Backyard Retreat

Shannon Urnes, Lead Designer at Forshaw of St. Louis, tells us how to spruce up an outdoor seating space to make it enjoyable year-round.

Edited by Moe Godat   

Portrait Photography by Colin Miller/Strauss Peyton


Outdoor Comforts Your outdoor space should have all the comforts and amenities of your indoor space; it should flow effortlessly from inside to out. The idea is to create a second living room, and if you get it right you will never want to come inside! To create the perfect outdoor space, the five most important pieces to focus on are furniture, lighting, fire pit or fireplace, shade and an outdoor kitchen or grill.

Lighten Up I like to create ambience in an outdoor space, so I focus more on accent lighting such as lamps, lanterns, string lights and pendant lighting. To create a more functional illumination you can use an oversized chandelier, just make sure you are using lights that are listed for outdoor use.

Bring the Inside Out There are many new products out this year, but what I am most excited about is that outdoor furniture is starting to look more like indoor furniture. Fully upholstered pieces, cast stone tables, chunky faux wicker seating with huge bed pillow cushions and beautiful caned pieces. There are also some furniture collections that have a Parisian feel in blue, white and acrylic pieces that are making a statement with stainless steel accents. Also, firepits with faux timber and shadow rock tops are a big hit this year.

Creating Privacy My favorite way to provide privacy is through the use of large planters with big, tall, ornamental grasses and bamboo. You can also use vinyl lattice with climbing greenery or a vertical garden. Balcony screens are also an economical way to create privacy while adding interest to your space.

Keeping it Cool Cool and shady is key for summer in St. Louis! An umbrella in a dining table or a cantilevered umbrella hanging over a seating area is a quick and inexpensive way to create shade. Pergolas with curtain panels or shades or a gazebo will also make your space unique while providing shade.

Get Warm There are many ways to add warmth to your outdoor space during the off season. Fire pits and propane fire tables are great at creating atmosphere while keeping you warm. Outdoor heaters are inexpensive and portable; most have wheels so they can be moved around where you need them. If your space is large enough, an outdoor fireplace, whether wood or gas, creates a dramatic focal point!

Find Your Fabric The best and only fabric to use outdoors is a solution-dyed fabric like Sunbrella or Outdura. Because the color goes all the way through each fiber, it is more fade resistant and easy to clean. You can even use a bleach-based cleaning product on these fabrics with no worries!

Hanging Draperies Shades and draperies are a great way to create shade and privacy. You can use a tension rod or curtain rod made for outdoor use. Also, be sure to use an outdoor fabric to ensure it is fade- and mildew-resistant.