Squeezing the most out of summer — especially this coronavirus summer — has often meant eating and entertaining outside, for those with the space to do it.
“The goal today is to lavish just as much love and attention on your outdoor setup as you do your indoor rooms. Even if it’s just a fire escape in the city,” says interior designer Elaine Griffin, based in St. Simons Island, Ga.
Set the stage
To elevate your al fresco entertaining, she advises, begin with the layout.
Set up the dining table close to your indoor kitchen: “The further it is, the more oversize trays you’ll need to carry stuff out.”
Place your seating toward the best view you’ve got. And kids’ play areas should be easily seen.
“Think of the outdoors like you would an open plan interior,” Griffin says.
Get a good light source, whether it’s sunlight for breakfast or lunch, or light strings for cocktails and dinner.
The right props
Griffin says wicker is having a moment this summer, indoors and out. “I love it because it’s affordable and virtually indestructible,” she says. She cites Amanda Lindroth’s tabletop accessories: “She’s like the Ralph Lauren of wicker: collectible, timelessly classic and insanely chic.”
Outdoor spaces reap drama from an oversize mirror, too. “They’re great on side or back walls to add depth and reflect light,” says Griffin.
Pillar candles in tall, clear, cylinder vases make inexpensive hurricanes. “Station these to illuminate the approach to your dining area for red carpet drama, flanking patio stairs and doors,” she says. Get a set of battery-operated ones with a remote control, and you won’t have to worry about wind or fire safety.
If you’re using a tablecloth, make sure you’ve got anchors and clips to hold it in place in a breeze. On Etsy.com, there are cast-resin and metallic weights shaped like flowers, birds and shells, as well as ones crafted of polished pebbles or sea glass. These make good hostess gifts, too.
Choose placemats or table coverings that can be wiped clean easily. If your decor style is modern, Ikea has square or round placemats with bold, pop-art graphic stripe or swirl patterns, or vibrant hues of pink, red and navy.
Chilewich’s plaid, stripe and madras patterns in their signature woven placemats bridge contemporary and traditional style. And in a collaboration with Williams-Sonoma, Aerin’s oilcloth tablecloths feature a variety of vintage floral prints.
Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings collection at Target includes melamine serving trays with a breezy, batik-inspired pattern. Also in the collection are mango-wood trays inlaid with metallic designs inspired by her Moroccan travels.
Sixteenth-century Turkish tile inspired a collection of dip bowls and platters at Williams-Sonoma. Here too, a collection that references traditional Sicilian maiolica patterns.
Set up an appetizer zone with CB2’s petrified wood or blackened teak serving boards, some of their Pebble gray melamine plates with a handmade, Japanese look, and a cheese knife set made of faceted brass that reverses to polished pyrite stone.
Celebrate summer flowers and fruits by using melamine plates like Sur La Table’s Rose Nuage, printed with soft pink blooms on a blue background, and Cabana, printed with beachy tropical leaves and flowers. The Pique Nique design is printed with vibrant cherries.
At Anthropologie, find painterly renditions of papayas and lemons on a serveware collection made of bamboo and melamine. At West Elm, you’ll find Toronto artist Xenia Taler’s geometric-patterned plates, made of bamboo and rice husks. And at One King’s Lane, Vietri’s melamine collection looks just like rustic stoneware.
Instead of disposable paper napkins, consider tea towels. They’re roomy enough to drape across a lap and provide a nice big surface on which to wipe fingers. Flour-sack towels are soft, absorbent, lint-free and wash easily. Heath Ceramics has a set of three, printed with type foundry House Industries’ bold flatware graphics. Sur La Table has playful plaid, gingham, strawberry, dog or cat prints.
The pandemic has made bandannas popular as face coverings, but they also make great table runners with just a few quick stitches. Or you can use them as napkins.
For retro style, CB2’s Doris matte-finish aluminum tumblers in navy, copper, silver and soft mint green have a midcentury modern vibe. And Sur La Table’s acrylic drinkware, in cherry red or clear, looks like vintage chunky cut glass.
In a new collaboration with the RV company Airstream, Pottery Barn has a collection that includes a drinks cooler shaped like the iconic trailer; logo-embroidered napkins and tumblers; and bowls and plates in a gray-and-white enamelware swirl pattern.