Design tips for outdoor spaces

Outdoor living area designed by lou brown design

I often get asked, “Do you do outside areas too?” Of course, I do. They are just an extension of a home’s interior, and require the same rules and requirements, such as balance, grouping, layering and focal points, to name a few.

By sprucing up your exterior, you gain extra living space, and when done right, you can use this extra space almost year-round. Sure, this requires some higher ticket items, such as shelter from wind and rain and a heat source which may be on the long-term want list. However, you can do many things in the interim to take your outdoor space to the next level.


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Make sure your existing furniture is positioned correctly. Try to configure relaxed seating in a square or u-shape configuration, facing towards each other in a way that’s conducive to conversation. This will create an inviting space that people are drawn to use. Pull furniture away from any exterior walls to make the space look spacious. If space is tight, opt for smaller occasional style seating such as occasional chairs, ottomans, bench seats and narrow daybeds.

If you really want to take your outdoor area to that next level, then anchor your relaxed seating area with an outdoor rug. This is where the transformation happens and where the lines between the interior and exterior really start to blue. Outdoor rugs are inexpensive, durable and look fantastic! They anchor the furniture, giving the space structure, balance and warmth underfoot.


Another critical aspect that’s often overlooked is outdoor lighting. Candles and lanterns are an inexpensive way to add warmth. An oversized pendant above the coffee or dining table will anchor the furniture below and create a gorgeous warm glow at night. This light source could be as simple as a bundle of rusty wire or an old chandelier frame with battery-powered seed lights threaded throughout or a hanging grouping of lanterns with candles. Get creative and see what you can find in a vintage shop or wrecking yard.

Think about the surrounding landscape; positioning a few uplights in your garden will create magic and will expand the sense of space in the evening.


One of the most common mistakes I see is the wrong-sized planters. Try to go large and only a few rather than lots of small pots dotted around the place. A thin layer of course white lime chip on the top of the soil dresses the planters nicely.

Trim back any over-vigorous vines and trees blocking views or wanted sunlight. Fill the gaps below larger plants with ground covers and seasonal colour.

Give your deck, outdoor upholstery and teak furniture a good clean. I recently gave my outdoor teak table and bench seats a quick sand and then applied a product called Instant Grey, and they look fantastic! I highly recommend it.


Outdoor fabrics have come a long way! You can even get outdoor velvet these days that are divine!

Refreshing scatter cushions is a sure way to reinject life.  Have at least three different fabrics and seek patterns that evoke a fond memory and make you happy. Muster the confidence and try to throw something incoordinate and unexpected into the mix, and you might be surprised just how much it enlivens the space.

When selecting upholstered seating, think carefully about the colour. Black fabric heats up quickly and shows marks and animal hair just as much as white does. However, white can be pretty glary and shows mildew. I try to opt for a mid-tone, or if I go with a lighter colour, I will opt for a two-toned fabric that has a salt-and-pepper-like texture.

If you have kids and need extra seating, large outdoor floor cushions (approx. 750 x 750mm) that can be placed in the corner of the room and pulled out when needed is a great way to inject colour and functionality. Bean bags (or my personal preference) bean chairs are also an affordable way to add extra seating.

Get your interior design journey started with Auckland Interior Designer Hayley by heading over to the Strategy Session booking page.

Hayley x


A word from our clients…

I worked with Hayley after buying a small house in rather a dreary state. On a limited budget, the place has been transformed with Hayley’s help. It was a collaborative process and Hayley was happy to listen. She came up with a comprehensive plan which I felt comfortable with at all times. 

Angela Coddington
We needed help after living in our home for a year and still undecided on what to do. She is extremely talented at adding colour and texture and blending it with features we already had in our rooms. Hayley is professional; we love the new look she gave to our home. All our friends agree – she did a fantastic job.
Jane Sparnon

We’re thrilled to bits with how things came together. The whole point was about making this place feel like it really belonged to us, and that home felt like a place where we really wanted to be. We’re enjoying chipping away, collecting artwork, and finishing off little bits and pieces, confident in knowing what will work in our space.

Grace Brebner