Decorating from the Inside Out

The prettiest, most relaxing room in your house can actually be outside it.


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Picture stepping out for a romantic evening without leaving your property.

Imagine a dining room far from the kitchen heat, a reading nook with natural light, a living room with nary a need for air-conditioning. All this could be as close as your backyard.

Unlike a front porch that is on display to passersby, backyard rooms provide private sanctuaries for family and friends, and offer a mini vacation from the hustle and bustle of the main house.

To get the most out of your investment and actually expand the size of your living quarters, plan a room that can be functional both day and night. If you live in a warm climate, design your room to span several seasons.

When you're decorating, walk right by the stiff, unimaginative porch furniture. Look for all-weather fabrics, which are becoming as exciting and sophisticated as interior ones now that high-end textile companies making outdoor-living fabrics. (See the last page for more fabric tips.)

The new performance materials repel stains and resist fading like never before. Thanks to new weaving and finishing techniques, they have the look and feel of traditional upholstery fabric. These fabrics might cost more, but they last longer and can save you money in the long run.

Where do you start your outdoor room? Designers weigh in on the following pages.

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Interior designer Brian Killian suggests looking to your home for inspiration. "If the space is visible from the house, tie in the architecture," he says. "If it's hidden, treat it as a fantasy or folly with an altogether different style."

Killian initially wanted seating by his pool (top photo, right). "I was looking for a destination space -- someplace to go and gather," he says. He incorporated the feel of his 1947 Cape Cod-style home in Birmingham, Michigan, into a cabana by crowning it with a classic pediment and installing a trio of stately columns at each corner.

Designer M.E. Yeck suggests considering what you want, what you need, what you can afford, and what you have room for. "We made the gazebo exciting by using a fanciful mix of textures and colors," he said. (lower photo, right)

Yeck and his business partner, R.E. Bouchard, designed a Savannah, Georgia, gazebo. Built from scratch, it transformed a weedy yard into an English summerhouse. "The homeowners wanted a space away from the house as an entertaining retreat," Yeck says. "The openness allows for breezes even in the heat of Savannah summers." The room seats six to eight people for get-togethers, afternoon tea, or just relaxing.

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While each of these rooms has a different feel, they all have one thing in common: stylish curtains to block the sun or breeze, soften the space, and dress their open sides.

For a perfect balance of form and function, designer Peter Falk created eight movable tuffets in dots, swirls, checks, and turtle motifs in this elegant outdoor living room created for the Hamptons Showhouse. "People should be able to talk to each other easily," Falk says.

"You can still feel formal and elegant -- as if the living room has simply been transported outside," interior designer Peter Falk says. "It's a nice change to have a more opulent setting outside."

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Designer Lili McIntire, owner of Gardenology, recommends thinking about the outside just as you would the inside, as evidenced by her billowy terrace created for the San Diego Historical Showhouse. She notes that "The beauty and warmth of interior spaces can easily be brought outside."

"People get scared when they think about designing an outdoor space," she says. With the many new choices in outdoor fabrics and furniture, it's easier than ever to create inviting outdoor spaces. The billowy white fabric used here filters the sun and defines the terrace and its seating groups.

If warm weather wanes, the draperies can come down and the furniture can go into storage. But your refuge doesn't have to go into hibernation. In place of the fluttering curtains and plush couches, put up a stately evergreen decked with holiday cheer.

+ enlarge image 1. Seashell Baroque (green print) 2. Kauai (blue stripe) 3. Chevron d'Ete (green & white) 4. Cabana tiebacks (tassels) 5. Les Coraux (coral motif) (See manufacturers below.)

Today's outdoor fabrics are almost limitless. In days past, the choices were simple. Now the questions are chenille or canvas? Florals or shells? Pastel, primary, or black?

These outdoor fabrics are also being used inside the house. If a thunderstorm won't ruin them, don't worry about your 3-year-old!

Think soft pillows, kick-up-your-feet couches, and spillproof slipcovers. Add all-weather draperies to the sunny side of a porch, and you can drop them down for the hottest part of the day, without fear of fading.

Pull them back for a smart, mood-setting effect. At the end of the season, take them down to clean, and they'll be as good as new. We're not talking about the patio furniture with striped vinyl cushions or other outdoor textiles you grew up with. Today's fabrics have beauty and brawn.

To withstand the extremes of the elements, look for fabrics that resist stains, mildew, fading, and rot, that are water-repellent, and that can sustain freezing conditions. Well-known manufacturers are getting into the act.

With all these choices, it's more inviting than ever to live outside the box!

Pillow photo, from left: 1. Seashell Baroque (green print), Scalamandre; 2. Kauai (blue stripe), Donghia; 3. Chevron d'Ete (green and white), Schumacher; 4. Cabana tieback (tassel), Donghia; 5. Les Coraux (white with coral motif), Schumacher. (See more fabric sources below.)

Fabric Resources

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  • FABRIC COLLAGE Top row 1. Versailles, Chella; 2. Poolside, Robert Allen; 3. Fruit Punch, Lulu DK Middle row 4. Secret Garden, the Joe Ruggiero collection for Sunbrella; 5. Bal Harbour, Waverly; 6. Soleil Indienne, Schumacher Bottom row 7. Maritime, ScalamandrĂ©; 8. Cabana Village, Waverly; 9. Madison, Lulu DK
  • Developed in conjunction with Sunbrella, Donghia's vibrant Fiesta and Aloha collections and Kravet's Soleil line, are as design-forward as the rest of their offerings.
  • Joe Ruggiero's collection for Norwalk Furniture alsp feature environmentally resistant Sunbrella textiles.
  • Likewise, Scalamandre and Stroheim & Romann have introduced a bevy of weather-resistant fabrics, as has boutique fabric designer Lulu de Kwiatkowski.
  • Waverly's Sun N Shade fabrics feature lively patterns and a durable nonstick coating.
  • Originally developed for the hotel industry, Giati Textiles and Chella's All-Environment collection, which features a very touchable chenille, are now available to homeowners.
  • Crypton Super Fabrics also are available to the public. This engineered fabric is woven in such a way that it becomes a barrier against stains, water, and bacteria, keeping cushions safe.
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