Complementary colors and materials are key to creating a seamless transition into outdoor spaces. Encourage a natural look indoors with houseplants and wood grain, and don’t be afraid to bring geometrics and metallics outside!
10 Ways to Bring the Outdoors In
1. Focus on Scent
Fun fact: More than any other sense, scent is linked to emotion. “Your sense of smell is actually part of the limbic system, which processes memory,” explains Chapel Hill, N.C.–based designer Kristin Bartone. This means that fragrance can instantly help you conjure up feelings you associate with past experiences. So think of outdoor experiences that have brought you happiness—like relaxing on a beach chair on a breezy, balmy day, or taking a peaceful hike in a beautiful forest. “Something as simple as lighting a cedar candle in your bedroom can trigger a memory that connects you to Mother Nature and brings you a sense of well-being.”
2. Embrace Beach Chic
If rattan furniture instantly makes you think of the set of The Golden Girls, it’s high time you gave the mid-century staple another look. Denver-based interior designer Eleanor Tate Trepte likes the way rattan brings the texture of the natural world along with subtle beachy vibes to a home. Prefer a modern aesthetic? Though the rise of “grandmillennial” style has made things like vintage wicker, faux bois, and bamboo pieces hot commodities at estate sales and auctions, there are plenty of other ways to try that look. Check out the sleek collection of rattan pieces that Australian stylist Sarah Ellison recently launched with Design Within Reach.
3. Go Green
“Whether faux or real, creating a ‘green wall’ in your home can have a huge impact,” says designer Amanda Thompson of New York City’s ALine Studio. Not ready for the commitment of landscaping your living room? Consider a statement wall with a dramatic botanical mural instead. The female-owned, Toronto-based wallpaper studio Fine & Dandy offers a whole suite of jaw-dropping trompe l’oeil options—from rolling green hills to lush jungles and moody forests—that magically transport you to an outdoor oasis.
4. Make a Splash
Bored with the same old houseplants? Take a page out of stylist Shane Powers’s book and fight fiddle-leaf fern fatigue by planting a tabletop water garden. After all, aquariums aren’t just for fish. His advice: Stick to simple, tall glass vessels that allow a full view of the plant, and seek out aquatic-friendly plant varieties like pennywort and broad leaf, which have naturally sculptural shapes. To keep maintenance to a minimum and limit algae growth, plan on changing the water weekly and set your “garden” somewhere that gets filtered, not direct, sunlight.
5. Let the Sunshine In
If you have the opportunity (and budget) to do a little reno, there’s no better way to blur the line between indoor and out than literally opening things up. For instance, when designer and garden influencer Hilton Carter recently remodeled his Baltimore home, he added dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows and folding out-swing doors to a south-facing sunroom. “Having light pouring in from all sides has been life-changing,” he says. But if you’re looking for a quicker, cheaper fix, Houston-based designer Mini Meacham suggests simply opening all your shades tolet as much sunlight into your space as possible. “It instantly elevates your mood!”
6. Color Outside the Lines
“I always try to find ways to incorporate colors from nature inside,” says Meacham. Indeed, sometimes transforming the feeling of a space really is as simple as a coat of paint. It’s no coincidence that Sherwin-Williams’s 2022 Color of the Year is Evergreen Fog, a woodsy gray-green that recalls misty mornings in the mountains and makes any space feel cozier and calmer. But paint’s not the only way to infuse your home with color. To give her Brooklyn townhouse a coastal Caribbean vibe, artist and designer Malene Barnett stained her hardwood floors with a pale teal wash reminiscent of shallow waters.
7. Gather Something Good
Collections of pretty pebbles and shells gathered from a favorite beach or bouquets of dried herbs and flowers from last summer’s garden can be piled into a bowl or artfully arranged on an open shelf to accessorize your space. “The key is in remembering that the outdoors is about more than just plants,” says Lacy Hughes of Julian Design in Long Lake, Minnesota. Other natural ideas you can incorporate: moss-covered balls in a wooden bowl or geode bookends.
8. Start From the Ground Up
Your feet are what connect you to the earth—they literally ground you. Choosing natural materials for rugs and floors is a simple way to sync up with nature every time you take a step. When it comes to bringing the outdoors underfoot, a good rule of thumb is to think organic, says Leslie Murphy of Murphy Maude Interiors in Memphis. In the bathroom, tumbled pebble tiles look pretty and gently stimulate pressure points to give tired feet a natural massage. More partial to wood? Bamboo and cork are great options that offer warmth, texture, and sustainability.
9. Try a Bath Bouquet
“Plants and flowers always make a bathroom happier,” says Trepte. Plus, with tile floors and water close at hand, caring for them is pretty easy. One of her favorite tricks: For a spa-like effect, hang a bundle of eucalyptus branches in your shower. The green leaves will look lovely, and the steam from the shower will activate oils in the plant to release a calming fragrance.
