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Utilize Traditional Interior Design Techniques To Design An Outdoor Space


The trend for the past few years has been and continues to be a move from the inside out. Here are some ideas for you to help your customers achieve their unique style as they move outside.

The most important step in this process is space planning. The traditional age old method of sketching and drawing by hand has a counterpart entitled computer aided design. The computer aided design is a visual representation of the space. There are a number of companies that have easy to use systems that you can implement into your process. One company is Icovia Space Planner another is 3Dream, SmartDraw and finally The Board Space Planning Systems. These programs help transform your business by allowing you to create perfect virtual images of outdoor designed rooms. These tools allow you to experiment by changing fabrics and colors, furniture and accessories which ultimately help your customers realize their goal of creating an outdoor living space that is a personal expression of their own style.

Before you begin the space planning process it is important to create a client profile by questioning their requirements, desires and the purpose of the outdoor space. What will the function of the space be? Will they be entertaining a few or many people? Will it be for recreation? Will children utilize this space? Then you must review the existing site conditions. Are there existing shade structures? Which direction does the area face? What type of flooring, lighting and walls currently exist? And is there an outdoor kitchen?  

Once you understand the wishes of your customer and the current elements of the space then you can begin the space planning process utilizing the Principles of Design: balance, rhythm, emphasis, harmony and texture. Always consider the type of balance you want. Will it be symmetrical / formal, asymmetrical / casual, or radial /circular? Will there be a repeated pattern, a series of successive changes or a contrast of rhythm? Which focal point will be given the most prominence? Will the emphasis be one of color, height or a highlighted area? What will be the first impression when you view the completed outdoor living space? Will the design elements blend in harmony? And finally will the appearance and feel of the combination of these different elements be smooth or more textured to create a large or small illusion?

When designing the outdoor living space consider formal, majestic vertical lines that impress people or restful casual harmonious horizontal lines that represent how one feels when they look at the horizon. If you want to shake things up a bit think about slanting the furniture to form a diagonal line or creatively use soft curved lines to produce a feeling that is aesthetically pleasing and whimsical.  The best view of any outdoor room should be from the point of entry to evoke the feelings that the design is communicating. Although we may not be conscious of such meanings in any overt way, spaces that are designed with thought typically impart appropriate messages of inspiration, serenity, cheerfulness, coziness, warmth or formality.

One of the simplest ways to bring traditional interior design techniques to the design of an outdoor space is simply by using fabrics to address the principles of design. Fabrics can be used as an expressive medium creating spaces that visually impress and present your client’s point of view. For example if your customer wants a casual relaxed feeling that you also acquire when you enter a spa you can choose neutral buff colors with a touch of blue green. You can mix and match solids, stripes and patterns to creatively design the outdoor space. Most fabrics come with coordinates, many companies like Sunbrella and Outdura will provide these together to assist you in selection, one will be a solid, either flat or textured, the next a stripe, another perhaps a jacquard or an ikat and to finish up the collection you can add some trims, fringe, bullion, decorative tape or tassels. This systematic selection of fabric, blends the design process together to create the individual style of your customer utilizing interior design techniques for your outdoor living space. 

This is just another way to offer superior customer service and create a loyal following in your specialty casual furniture store. Have Fun Designing!

As president and creative director of Outdoor Interiors, Marcia Blake shares her design ideas for outdoor living on the Casual Living Blog, Outside Views. For more, visit and

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