Quick: How many rooms do you have in your house? I bet you can rattle the total right off! Next, how many bedrooms? how many baths? I bet you even know the total square footage without even thinking about it. But, I bet you are leaving out one area that you NEVER thought of! And I’m not talking about that ‘bonus room’ realtors like to list in the selling details. If you have a patio, terrace, stretch of yard loosely bounded by a wall and plantings, or even a relatively level bit of ground beneath a tree, you have a whole new room to use. One to decorate, accessorize, just have fun in. It’s time you turn your eye to that area and create a great space in which to live, congregate, contemplate, enjoy and take those moments to live life to the fullest.
The idea of garden ‘rooms’ is not new. English landscapers all the way back to the middle of the eighteenth century considered them an integral part of garden design. But what passed for a garden ‘room’ in those days—a lone wrought iron bench placed on mown grass, maybe paired with an urn on a pedestal, shielded by an impenetrable hedge—didn’t lend itself to real gatherings or informality. Think Tom Jones, or a scene out of many Jane Austen novels. What you need to think about for your room is what you like to do, what sort of stamp you want to put on your decorating there, and then have at it.
First, let’s start with seating. How many people do you usually entertain? What sort of party do you like? The options for chairs, sofas, ottomans, and settees are endless, so you need to consider your space, what sort of configuration you have room for, and how you want your guests to interact. And remember that you want a place where people can feel at ease, so look to something new, maybe even something rounded, like the piece here. Formality doesn’t always translate to the outdoors, so you can be looser—and more inventive—than if it were inside. And don’t fear upholstered pieces; the days of mildew and faded prints are over. New processes mean fabrics are now able to last longer than one season, and can repel stains or relentless sun. And nothing has to match, unless you want it to. Gardens lend themselves to serendipity, and yours should be no exception.
The translation of al fresco dining is literally taking the meal outside, so think about a table. Many travel articles about the Mediterranean feature smiling dinner guests seated around an oak table that has been brought outside, and placed under a gnarled olive tree. You should think about something more permanent, maybe a fixture you can use many months out of the year, and won’t need to cart into storage. If you have a grill and someone in your family who likes to show off prowess with it, then you will want a table large enough to feed a group of hungry guests. Keep this in mind, guests that are seated around the table in such a way, with your landscape surrounding them, good food being prepared as they watch, tend to linger, and remember the quality of your entertaining.
Now you’re thinking about how to fill your new room, where do you go to find the right stuff? It’s easy. Crate and Barrel, CB2, West Elm, Pottery Barn, and Restoration Hardware all now have catalogs devoted solely to outdoor furniture and accessories. And they have great websites where you can see everything. Lots of retailers are getting in on the outdoor entertaining trend, so you won’t have trouble finding what you seek. You can add to the square footage of your home, decorate it as you see fit, and find one more place in which to show your guests a good time.
Chris Olsen is a nationally known home and garden guru, designer, author, TV personality and public speaker. In his book, Chris shares his landscape and gardening knowledge along with his unique flair for home decor and design.He is also a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. Learn more about Chris and all of his work at chrisholsen.com.
If you’ve been following our gradual reveal of the menu–created by Palette Catering–for the garden party in our March issue, then you’re ready for dessert! For the grand finale, our chefs chose a Rhubarb Pie with Vanilla Bean Cream. Have a look (and prepare to crave sweets!):
This pie happens to be a specialty of Palette Catering, and the recipe is top secret (order one today and relish the effortlessness!), but they have generously shared their recipe for the Vanilla Bean Cream. Here’s how you can “whip it up” at home:
Vanilla Bean Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean
Place cream and sugar in a chilled mixing bowl. Cut the vanilla bean in half, lengthwise. Scrape the halves with the tip of a paring knife to release the seeds. Add the seeds to the cream and sugar. Whip until soft peaks form.
And if you missed out on the other great recipes from this patio dinner party, discover them at the following links: Seasonal Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette and Bacon Lardons (from the issue); Mixed Grilled Vegetables; Lamb Chops with Marinade, Curried Carrots, and Parsley Pesto
Since moving into their new home last fall, Donna and Jim Bottin have been looking forward to warmer days and nights spent on the back veranda of their West Little Rock home. The couple enlisted the help of Providence Design and Palette Catering to make this first al fresco dinner one to remember. For a natural, garden-fresh look, the Providence Design team used potted plants and cut flowers for the table’s design. While they may not be present in the Bottin’s garden just yet, they are a hopeful promise of the arrival of spring days. Kalanchoe, tulips, miniature daffodils and hyacinth add bursts of crisp color. Find out more about this lovely garden party and even get the recipes here or look for a copy on newsstands.