brings fashion to her stylish pillow designs -- with dressmaker details like cords and trims -- all with on-trend color combinations. One new rug design from the eponymous Spanish brand Nanimarquina juxtaposes florals with checks in a striking pattern that is modern but reminiscent of antique Bessarabia.

Frinier feels we spend so much time connected online that we need to think about wellness. "We need balance," he says.

"Beyond creating outdoor dining and entertaining spaces, find the unique space outside where you can place a lounge chair, ottoman and small occasional table near filtered sunlight, where you can actually read a book or sketch or simply relax or meditate with calming music or to the sound of wind chimes," he says. "A place for a chaise lounge, daybed or hammock where you can laze and nap.

"For those who live in apartments or condominiums, a chair or chaise by French doors to a small balcony or a window where sunlight may flood in create that feeling of a retreat and getaway.

"We really need to unplug, unwind and undo. Relaxing makes us more aware of ourselves, our surroundings and it ignites and fuels the creative spirit to be still with our own thoughts."