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Sitting Pretty: Fashionable Patio Decorating

California designer Jennifer DeLonge shares her best tips for a creating stylish outdoor space.

By Terry Trucco

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Designer Jennifer DeLonge
By Greg Hinsdale
By Greg Hinsdale
By Greg Hinsdale
By Greg Hinsdale
By Greg Hinsdale
By Greg Hinsdale
By Greg Hinsdale
By Greg Hinsdale
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When California designer Jennifer DeLonge fashions an inviting patio, she believes the sky's the limit. "The trick is to apply indoor decorating rules outdoors," says DeLonge, mother of two and creator of a children's furniture line. That means composing seating areas using comfy, indoor/outdoor furnishings. DeLonge favors versatile pieces and personal touches that make the backyard feel more homey. And she isn't afraid to use bold pops of color. DeLonge transforms her patio into a living area, a place for dining and a cheery play spot for kids Ava, 7, and Jonas, 3. Who says a room needs a ceiling?

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A patio or deck situated in the shade of a big tree is the perfect place to roll out a rug, arrange some furniture and create an instant room.

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Comfort Zone

If you could peek inside DeLonge's house, the living room arrangement might look a lot like this—a sofa with an ottoman, a couple of chairs and maybe a small table. To define the area, she sets out an inexpensive flat-weave rug —DeLonge likes stripes and animal prints—and borders it with potted plants. "Everyone feels much more comfortable in an intimate setting," she says. "You don't want your furniture to look like it's floating in a great big space."

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Bright Ideas

  • A sofa in a neutral weatherproof fabric won't clash with Mother Nature's favorite hues. Once the largest item is in place, selecting companion pieces is a summer breeze. Cane or wicker side chairs are a natural and for a jolt of color, toss on throw pillows.

  • Select accessories that celebrate the great outdoors. DeLonge fancies organic materials, like woven basket pillows, sea grass or sisal rugs, and colorful cotton print fabrics, especially florals. "I like to mix textures and colors on the patio too," she says.

  • Place a colorful tray on the ottoman to organize drinks and nibbles and hold them steady. Can't find one you like? Paint a large block of wood in an accent color using supergloss paint.

  • Lighten up the look by pairing heavy pieces, for instance a high-back upholstered sofa, with objects in contrasting materials, like a metal coffee table or openwork wood chairs.

  • Add special touches. Magazines, books and a vase of flowers are always welcoming and invite guests to linger.

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Turn the Tables

Relaxed dining starts with furniture that isn't a perfect match. A wood table designed for outdoor use communes effortlessly with nature, especially when paired with lightweight chairs. "Folding chairs can also look great around a patio table, DeLonge says. "They're usually inexpensive, and you can never have too many."

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Table Setting Ideas

  • Stage unusual centerpieces. DeLonge likes a runner and small plants or herbs in pretty terra-cotta pots borrowed from indoors. "You want something natural on the table, but it doesn't have to be cut flowers," she says.

  • Serve up jazzy melamine plates and plastic glassware for an extra helping of color and style. They're inexpensive, unbreakable and won't blow away, like paper does. But stick with real flatware. "It looks and feels nicer than plastic and adds a bit of chic," DeLonge says.

  • Put your money into inexpensive accessories to brighten the table, like small glass oil lamps or mix-and-match coasters. 'It's nice to have something new each summer to keep the table fresh."

  • You don't want to run into the kitchen every time you need extra plates. Set up a small table or rolling cart nearby to make serving and clearing easy.

  • Prefer dining under the stars? Light the table with LED battery-operated pillar candles or real candles nestled in lanterns, hurricanes or votives. Illuminate the surroundings with oil-lamp torchieres, or string cafe lights between the trees or tall bushes.

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Kids' Corner

"Outdoor rooms shouldn't be just for adults," says DeLonge. "It's great to get kids involved in creating their own place." All you need is a table and stools borrowed from their rooms. When choosing furniture, DeLonge looks for scaled-down adult pieces that will work in a grown-up or child's space. "I don't like it to look like kiddie furniture," she says. She designed the hot pink wood table for youngsters, but it also works as a hip addition to the family room.

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Kids' Corner Ideas

  • Be mindful of heat and sun when selecting a spot for children. Find a shaded area or create an instant shield with a patio umbrella or awning.

  • Color and pattern? Perfect playmates. A kids' room is no place for subtle neutrals. DeLonge mixes furniture painted in upbeat hues with pillows and cushions in stripes and prints. Vivid cotton pillows normally used inside the house will dress up the chairs and bring whimsy to the room.

  • Not enough chairs? Cushions add a bright spot, and encourage lounging. Stack indoor pillows on a rug if you're worried about them getting dirty. Or choose all-weather fabric coverings that look great anywhere.

  • Drape kraft or colored paper from a roll over the table and leave some crayons around so kids can use their imaginations.

    Originally published in the July 2009 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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