8 Design Tips for Outdoor Entertaining

8 Design Tips for Outdoor Entertaining

It is no secret that Americans are rethinking their outdoor spaces post-pandemic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans turned to outdoor spaces for safe family gatherings and holiday parties. Some assumed that this trend would fall away as the pandemic subsided. However, the outdoor entertaining trend is poised to continue well into the winter months of 2021. This might be due to continued fear over variants of the virus. On the other hand, many tie the trend to renewed focus on the mental health benefits of time spent in nature. In fact, recent polls have shown that Americans are more likely to prioritize connections to nature at home after the pandemic. Outdoor space also offers remote workers a change of scenery and a place to relax either during or after the work day. As a result, researchers have reported record spending in home improvements -- including outdoor updates -- in both 2020 and 2021. Homeowners are looking for ways to transform their gardens into oases, their backyards into outdoor living rooms and their patios into year-round dining spaces. Transform your backyard into an incredible outdoor living space perfect for entertaining with our eight outdoor design tips.

Why Outdoor Spaces Matter So Much in 2021

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A June 2021 article from Pasadena Now notes that “green spaces have always been a welcome addition to a home.” However, the “COVID-19 pandemic elevated people’s view on these areas from a nice-to-have to anecessity.” According to Pasadena Now, a majority “of homeowners plan on using their outdoor space just as much, if not more, as the pandemic subsides.” This summer, 50% of Americans plan on using “their outdoor space to host a socially distanced get-together with family and friends in the future.” In order to use these outdoor spaces most effectively, homeowners are pouring cash into improvements.

Adding Property Value with Outdoor Improvements

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In a recent article for Business Insider, Hillary Hoffower noted that “home improvement spending grew by nearly 3% to $420 billion in 2020.” Researchers from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies“ expect the home remodeling market to expand even further in 2021.” Though kitchen remodels and bathroom renovations remain popular, many Americans plan to invest in outdoor updates. Of course, outdoor renovations like adding a deck, heating a patio or planting mature fruit trees all add value. In fact, backyard updates like building a new wooden deck have some of the highest ROIs of any home improvements. However, desire to improve a property’s resale value is not the only reason Americans have turned to outdoor updates.

Improving Mental and Emotional Health byConnecting with Nature

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According to researchers at the University of Vermont, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted how Americans experience nature and value time spent outdoors. In her article “In Pandemic, People Are Turning to Nature – Especially Women” for the Gund Institute for the Environment, Catherine Arnold explains. Arnold writes that a majority of respondents reported that they “cherished a greater sense of mental health and wellbeing” when in nature. To this end, Arnold quotes Gund Graduate Fellow Tatiana Gladkikh. Gladkikh says that “'this study is a timely snapshot of the central role nature plays in our well-being.'" The study shows "'how important access to nature is during challenging, uncertain times like this pandemic.”

A survey conducted by OnePoll in September 2020 produced similar results. According to People Magazine, 58% of respondents "didn’t appreciate nature as much as they should have before the COVID-19 pandemic.” 75% of respondents also noted “a boost in their moods...thanks to spending more time outdoors.” Homeowners now recognize spending time outdoors as vital to well-being. In her article “The new American status symbol: A backyard that’s basically a fancy living room” for The Washington Post, Karen Heller explains. Quoting CEO of Serena & Lily Lori Greeley, Heller writes that “‘emphatic outdoor living is part of our evolving self-care regimen.’” Greeley notes that “‘at the end of day, green plants and blue skies feed everyone’s soul.’” Spending time outside is inexorably “‘connected to wellness...everyone wants to spend more time relaxing outdoors after spending so much time on our devices.’”

Eight Outdoor Design Tips for Entertaining in 2021

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As mentioned above, Americans plan to entertain outdoors -- in rain and shine -- for months to come. In order to create outdoor spaces that support year-round entertaining, homeowners are dissolving the barrier between interior and exterior. Larissa Runkle elaborates in her article “5 of the Most Searched Outdoor Decor Trends of Summer 2021” for Realtor.com. She writes that interest in indoor-outdoor living has exploded this year. Referencing a recent Google trends report, Runkle writes that “‘indoor-outdoor spaces’ is one of the most significantly searched trends of the season.” The term has actually seen a “155.56% increase in popularity from last year.’” Quoting Shelby Greene, Runkle writes “‘when it comes to the outdoors, comforting pieces are here to stay. ’”Create the perfect outdoor entertaining space by investing in indoor-outdoor elements like a formal dining table, comfortable seating and covered areas. Follow below for our tips!

