7 Outdoor Decorating Tips for Enjoying Whatever Outside Space You Have — Big or Small

published May 27, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

Summer’s definitely here, but it’s never too late to start sprucing up your backyard, deck, patio, or even a tiny terrace with outdoor furniture, textiles, lights, and special entertaining touches. Outside decor trends don’t shift quite as quickly as interior ones do, but that doesn’t mean changes aren’t afoot at all in the outdoor market. You can do plenty of things to make your space feel fresh for 2022, and with just a few key tips, hanging out solo or hosting a group can be so much easier and more enjoyable.

Here, we’ve stolen inspiration from some of our favorite house tours and asked a couple of experts for their outdoor decor ideas, too. Pick one or more, and get ready to kick back and relax in your own outdoor oasis all season long.

Credit: Crate & Barrel

Set a stylish but sturdy foundation with furnishings in strategic colorways and fabrics.

The bulk of the upholstered outdoor furniture is white, cream, or tan, which can be beautiful but isn’t always the most practical option. Some companies are starting to offer darker colors and more technical fabrics, though, both of which can keep your pieces looking fresher longer and with less maintenance. “Extending the comforts and design of your home into the outdoors has been an ongoing trend and led us to create modern outdoor pieces and lean into non-traditional upholstery colors such as black,” said Sebastian Brauer, senior vice president for product design, development and metaverse at Crate & Barrel.

“Our urban-style outdoor Dune collection was designed to resist the elements, like heat and moisture, and create an outdoor gathering space that is cool, comfortable, and welcoming.” The biggest upside of darker upholstery? It’ll camouflage dirt better in between deep cleans while delivering a bit of stylish edge to your outdoor setup.

Buy: Dune Outdoor Furniture Collection, Starting at $349.00 from Crate & Barrel

Bring some of your favorite indoor decor pieces outside.

“We’re leaning into a happy profile in our outdoor spaces,” says designer Breegan Jane, who recently made over her outdoor space in partnership with Marshalls and T.J. Maxx. “I’m seeing the indoors coming outside, which is opposite of what you usually think of — it’s usually bringing the outdoors in, but this year we’re really wanting our outdoors to be an extension of the indoors.”

Think strategically with your indoor touches. Why not mount a mirror on an exterior wall to make a smaller patio feel palatial, as Jane has done in her space above, or add a piece of art for a touch of personality? Don’t forget textiles, either: Roll out an indoor-outdoor area rug to define your space, and invest in all-weather pillows and a throw or two as well. Hang gauzy outdoor curtains for another pop of color and pattern. All of these pieces will add texture and dimension to the space. 

Credit: Marshalls

Mix fake plants with real ones.

It may sound counterintuitive, but Jane says you can make watering a little easier on yourself with some realistic-looking but faux container plant babies — even outdoors. This is a great strategy on a small patio or tiny terrace, where space is at a premium, and you might not get great light throughout the day. Stores like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx have styles in an assortment of sizes and fun pots, including planters on legs and stands, which can help you create levels. Don’t forget hanging planters, too, to work your vertical space. Group fakes with your real plants that have the same sun and watering requirements. This trick makes them blend in better and can fool your company. 

Buy: Set of 2 10in and 12in Wicker Footed Planters, $49.99 $39.00 from Marshalls

Add color with painted features.

Bold paint can jazz up your outdoor spaces, too. Choose an exterior formula that will stand up to the elements, and consider using it on a trellis, planters, a patio floor, retaining walls, fences, or even exterior trim. If you love the painted mural or arch trend, you can also bring these ideas outside, too, just as homeowner Liz Klafeta did on her Chicago rooftop with these bold, bright graffiti murals.

Set up a serving station in your space.

Have a freestanding bar area, as seen in the house tour of Kate Richards of Drinking with Chickens here, or a fancy outdoor kitchen? Lucky you! That said, you don’t need either to build out a convenient entertaining spot. Instead, try repurposing a potting table as a serving station. Fill the basin with ice to use it as a cooler for drinks, and set out apps on the tabletop. Be sure to stock up on glasses, straws, and drink koozies for this spot, too. You can also do this with an outdoor bar cart or a tray table, like the one Jane used above, if you’re extra short on space.

If you have room for it, consider a water feature.

A water feature might consist of a little tabletop fountain for soothing background noise for a small space, or an outdoor bathtub or shower for a larger one. Couple Franz and Patsy Knapp designed and built out both in the backyard of their Australian home.

For something with extra character, look for vintage pieces at a salvage yard or ReStore. If you have a garden hose and get a shower kit, an outdoor shower is doable without plumbing! You can also try turning a stock tank into a small above-ground pool.

Warm up your space with lots of lighting.

The key to keeping the outdoor parties going all night long is layered lighting from multiple sources. Your mind might go to hard-wired barn lights and gas powered in-ground fire pits, but smaller-scale budget solutions are all you really need. Hang bistro lights between trees, and bring in candles or oversized lanterns for a warm glow. Just keep lantern designs minimal (glass and a metal frame, for example) so they don’t take up lots of visual space.

For task or reading light, try a portable LED table lamp that you can power up with a USB cord. Jane likes to work smarter — not harder — with solar lights that use the sun to charge up during the day; you can see them hanging in her space above, right over the sofa. She also suggests smaller, freestanding fire pits for extra ambiance, too.