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How to Design an Outdoor Room

Interior designer Rebecca Plumb shares her 5 tips for creating an outdoor space you’ll want to use all summer long.

You know the saying: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or, when life topples a huge tree across your backyard and into your house, make a project of it.

That’s just what Rebecca Plumb did in this spring’s #OneRoomChallenge, a twice-yearly collective makeover in which guest participants from all over the country work to complete a home project within a 6-week time period. The challenge started shortly after Rebecca and her family awoke to a giant oak tree that fell across part of her backyard and into the roof. Thankfully, only the house was hurt, but the clean-up process became an opportunity to give the backyard the attention Rebecca had wanted to since they’d moved in two years prior.

Rebecca applied her expertise as an interior designer to this exterior project. She kept comfort and functionality at the forefront, while adding a number of special touches that make the space uniquely theirs.

Watch the video above or read on to see her finished outdoor room and hear her five tips for making an alfresco area of your own that you’ll be excited to use throughout warm-weather seasons.

Tip #1: Assess your space.

If you’re already using your outdoor space regularly, take stock of what you like about it. And if you aren’t, note those reasons as well. In her large yard, Rebecca noticed she wasn't using it much because, “I felt very exposed—there was no containment, and it just didn’t feel comfortable.” One of her goals for the project was then create some borders around the dining space to help it feel more like a cozy room.

Tip #2: Get the lighting right.

“To me, lighting really made the biggest difference out here,” Rebecca said. She combined several layers and lighting types: dotting the fence line with deck lights, a spotlight for a small tree grove, path lights along the walk way, and a dimmable pendant over the dining table for extra ambiance. The different layers help highlight each area and provide needed visibility for using the space at night.

Tip #3: Choose your style wisely.

Whether lighting, furniture or décor and accessories, select pieces for your home that will reflect not only your style, but the style of your home as well, Rebecca recommends. She stuck with clean-lined fixtures that lent themselves to the clean design of her mid-century modern style home, then took a more decorative approach with pendant lighting that spoke to her personal taste.

Tip #4: Simplify where you can.

Just because you’re trying to build a great outdoor space, don’t be afraid to take away what’s already there if it’s not working. Rebecca’s yard had plenty of beautiful foliage, but it wasn’t all serving the space. Taking out a giant shrub revealed a mini Redwood Tree grove that became a backdrop for one corner of the yard. And taking out a planter box that wasn’t really in the way actually opened up the whole yard and helped the design of the different spaces all flow together.

Tip #5: Style—Like you mean it.

Styling the inside of your home is one of the most fun parts of decorating—finding things that speak to you, reflect your style and tie the space together. Your outdoor room is no different. Pops of color, textures, and varying sizes and shapes are a great way to add accents that showcase style and taste, Rebecca says.

But most of all, there's one rule you'll definitely want to stick to.

“Just have fun with it,” Rebecca said. Happy summer!

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