An outdoor living room is the ultimate in outdoor luxury. A place to put your feet up, a place to relax while you feel the breeze on your face and the sun on your skin.
For a space that really works, take the time to figure out what you want from an outdoor seating area. And when it comes to outdoor furniture, also think about which materials are best to use. We have enlisted the help of industry experts who will help you and ask all the important questions. “As with any interior space, it’s important to balance form and function,” advises Rebecca Hunt, director of Suna Interior Design Studio. “How big is the area you’re looking at? How and when could you use it? Will it function as an entertainment room? Or will you just stop there occasionally to watch the world go by?’
So don’t just take it upon yourself to just get a sofa and a gas grill and call it a living room, take a moment to think about what you’re looking for. Once you’ve decided what you want your outdoor living room for, here’s how to put it into practice.
Outdoor living room ideas
1. Approach the room as you would an interior
When creating an outdoor seating area, follow the same design principles as you would for any other lounge area in your home. “The key to creating a comfortable outdoor seating area is to design the space the same way you would a living room,” says Rebecca Lorimer, owner of luxury outdoor furniture brand Coco Wolf. “Think about the purpose of the space and how you want to feel in it. Is there a focus or view you’d like to emphasize? And where does the light fall?’
In an indoor setting, light levels can influence your choice of color or room layout, but in a garden, it’s especially important to monitor. “Shading awnings and parasols are important for a south-facing garden,” says Rebecca.
And just like in a living room, it’s a smart idea to include other types of patio furniture in addition to seating to maximize usability and comfort. “Accessories like nesting tables and footstools help to punctuate the space and create flow and balance,” explains Rebecca. “They also provide functional storage for food, drinks and books.”
2. Choose durable materials
With natural elements at play, understanding which materials and finishes work best is essential—especially if you plan on leaving your seating set up year-round.
Designed by Studio Ashby, this concrete seating couldn’t be more durable. For furniture that will not be built in, aluminum is a good idea.
“We use it in all of our designs because it has so many great qualities that make it suitable for year-round outdoor living,” says outdoor furniture designer Jennifer Newman, known for setting garden trends with her colorful pieces. “It is rust resistant, requires absolutely no maintenance and will retain its strength for many years.”
Jennifer uses lightweight aluminium, which gives her designs extra flexibility – perfect when you want your space to be multifunctional. “The easy-to-move seating allows your facility to scale with the number of guests you have,” she says. “Each of our pieces can be very easily moved around the garden to follow the sun and create spontaneous dining areas when needed.”
3. Use specific fabrics
An outdoor living room needs padding – that’s what sets it apart from the patio furniture in the garden. In terms of fabrics, Rebecca from Coco Wolf shares the feeling that durability is key. “It pays to invest in the best fabrics,” she says. “For our collection we use high-performance fabrics that incorporate the latest textile technology. For example, our rope finishing is marine standard which means it can withstand some challenging elements including UV rays, variable weather, abrasion, chlorine and salt water.’
And for wood, Rebecca recommends Iroko. “It’s a hardwood chosen for its strength and extreme durability. It expands and contracts depending on the environment, reducing the risk of cracking or chipping.’
4. Choose furniture wisely
“Your choice of outdoor seating depends on the space available and the location of the space you’re designing,” says Rebecca Hunt, director of Suna Interior Design Studio. “For example, lightweight furniture will not be appropriate for a windswept patio garden, and large comfy sofas will require quite a bit of space around them.”
Once you’ve realistically assessed your space, you can start choosing the type of seating you want. If you’ve decided you’ll be using it primarily for entertaining and you have the space, then a large table with plenty of chairs might be for you. Or if you dream of spending your weekends reading outside, then a more comfortable sofa would be better.
There are always ways to work around a space’s limitations, and being smart with the type of seating you choose can help maximize its potential. “If space is tight but you crave entertainment, you might choose stools, which may not be the most comfortable, but are easy to store,” says Rebekka. “If you want a little bit of both, plan for a few comfortable chairs for everyday use, but then mix in a couple of stackable stools when you’re entertaining.”
5. Make the outdoor living room look bigger
In addition to built-in seating, there are a few other tricks of the trade to try if you want to make the most of a small outdoor space. “This was a very small courtyard, and we wanted to open it up as much as possible and make it feel like another living space,” says Hayley Robson, creative director and co-founder of Day True. “The apartment was refurbished during the initial lockdown period, a time when access to any outside area became critical and desirable.”
Hayley and her team at Day True have proven that almost any outdoor space can be transformed into a relaxing sanctuary to enjoy the great outdoors and unwind. “It was too small to add a table and chairs, so we decided to add a low bench,” says Hayley. “The placement of a tall vertical mirror on the back wall helped create an illusion of space and also reflected natural light back into the interiors. Tiles with a small pattern also helped make the floor area appear larger than it was.”
6. Add a fire pit
One way to ensure you’re comfortable when you’re outdoors is to opt for a freestanding fire pit. Guaranteed to warm you up on even the chilliest of evenings, it makes a fabulous addition to any outdoor setup. “Firepits have become increasingly popular over the years as they have become more affordable,” says Declan Kingsley-Walsh, Managing Director of Morsø UK.
“Smaller, freestanding fire pits also take up less space, making them ideal for enhancing compact outdoor seating areas and gardens. The dancing flames help create the ultimate cozy ambiance when relaxing with family or spending time with friends.’
7. Be bold with patterns and colors
More than anything else, your outdoor living room should bring you joy – and choosing furniture in patterns and colors you’re drawn to will always result in a space you end up loving. Stripes are a timeless choice and make a bold statement. “Stripes and other patterns add a powerful design element to outdoor seating,” says Shalini Misra, interior designer and founder of The Design Buzz. “Stripes, in particular, can add an eye-catching design feature to your space and provide a brilliant contrast to the rich green of the surrounding plants.
Jennifer Newman also champions the use of color outdoors: “If you’re nervous about trying lighter shades indoors, the garden is a great place to experiment with bold colors and gives you an opportunity to be a little more adventurous” , she says. “For me, bold, bright colors are an instant mood lifter and bring a sense of optimism and fun to a garden area that encourages you to get outside and enjoy it.
8. Plant to conceal your space
New York-based landscape architect Grace Fuller wanted to use plants to enclose this outdoor living room. This creates a sense of privacy and seclusion and helps make it feel more like a room than a garden.
And when you’re planting so plentifully, you have to think about what specific flowers you want to use. “The number one choice for me when thinking about plants is to research the area’s native plants, avoid invasive species, and start my color palette from that list,” says Grace. “A mix of different leaf shapes and textures makes a space feel spacious and thoughtful. Here I used a mix of Ilex glabra, Clematis virginiana, Polystichum acrostichoides, Adiantum pedatum L., David Austin Rose Clair Matin, Hydrangea arborescens and Panicum virgatum to name a few.”
9. Create a moving living room
Does an outdoor living room have to be available all year round? Probably not – unless you live in tropical climes. And so a large beanbag like this one from Fatboy could solve all your problems. Just put it under the tree where you want to lounge around that day and you’ll instantly have a place to relax.
What furniture does an outdoor living room need?
An outdoor living room can have as much or as little furniture as you like, although space for at least two people at a time is recommended.
“An outdoor living room is more of a state of mind than a physical space,” says Pip Rich, Editor of Livingetc. “It’s all about creating an area where you want to relax and can contain whatever furniture you choose. However, I would suggest at least a sofa and/or a couple of chairs, a low or coffee table and maybe an outdoor rug to tie it all together.”