Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Toronto Star - Outdoor Glamour

July 16, 2010  
Photo By: Geoff Lackner

Steamy summer evenings just beg for a cool soiree, but with outdoor rooms being the latest rave, that big box store patio set just doesn’t cut it anymore. These days, it’s about decorating as beautifully on the exterior as you do inside, explains designer Michelle Mawby of Junk Raiders and Steven & Chris.

While decorators are always encouraged to bring the outdoors in during summer, Mawby says it’s also a great time to move the indoors out. She shares the story of an image that has stuck with her: an Italian family moving their indoor dining table — along with their chairs and dishes — into an olive grove for an al fresco meal. There’s a comfort and a beauty to it, she explains.

To achieve that same vibe in her own yard, Mawby mixes indoor and outdoor furnishings and accessories. She grabs rugs, cushions, campaign-style dining chairs and a Le Corbusier lounge from her interior to mix with more traditional backyard pieces, such as a steel-framed sectional with cushions made from outdoor fabric. Putting a little extra effort into moving indoor pieces into the yard — and bringing them back in once the party is over — is also key to getting a luxe outdoor look for less, notes Mawby. Using pieces you already own in a new setting can put a whole new spin on your style, and all it costs you is a little elbow grease to move it through the patio door.

“You do have to be careful,” she notes. “You do need to bring them in at night to take care of them.”

Mawby will even bring out her good china and crystal for an extra touch of glamour.
They “really make your outdoor party beautiful,” she says. “There’s nothing like having the glint of a crystal glass in candlelight when you’re outside."

Further bridging the indoor-outdoor divide, Mawby converted an indoor table into the centrepiece of her backyard dining area. The Chippendale-style table, complete with carved legs and ball and claw style feet, was purchased as a bargain from an old movie set. Mawby took it apart and marine-varnished all the pieces, as well as raising the legs a little to avoid any moisture on her backyard stone. She estimates the project, which included three coats of carefully applied varnish and sanding in between, would take about five days to complete.

“It’s so beautiful. It looks amazing in my backyard,” she says, admitting it needs to protected at night with a waterproof furniture cover.

For indoor style with backyard-worthy durability, Mawby recommends checking into the latest outdoor fabrics for cushions, upholstery, rugs, and even drapes. She’s even used them for interior projects.

While rugs and cushions have become backyard decorating staples, Mawby also suggests hanging drapery to add softness. Carefully consider the fabric you’re using so you don’t end up with mildewed, faded or water damaged curtains. For her own space, she used a simple tension rod and simple sheers to create a billowy vignette on her balcony.

Lighting is also key for setting the party mood in your outdoor room, along with providing adequate illumination for guests to eat and mingle safely. While solar, candles and hardwired are excellent choices to provide the necessary task and ambient lighting, Mawby also suggests exploring outdoor lamps, like those from Kichler (www.kichler.com/) which are completely waterproof, including the shade.

Plan your space to get a higher end, inside feel in your backyard. “I treat my backyard as I do my house,” she explains. “I have a dining room area, a lounge on the back — a little seating area as well.”
Finally, she says, the key to a great summer soiree is making guests feel special, so consider the extra little details that can add to their comfort as well as your decor.

For example, don’t overlook the importance of fresh flowers on the table, which helps to channel the indoor vibe and make your tablescape look more polished.

For added comfort, Mawby has a beautiful wicker fan to keep the air moving on stuffy days as well as a heater to take the chill off in the evenings. Another detail, borrowed from restaurants, is to provide cozy throws on the backs of chairs and benches so guests can wrap up against the cold — and keep the party going late into the night.

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