Photo via Emily Henderson's website/blog. Her tiled patio is to die for!
Seating. You can find outdoor lounge furniture to fit just about every budget and style. But I do have a few important suggestions to consider. First, when looking for a sofa (indoor or outdoor), I really like one seating cushion along the entire sofa versus two or three. (This doesn't apply if you have a sectional.) The problem with multiple seating cushions is that the sofa ends up looking lopsided at some point when people sit on one side more than the other. Second, invest in stain-proof fabric or cushion covers. Sunbrella or Perennials will be your best friend and lifesaver. Because even if you're careful not to spill red wine, you may have nature's critters visiting who like to leave their calling card in the form of footprints or other "treasures." Although it comes at a price, Restoration Hardware makes the most fabulous outdoor lounge furniture. The Provence Collection is my favorite.
For furniture frames, I like the all-weather wicker that isn't actually wood. When we purchased our Torrey All-Weather Wicker sofa and chairs from Pottery Barn last year (our color no longer available), the salesperson gave us a tip that might be the most useful one I've ever received. Regardless of the weather-resistant claims, anything can start to get a little funky in damp environments. So if you have a pool, throw the furniture frames (NOT the cushions) into the deep end of the pool for a few minutes at the end of the season. Allow them to dry in the sun and then store. The small amount of chlorine in the pool water should kill any mold or mildew that has begun to grow. (This obviously won't work if you have a salt water pool.)
Pillows and Blankets. Yes, you need cozy pillows for anytime and a blanket for those cooler nights.
A Place to Set Your Drink and Snacks. Coffee tables and end tables are also required outside. Small garden stools make great side tables. And like the cushions, make sure they are easy to clean and can withstand humidity. You should get something labeled "outdoor."
Lighting. If your outdoor space has electricity, you'll want to choose light fixtures. Far too often, lighting is an afterthought when people decorate a space. But for me, it's one of the most important elements of a space. The right lighting, both style and the amount of actual light, can make or break a room, even an outdoor one. If you don't have electricity in your outdoor space, choose beautiful lanterns that hold candles. The candles will provide light and ambiance, and if you choose candles with citronella, they'll also help keep the bugs away.
Flowers (and Accessories). I can't tell you how much of a difference flowers and plants make to any space. Before we had art and accessories to complete the inside of our home, I purchased fresh flowers to fill the void. Your outdoor living area, even if you have lots of trees around, needs color in form of table plants, hanging baskets, and/or nearby landscaping. Be sure to choose plants for the amount of shade and sun your space gets, in addition to plants that nature's furry friends (and I'm not talking about your house pets) won't view as a salad bar. Think about how long they will last...some plants will last for a good portion of the summer. Finally, think about how much maintenance they require and how much you (or someone else) can give them.
And last but not least, Ventilation. If you're right on the ocean, I think the ocean breeze will do. But if you have a roof over your space, a stylish and functional fan is always a good idea to help keep you cool and to keep the bugs at bay.
A few of my favorite sources for outdoor essentials are: Restoration Hardware, Serena & Lily, Ballard Designs, Pottery Barn, Target (for rugs and tabletop lanterns), Annie Selke (for Dash & Albert rugs). I hope you're enjoying the summer!