10. Bird-Watch Your Way to Bliss
Feeling blue? Try some avian therapy. Recent studies have shown that simply being able to see wild birds from your home can improve feelings of well-being, and that people who feed birds experience a mental-health boost after just one week. All it takes to get started is a simple feeder, a stash of seed, and a perch of your own from which you can watch your feathered friends.
10 Ways to Bring the Indoors Out
11. Make Connections
Your yard might not have walls, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t part of your house. “People sometimes forget that a backyard living room should be an extension of the interior,” says Gray Walker of Gray Walker Interiors in Charlotte, N.C. “That’s why I always try to pull colors from inside when I’m designing an outdoor space.” If cloudy blues make an appearance in your home, try some outdoor furniture in a similar shade. Is your living room filled with yellow accents? Sunny outdoor throw pillows are a great way to connect the two spaces.
12. Think Big Pictures
“There’s nothing that takes movie night to the next level like a backyard theater,” says Meacham. And putting one together doesn’t even have to be that complicated. If your budget is tight, opt for an easy setup that includes a projector (simple versions run anywhere from $100 and up), an extension cord, and a white bedsheet. Ready to splurge? Get some comfy outdoor love seats and an inflatable theater-sized screen.
13. Throw Some Shade
Adding a bit of strategic shade to your backyard isn’t just a practical way of getting some privacy and protecting yourself from the sun. Visually, it’s also a handy shortcut to carving a room-like zone out of open space. Let a large patio umbrella denote the dining area, while you use a pretty, patterned canopy to cover a casual seating area.
14. Layer Your Lighting
Want to make a serious statement? Light up your outdoor living room the same way you would your indoor one. That means thinking in layers. Try an outdoor chandelier or string lights overhead; play with waterproof floor lamps or torches for pathways and gathering spaces; and add lanterns or candles on tabletops for a final dash of drama.
15. Carve out a Cozy Corner
Dreaming of a quiet nook where you can do sun salutations in peace? Or a comfy spot where you can escape undisturbed to read or sketch? “Building grown-up tree forts is one of my favorite projects,” says Thompson. “You don’t even need a tree! My sister built hers on stilts like a hunting blind.” If you don’t have it in you to build out an entire “she shed,” it’s okay to think a little smaller. Invest in a really comfy outdoor recliner and place a garden stool next to it so you have a place to put your morning cold brew or evening cocktail as you relax.
16. Take a Scenic Soak
When architect Ross Smith of Assembly Architecture and Build in Asheville, N.C., designed his house with his wife, Anna Welton, the couple decided to give the concept of a hot tub a playful twist. “We love taking baths, and the thought of an outdoor bath was even better. So we put two tubs outside,” says Welton. They installed the tubs behind a thick perimeter of trees for privacy. “An outdoor bath has become a favorite family activity,” she says.
17. Go All in on Alfresco
Sure, your grill is great, but why stop there? Outdoor kitchens are a way of life, especially in warm climates, where sultry summer days can make indoor cooking unbearable. Though you can certainly splurge on a poolside kitchen with Sub-Zero appliances and marble countertops, it doesn’t have to be so costly or spacious. To keep grill-worthy dinner ingredients (and a few brews!) chilly, invest in a mini fridge designed to withstand the elements. And a sturdy butcher block table (check out restaurant supply stores) can be used as both a prep station and a dining spot.
18. Fire It Up
Nothing says home quite like the glow of a fire. If you want that living room vibe outside, start by building a hearth to gather around. A full-size fire place is the ultimate luxury—with a price to match. Thankfully, there are tons of portable, affordable firepits on the market now. Solo Stove makes a great wood-burning unit, but there are plenty of gas options available as well.
19. Have a Ball
Do you find yourself repeatedly telling your kids to go outside with no luck in actually getting them to do so? Turning a section of your outdoor space into a playroom will make it a lot easier. Studies show that outdoor play doesn’t just build stronger bodies; it helps with social and cognitive development in kids. Start with the classic—a sandbox, some grass, and a swing or slide. Then personalize it a bit. Lawn games like bocce are always a hit. Raising a budding Picasso? Have a bucket of chalk handy. And for easy cleanup, keep a sturdy weatherproof bin nearby to stash things in.
20. Add Interesting Architecture
As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Indeed, antique centers and salvage yards can be great places to find architectural elements that add a unique spin to your backyard. Some examples: Hang a row of arched wood-framed windows on a timber fence for a shabby-chic vibe. Or give an old newel post a second life in your garden by using it as a trellis.
By Sarah Karnasiewicz | Illustrations by Carole Hénaff
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Drew + Jonathan Reveal, Drew & Jonathan’s home and lifestyle magazine.