Remember entertaining? Here's how to prepare your outdoor space for visitors again

How do the experts ready their spaces for summer? From the right exterior lighting to how to serve food al fresco without breaking a sweat, we’ve got the inside scoop
Remember entertaining? Here's how to prepare your outdoor space for visitors again

How to maximise your outdoor space this summer

The design 

Creative director of Ashen & Cloud and award-winning interior architect Susan McGowan says that maximising our outdoor space is crucial when it comes to getting ready for summer.

She advocates zoning spaces, just as you would your interior, considering the sun orientation and how you would like to use the space. “If you have a spot that benefits from the morning light, pop a bistro set there for your morning coffee,” she suggests. “Similarly, you may wish to dine in the evening where the sun can trickle through, or lounge during the day in a bright sunny spot. At night, a sheltered area with a warm fire pit or heater can entice you to stay outside under a blanket a little bit longer!” If space is at a premium, McGowan says to consider a space multifunctional. “Plan for flexibility so that spaces can be adapted for use at different times of the day. Some tables, for example, are adjustable to change from coffee table to dining table as per your requirement.

Dali print tablecloth (from €65) and rainbow cotton napkin (€48 for 4) @ thedesignedtable.com 
Dali print tablecloth (from €65) and rainbow cotton napkin (€48 for 4) @ thedesignedtable.com 

One of the biggest mistakes we make here in Ireland is forgetting about our changeable weather, and it can add an interesting twist to your outdoor space, says McGowan. “Our weather is forever liable to change, and to ensure we can enjoy our outdoor spaces in spite of this, include shelter. A canopy can activate a space for use even during the odd shower, and clever landscaping can control a prevailing wind or tunnel that may otherwise have you feeling wind-swept.” Outdoor lighting is an easy route to a welcoming vibe, says the design expert. “ In the garden, try using spotlights to illuminate interesting trees or plants, and introduce paving lights on steps and pathways. Cosy up your close quarters with festoon lights, candles in lanterns, and pretty wall lights. Many of these options are also now available in solar LED.” 

Egg cocoon sofa (€579) @ Littlewoods.ie 
Egg cocoon sofa (€579) @ Littlewoods.ie 

Lastly, treat your outdoor space like an extra room, and decorate it with that in mind. “Place a basket by your back door and fill it with blankets and cushions for outdoor use. Patio plants with enticing aromas, interesting tiles and small structures like pergolas can also help to curate the patio area to your individual style. Outdoor rugs are also now available which can really bring the concept of an outdoor room to life.” 

The outdoor space 

Rattan basket (€14.99) @ h&m home 
Rattan basket (€14.99) @ h&m home 

A lick of paint is the most cost-effective way of giving your outdoor space an update according to Colourtrend consultant Anita Mullane. “Painting your boundary fences and a garden shed will immediately transform your outdoor space,” she says. “I recommend choosing a deeper shade for the fences to help camouflage dirty spots that we tend to get in the Irish winter months. A deeper colour on fences will also act as a stunning backdrop to enhance the colours from your garden plants and flowers.” For a colour contrast, the expert suggests painting the garden shed in a bright or pastel shade. “Painting the trims in a different colour will allow for a striking look that will bring colour and interest to your garden all year round.” While it’s easy to get drawn in by the trends of the season, 

Cotton Mix Monochrome Woven Stripe Throw (€40) @ Marks & Spencer 
Cotton Mix Monochrome Woven Stripe Throw (€40) @ Marks & Spencer 

Mullane says that it is crucial to work with what you have when choosing a palette for outdoors. “Just because you like a colour doesn't always mean it is going to work with your property! You may need to look to different hues or tints of the colour to find the one that works for you.” If you are determined to introduce a pop of colour to your garden, then it’s all about location, location, location. “I suggest painting a garden bench, pots, or maybe a shed door and trims that can be easily changed if you want to keep up with current trends. They can easily be changed from year to year.” 

 The tablescape 

Dining outside is all about bringing the inside out says Tara O’Connor, who recently launched The Designed Table, a gorgeous range of tablecloths, runners, and bespoke cotton napkins. “Don’t worry if you don’t have a table big enough in your garden,” she points out. “Bring your kitchen table out! You can create seating areas with both garden furniture and indoor furniture.” 

Gio dining chair (€480) @ Michaelmurphy.ie 
Gio dining chair (€480) @ Michaelmurphy.ie 

When considering your table, use your tablecloth as the canvas for your tablescape, suggests O’Connor. Next, add flowers. “Small vases in the middle of the table work great with flowers at different heights for a relaxed, at-home feel. When entertaining outdoors I love to gather flowers from the garden and place in different height jars and vases along the centre of the table.” Use placemats to add depth and texture to your table and finish with a pop of colour with a cotton napkin.

There is no point having a gorgeous table if there is nowhere to put things, says the designer “Make sure you have plenty of room on your table for food platters and bowls. So don’t overcrowd your table. Serve your food in colourful platters which adds colour to your table too.” 

Conscious outdoor cushion cover (€2.99) @ h&m home 
Conscious outdoor cushion cover (€2.99) @ h&m home 

For summer nights, Tara likes to create a fun drinks menu. “I love to welcome guests with a Spritz. Hugo Spritz is my drink of summer. Elderflower liqueur topped off with Prosecco and garnished with mint in glass with ice. I normally keep the drinks list small, rather than offer a full bar and for me rose wine is always a winner in summer.

The food 

Chef Aisling Larkin sets a scene when it comes to dining outside. “Begin with a menu concept - Moroccan, Italian, French - the possibilities are endless.” Family-style dining is the only way to serve warm weather food, she says. “Serve big sharing platters and self-serve dishes either on the table or buffet style on a separate table then allow everyone to serve themselves and come back for delicious second helpings.” 

Nebuliser and aromas by Modern Botany (€90) @ modernbotany.ie 
Nebuliser and aromas by Modern Botany (€90) @ modernbotany.ie 

Choose summer foods you love that are fresh, seasonal, local and full of flavour. “Think fresh asparagus lightly cooked, dipped in a cool, creamy whipped goats cheese topped with a walnut crumb, strawberries macerated in a little lemon and juice and sugar before serving.” Salads are meals in themselves, says the chef and should be considered as the star of the show. “Pack them with wholesome ingredients that can be prepared in advance. Always include a protein, like garlic prawns, sweet chilli chicken, halloumi, tofu or griddled beef. Have a carbohydrate in there too, some sweet potato, couscous or quinoa or maybe some pasta or even noodles. Then, add lots of colour, flavour and texture from delicious fruit and vegetables.” 

Pillar candle by Hay (€50) @ Arnotts
Pillar candle by Hay (€50) @ Arnotts

No matter your own preference, dessert is non-negotiable when it comes to al fresco dining, says Larkin. “Don’t let rich, heavy sweets derail you. Instead opt for something light and flavourful. An Eton mess with fresh berries, some peaches lightly grilled on the barbecue with mascarpone and berries or a prepared ahead banoffee pie. A really good tub of ice cream will always save the day… think quick knickerbockers glory, ice-cream cookie sandwiches or even ice cream floats.” 

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