Interior Design for Exterior Spaces

By Lavender May 14, 2015

Categories: Featured - Home Page, Home & Yard, Our Homes

by Kate O’Hara

Summer is quickly approaching and with the occasional perfectly sunny day already upon us, it’s time to open our homes to the outdoors. So how to design our exteriors to be as comfortable as interiors? And how to invite the outdoors in?

When it comes down to it, designing for the summer is all about turning your cozy winter shelter into an open, light space, while also putting your fallow outdoor areas to work in ways that you’ll truly enjoy. This can be a daunting task — one that often goes ignored.

So where does that leave you? I’ve polled our designers at Martha O’Hara Interiors to come up with some basic guidelines for creating outdoor spaces that are functional, fun, and beautiful, too.

Start with Function

One of the first mistakes people make when they put furniture outside, is that they don’t start by giving honest consideration to how they want to spend time outside. Be realistic. Are you truly going to sit outside to read a book on lazy days? Are you actually going to have friends over to sit at that outdoor table? Having an honest conversation with yourself about how you’ll use your outdoor areas will save you time, money, and a summer spent indoors.

Interior design by Martha O'Hara Interiors, build by Stonewood, LLC. Photography by Troy Thies Photography

Interior design by Martha O’Hara Interiors, build by Stonewood, LLC. Photography by Troy Thies Photography

Create Vignettes

Once you know how you want to spend your outside summer time, you can start thinking about the furniture you’ll need in each area. Unlike our home interiors, our exteriors often don’t have clearly delineated spaces for “rooms.” For this reason, it is important to determine where you want your furnishings to go in a way that will imply a room, even if you don’t have walls and boundaries surrounding it. Use outdoor rugs, seating arrangements, and dining areas to do this. And again, think about function. How likely are you to laze outside in a chair that won’t let you lounge? Or without a side table for setting down a drink?

It’s important to treat and design your outdoor areas with the same level of thoughtfulness that goes to your interiors. Doing this means thinking of each outdoor area as a separate room and designing accordingly.

Interior design by Martha O'Hara Interiors, build by Stonewood, LLC. Photography by Troy Thies Photography

Interior design by Martha O’Hara Interiors, build by Stonewood, LLC. Photography by Troy Thies Photography

Make it Comfortable

You wouldn’t believe how often people take the time to consider steps one and two, only to put uncomfortable furnishings that they’ll never want to use in their outdoor spaces. If you are truly determined to spend time outside this summer, then your furniture should be as comfy as the things you have inside. Don’t miss out on an amazing summer outside just because you forgot that your iron chairs need pillows or that a recliner is a better place to nap than a straight-backed chair. Otherwise, you and your family will simply head back indoors where you already know you can relax and enjoy.

Interior design & photo styling by Martha O’Hara Interiors, remodel by Nor-Son Inc. Photography by Troy Thies Photography

Interior design & photo styling by Martha O’Hara Interiors, remodel by Nor-Son Inc. Photography by Troy Thies Photography

Create Transition Areas

Let’s face it, after a long winter indoors, we all get into habits that keep us there. It’s not enough to have comfortable spaces outside. We also have to adjust our interiors to encourage us out the door. Sometimes this can mean rearranging a room layout to allow traffic in and out of an entry that isn’t used during the cold months. Other times it might mean setting up an area where food and drinks can be easily nabbed from outside without tromping through the house. Find ways to make your outdoor spaces extensions of your interior spaces, and you will be much more likely to use them.

Interior design by Martha O'Hara Interiors, build by Stonewood, LLC. Photography by Troy Thies Photography

Interior design by Martha O’Hara Interiors, build by Stonewood, LLC. Photography by Troy Thies Photography

Casual Colors

For those of us with three-season porches, spring is a time to clean them up and get them ready for heavy use. One of the best ways to make spaces like this feel inviting and fun is to choose one or two bright summer colors to use throughout the room in flatweave rugs, pillows, throws, and accessories. Design can be a daunting task, so make your life a little easier by keeping your color palette simple.

What’s more, three-season rooms are spaces where we can let loose a bit and try things we might never consider in our main interiors. Got a shade of lemon yellow that you adore but are afraid to commit to inside? Now’s your chance to give it a trial run! Plus, bight colors look amazing when you bring out bowls of fruit and glasses of lemonade on a warm summer day.

Interior design by Martha O'Hara Interiors; build by REFINED, LLC. Photography by Troy Thies Photography

Interior design by Martha O’Hara Interiors; build by REFINED, LLC. Photography by Troy Thies Photography

Don’t Forget Your Interiors!

As important as outdoor spaces are during our precious summer months, we still use and enjoy our interiors all summer long. Spring is the perfect time to walk through your home and box up the heavy winter throws, pillows, and accessories that made your interior feel so cozy over the colder months. Now it’s time to imbue your interiors with more light and maybe a bit more color, too.

Start creating your summer collection now! Just as you change your wardrobe from winter to summer, do the same with your interiors.

Here’s wishing you and yours a summer spent in the sun!


Kate O’Hara is the marketing director of the award-winning Martha O’Hara Interiors in Minneapolis. For more information about interior design and décor, go to www.oharainteriors.com.

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