Outside living

Summer is upon us, and it’s time to make the most of it. One of the simplest of all joys must be dining alfresco – whether alongside the coast, gazing out across rolling lawns, surrounded by pots outside your back door or squeezed onto a bijou London balcony (size isn’t everything). There’s something about taking your meal outdoors that elevates it to another level, turning it into a real occasion.

Image from Bird and Branch Turnery

Making the most of this experience is critical when the opportunity doesn’t arise that often, thanks to our gloriously inconsistent climate. Here are some fantastic ideas to really enjoy your outside space this summer…

Get the foundations right

First things first, you need a dining table and chairs for outdoors that will last a lifetime. We’re huge fans of the (relatively) new Palissade collection from Hay. Designed by French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, who describe the pieces as “strong without being bulky; elegant without being fragile”, this is a truly timeless collection. Featuring curving slatted surfaces and available in three chic shades (Anthracite, Olive Green and Light Grey) the range includes high and low dining tables, dining and lounge chairs, benches and even sofas – meaning you can treat yourself to a new piece each year.

Pick the perfect table linen

Once you’ve got your dining table sorted, it’s time to turn your attention to dressing it. We think that outdoor dining is all about creating a relaxed, casual feel with none of the formality of a staged dinner party. Instead, you can focus on good food, sharing plates and laid-back living. Think natural fabrics, textures and hues to ensure an informal feel. This stunning linen tablecloth from Designers Guild is a good place to start – we love the simple green tones that reflect those of the great outdoors.

Go relaxed with your tableware

What was that we were saying about laid-back dining? This is our idea of the perfect alfresco meal – everyone helping themselves and getting stuck in. MUD ceramics, an Australian brand with a showroom in London, sell the most gorgeous plates in every colour under the sun. We agree with MUD that food looks better on coloured plates – it allows what you’re eating to truly stand out and after all, it’s the food (and the company) that should be the main event. But if you want to dip into colour cautiously, choose soft muted greys, cool blues and off-whites, as pictured here.

To contrast with the laid-back feel, the brass cutlery here adds a contemporary edge and a note of sophistication – and is very current.

Clockwise from top left: More delightful pieces in natural tones from MUD; alfresco dining isn’t alfresco dining without a huge salad served in a pleasing wooden bowl – these by Bird & Branch Turnery from SCP are just the thing; keep glassware understated and low-level, like Iittala’s Kartio glass from Skandium; in a unique collaboration with TOAST, Akiko Hirai has created a small collection of yunomi-chawan teacups, based on those made for the Sen-Cha tea ceremony. Left to right: This hand-etched brass vase from Decorators Notebook is ideal for creating a centerpiece; handmade in India as a milk jug, these drip-free pourers from Such & Such are made from spun brass or copper, with a tin lining.

Don’t forget about lighting

Left to right: We love the woven styling of the Dedon Dala Outdoor Lantern by Stephen Burks from Chaplins; this brass candleholder from Decorators Notebook is handmade in India and has a clear glass box base underneath.    You might think that lighting doesn’t matter if you’re dining during the day or in the early evening, but like the Scandinavians, we believe there’s always a place for candles on a dining table, no matter what time of day it is. Use a combination of large lanterns and on-table candlesticks to add ambience – and when night falls, a simple string of festoon lights will transform the space.

Designed by Seletti, the Bella Vista lights from Heal’s have a pleasingly simple cord construction and classic styled bulbs. They’re eco-friendly too, and more robust than most festoon lights.

Bring the indoors out

Not just for interiors, using rugs outdoors is a simple way of creating a truly luxurious feel to your alfresco dining area – they can also be used to help define and zone areas of your outside space, such as here in this outdoor seating area from Aram. Don’t be afraid to layer rugs either to truly ‘decorate’ your space. Simply roll them up and store inside at night to keep them pristine.

Last but not least – the perfect finishing touches

North West Persian Saddle Bag, early 20th Century with Turkish Kilim Pillow

When you’ve set the perfect scene outdoors, you want to keep things super easy and relaxed and not have to keep going back indoors to fetch things. Our Persian saddle bags, which are made from pure wool, are perfect for keeping all the essentials close to hand – sun cream, books and magazines etc. Just sling the saddle bag over a chair or sun lounger and enjoy the fact that it brings another decorative touch to your garden too.

The only last thing you need to complete the scene? A large glass of something cool and crisp…

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