#1 Create a Dining Room in Your Greenhouse

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Some interior designers and architects believe 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic killed formal dining rooms. As remote workers and distance learners struggled to find private space at home, a room dedicated solely to fancy dinner parties was deemed unnecessary. No longer welcome inside the home, the formal dining room simply moved outdoors as part of the indoor-outdoor living trend. Rather than leaving your outdoor dining room open to the elements, we recommend transforming your solarium or greenhouse into an entertaining space. In her article “TastemakersShare Outdoor Party Inspiration to Inspire This Year's Alfresco Affairs” for Veranda, Lauren Wicks offers her advice.

Wicks references a stunning greenhouse dining room designed by Mariee Ami's Neillie Butler and The Frances Flair's Ragan Cain. Butler and Cain designed this space as “the perfect way to enjoy the beauty of nature without having to stand high-summer temperatures.” Not only do greenhouses protect against the heat and cold, but they also shield guests from unexpected summer storms. As such, greenhouse dining rooms are ideal for year-round entertaining. In their greenhouse, Butler and Cain created a romantic tablescape with a centerpiece of white roses, woven tablecloth and formal service set. Because furniture in a greenhouse is protected from the elements, homeowners can choose pieces that have a bit more character without worrying about durability.

#2 Layer Lighting

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Next, each homeowner should consider lighting their backyard, so it can function as a comfortable entertainment space from season to season. Quoting interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard in her article for Veranda, Wicks notes that “‘lighting is everything…[especially] for evening dining.’” Of course, homeowners can use lanterns and candles “to set an intimate mood,” but they should also invest in permanent lighting. Kathryn O’Shea-Evans elaborates inher article “Outdoor Lighting Ideas to Make Your Yard Look Like a Luxury Resort” for The Wall Street Journal.

O’Shea-Evans writes that “the best way to banish murkyshadows is to borrow the sort of layered lighting scheme found in...livingrooms.” According to O’Shea-Evans, homeowners should layer lighting in “threetiers.” In the first tier or highest level, homeowners should hang “loftylanterns” or chandeliers. In the “midrange,” homeowners should add “sconces, illuminatedplants or sculptures and tabletop portable lanterns.” The lowest level of thethree tiers includes “path, understep and underseat lighting.” Combining thesethree tiers of lighting should result in a “cumulative effect [that is] subtle,not stark.” Quoting designer Ken Fulk, O’Shea-Evans continues. She writes thathomeowners should aim for “‘that feeling of fireflies on a summer night’”instead of “‘an overly lit space.’”

#3 Set the Moodwith Scent

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Few of us ever think about scenting outdoor spaces when hosting casual garden parties or fancy fêtes. However, scent is an important part of entertaining -- one that comforts guests and sets the mood. Nashia Baker explains how to “Set the Stage for a Memorable Summertime Celebration by Scentscaping Your Backyard” in her article for MarthaStewart.com. Quoting designer Joanna Buchanan, Baker writes that settling on the right “scent is just as important outdoors” as it is inside. For guests to fondly remember your next al fresco dinner party, scent might be even more significant than a signature cocktail or stunning tablescape. Baker writes that “memories are often linked to distinct smells." As such, "establishing a signature scent during your al fresco summer gathering can set the tone for a good time they will never forget.”

To scent your outdoor space for get-togethers, Baker and Buchanan recommend using natural elements, lighting outdoor candles and filling the yard with flowers. Candles are especially effective because they perform multiple functions. In addition to scenting the space, they also offer light and keep bugs away. Just be sure to choose flowers and candles that do not conflict with the menu you have planned for dinner. Place unscented flowers on the dining table, leaving “the perfumed flowers for reception areas” like the bar.

#4 Diversify Outdoor Seating

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If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught homeowners anything about home design, it is that spaces should be adaptable. The same applies for outdoor spaces, which might host an intimate date night Friday evening and a large garden party Saturday afternoon. To accommodate a never-changing guest list, consider diversifying your outdoor seating. Add a formal dining room under your pergola for adults and scatter cushions around the fire pit for kids.

In her article “Garden party ideas: How to transform your space for outdoor entertaining” for House Beautiful UK, Lisa Walden elaborates. Walden notes that “seating goes beyond just propping up tables and chairs” when entertaining outdoors. After setting up your formal spaces, “decide how you want to provide guests with a place to leisurely recline.” Lisa Walden suggests adding “a garden sofa [where] friends can put their feet up with a chilled beverage.” Homeowners should also consider “a hanging egg chair [which] offers a swaying spot to hunker down in the sun.” If you ever need extra chairs for an especially large event, pull a few chairs from indoors. Indoor furniture adds charm and layers texture while accommodating additional guests.

