One Outdoor Space: Two Fabric Makeovers

What effect can a little fabric have on a garden room? Two accessories designers work their artistry on identical outdoor living and dining spaces. Vive la difference!


Have you every wondered how to spruce up a plain outdoor living area? See how two designers created two very different looks using a mix of color and pattern.

To soften the hard lines of our classic garden furniture (center photo), fabric designer Laurie Jenkins introduced a bench cushion and throw pillows. She chose fabric-covered ottomans in lieu of side tables. "You can use them as cocktail tables, a footrest, or extra seating," Jenkins says. "Plus, they're lightweight, so you can move them wherever you need them."

She mixed paisley, stripe, polka-dot, plaid, and solid fabrics in the outdoor living room to create a rich, sophisticated tapestry. "Black and white tends to be viewed as contemporary, but I wanted to show it can be traditional, too," Jenkins says.

Introducing rich interior details to the outdoor spaces (lower photo), fabric designer Elaine Smith entertained visions of sassy reds and rich browns as soon as she saw the outdoor living and dining rooms. "I like to use contrasting colors -- some light, some dark -- because it just makes a space more compelling," she says. "This combination seemed so warm and inviting and perfect for a setting with a lot of natural greens." She cocooned the space with drapes secured with formal tie-backs and embellished a long bench cushion with luxurious fringe.

For an unexpected touch, Smith paired pillows in traditional interior patterns of herringbone and paisley with outdoor cabana-style stripes. Floor pillows provide extra seating or convert side tables to comfy footrests. "I designed the floor pillows with kids and pets in mind," Smith says. "The fabrics are so durable you can just leave them out and hose them off."

In our top photo, there is little to invite family or guests to linger over a summer meal. The fix was fabric. See the transformations!

In the outdoor dining room (center photo), Jenkins layered a long table skirt with a tablecloth and runner to take the space from rustic to regal. "The more elegant a dining room is, the more likely people are to use it," she says. "And the great thing about outdoor fabrics is they're beautiful, but they also perform and endure, so you don't have to be afraid to use them."

In our lower photo, a table skirt and lavishly trimmed tablecloth and runner prepare the space for high-style dining. "You don't have to use a plastic tablecloth," Smith says. "You can dress up outside, too." To balance the heavily patterned table, Smith used solid red for drapes and cushions. "Color just breathes new life into any space, indoors or out, making it much more exciting," she says.

Fabric designer Laurie Jenkins transformed our outdoor living and dining rooms with a chic black-and-white color palette, and then she accented it with a splash of lime.

The finishing touch for both rooms: sun panels. "They frame the pergola, provide privacy, and you can keep them tied back or let them loose to change the feel of the space," Jenkins says. "I like the simple detailing on these because the stripes near the top give the space a vertical lift."

"I don't think we've even scratched the surface on how fabric can be used outdoors," Jenkins says. "The possibilities for bringing fashion outside are endless and exciting."

Designer Laurie Jenkins recommends using at least three fabric patterns in a room. "Diversity lends richness to a setting," she says. "Outdoors you can use even bolder colors and patterns because you need to balance against nature's own strong color palette."

Designer Spotlight

Laurie Jenkins launched the Laurie Bell line of outdoor accessories in 2001.

Designer Elaine Smith selected solid red for the sun panels because it will stand the test of time. "Outdoor fabrics are made to last," Smith says, "so choose a fabric that you won't quickly tire of for larger items, such as drapes.

Solid red fabrics balance the liberal use of stripes on cushions and pillows. Notice how the stripes were cut into triangles and positioned on the large square pillows to create a striking geometric design.

"I've always had the most fun with accessories," Smith says. "When new fabrics come out, it feels like Christmas."

Smith recommends using novelty fabrics on pillows and other smaller, easy-to-change accessories.

Designer Spotlight

Elaine Smith launched a line of indoor pillows in 1997 and expanded the line in 2004 to include outdoor accessories.

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