#5 Create Activity Zones

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As mentioned above, diversity matters when creating a space for outdoor entertaining. While having enough seating is vital, so is entertaining guests in myriad ways. Establish activity zones in order to create a dynamic outdoor space that excites and intrigues guests from day to night. Inher article “8 Ways to Create Zones in Your Landscape” for Houzz, Amanda Pollard offers her advice. Pollard recommends adding a covered area “for comfortable sheltered lounging.”

She also suggests screening part of the garden, so guests can have private conversations over a glass of wine. This screened element can “give the yard a secret garden ambiance.” During the milder months, carve out a spot for family and friends to play bocce ball or another fun game. Homeowners might also consider bringing back the sunken conversation pit, which was incredibly popular in mid-century America. Elevating some areas of your yard while sinking others can make the space feel more complex and dynamic. Lastly, to guide your guests from zone to zone, Pollard suggests paving a path.

#6 Use Plants for Privacy

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Whether throwing a child’s birthday party or hosting a double date, homeowners rarely enjoy the watchful eyes of nosy neighbors. With homeowners spending more time outdoors after the COVID-19 pandemic, backyard privacy has become more important. In her March 2021 article “Homeowners prioritize privacy, even outside” for Colorado Builder Magazine, Danielle Andrus notes that privacy is paramount when entertaining outdoors. Referencing recent research, Andrus writes that “85% of single-family home buyers and 77% of multifamily buyers want privacy in their outdoor areas.” Quoting architect Allison Paul, Andrus notes “‘hands down, the most important feature has been privacy from the neighbor...when looking across the entire country.’”

Homeowners can make their outdoor spaces more private-- and more beautiful -- by swapping traditional screens and fences for strategically placed plants. Terri Williams recommends everything from potted plants to vertical gardens in her article “9 backyard improvements that'll increase your home value” for Real Simple. Quoting designer David Charette, Williams writes “‘potted plants and trellises can provide privacy.'" They also "'add color to your backyard’” while improving the value of your property. Flowering plants like jasmine are perfect for trellises while fruit trees and small evergreen trees work well in pots. In her article “Growing These Backyard Plants Ensure Your Property Remains as Private as Possible” for MarthaStewart.com, Lauren Wellbankelaborates. She recommends palms, bamboo, privet and boxwood. Privet is especially effective because it grows quickly and is rather dense.

#7 Add an Outdoor Kitchen

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With an outdoor kitchen, homeowners can entertain guests just as easily in the winter as they do in the mild spring and summer months. In addition to augmenting the functionality of your year-round entertaining space, outdoor kitchens can also improve a home’s resale value. Wendy Helfenbaum explains in her article “The Luxe Upgrade That Will Actually Help Your House Sell Faster” for Apartment Therapy. According to Helfenbaum, “sales of outdoor kitchens have increased by 106 percent in thepast six months.” Anna Maria Mannarino tells Helfenbaum that homeowners aresearching for ways to “‘bring a restaurant and bar experience to their home.’”

Quoting Katherine Nelson, Helfenbaum notes that “convenient cooking, comfortable seating, and ambiance…[in] outdoor spaces can help buyers fall in love with your home.” To make the most of your outdoor kitchen, add a bar area, preferably with “a built-in wine cooler." Include a "water source, ice maker and...a bar-height counter with stools.” You might also consider a grill and other appliances, a rolling bar cart and a hood or fan to complete your space.

#8 Utilize Vertical Space

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Help your outdoor space feel more like the interior of your home by utilizing vertical space properly. Hang a statement pendant light from the roof of your porch, add a vertical garden to your fence or mount artwork on exterior walls. In her article “5 Easy and Affordable Updates You Can Make to Your Outdoor Space This Summer” for Southern Living, Maggie Burch elaborates. Burch recommends homeowners “hang outdoor curtains [from the pergola] to make your outdoor space feel more like a living room.”

Designing the Perfect Outdoor Entertainment Space with Element

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As California’s premier design-build firm, Element Homes has extensive experience creating transitional indoor-outdoor spaces. After all, mild winters and warm summers make California’s climate ideal for outdoor entertaining year-round. However, the Golden State is not immune to high winds, record heat and chilly December nights. Having worked with clients in SoCal, along the Central Coast and in Northern California, Element Homes understands how weather can impact outdoor entertaining. Give us a call or schedule a consultation to learn how Element can create the perfect outdoor entertaining space for your home.

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