Spectacular Spaces offers tips in area magazines for outdoor living in southwest Florida

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The great spring weather has everyone in southwest Florida heading outdoors!  Spectacular Spaces was happy to be included in Beth Luberecki's article in the March/April issues of Times of the Islands and Bonita Living magazines.  Check out the tips below for making the most of your outdoor space.


Follow this advice, and you’ll be looking for any excuse to head to your porch or patio

by Beth Luberecki

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Chances are, you might be flipping through this very magazine while sitting on your lanai or balcony. Take a look around. Is your outdoor space the alfresco oasis it should be, or could it use some work?

Living in Southwest Florida, we’re lucky enough to be able to spend a lot of our time outdoors. But who wants to spend that time in a ho-hum, unfinished space?

“For most people, an outdoor area gives you a break from your home, a place you can go to at the end of the day to get some fresh air,” says interior decorator Wrenda Goodwyn, owner of Estero-based Spectacular Spaces. “I think everybody is looking for that place to go, for that restful retreat.”

So what are the secrets to creating a space that’s both fun and functional, whether it’s a tiny condo balcony, spacious screened-in porch, or expansive pool deck and lanai? Start out by determining how you’d like to spend time there.

“Think about how you’re going to use the outdoor space,” says Michael Hayes, general manager of Robb & Stucky Casual Living Outdoor in Bonita Springs. “If you never see yourself dining outside, then don’t buy a dining set. Put your money into seating instead. If you’re a reader, make sure you’ve got a really comfortable chair out there. Whatever type of activity you see yourself doing, you want to select furniture to support that.”

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The size of the space also comes into play when choosing furniture and other pieces. If you’ve only got a small footprint with which to work, you need to pick pieces with petite proportions. A twenty-four-inch bistro table would look right at home on a small balcony, but it could get lost on a lanai with lots of square footage.

“Generally speaking, for a larger space you may want to consider using a little more color on the fabric to provide a bit more interest,” says Christina Porter Forbes, president of Accessories Etc. Design Group in Bonita Springs. “A sea of hard surfaces around the pool can be kind of dull. For a smaller patio, keep things simple so that your eye goes through the furniture to the view, making things seem bigger.”

Don’t start buying furniture before deciding on a direction for the space. “Come up with a plan,” says Goodwyn, who works all over Lee County. “Do you want this to be an extension of your [indoor] living area or do you want it to be a separate nook? Have a plan before you start making purchases.”

When choosing materials for your furniture, think about all that bright sunshine and tropical rainfall we get in these parts. “You have to realize that no matter what you purchase, the Southwest Florida weather is hard on everything,” says Forbes. “It’s important to buy quality furniture, but don’t expect it to last forever. It’s not going to; there’s nothing permanent about anything that goes outside in Southwest Florida.”

But some materials may hold up to the elements better than others. “Wood will require maintenance every couple of years,” says Bill Grace, senior director of merchandising at Ballard Designs, which has retail locations in Tampa and Jacksonville. “Wrought iron will need to be touched up and painted occasionally. Aluminum is probably your best bet if you don’t want to have to fuss with it. It’s virtually indestructible.”

Avoid the urge to plunk down your credit card for a matching nine-piece patio set. “It’s nice to mix textures, like wrought iron with wicker,” says Forbes. “Matching is really a bad word; I prefer ‘coordinate’ or ‘blend.’”

Many homeowners opt to carry over the look of their indoor spaces to their outdoor areas. “I find that the most successful design projects are those that include what’s already going on in the interior,” says Hayes. “You’ll be more successful if you take the colors and ideas from inside. That blurs the line between the indoors and out and lets you use the whole big space as one unit.”

But you can also go in the opposite direction. “This is your chance to do something a little different than anywhere else in your home,” says Goodwyn. “You can try different things in that outdoor environment that you probably would never try in the house.”

Like brightly colored furniture, for example. In addition to standard tan, gray, and black finishes, outdoor furniture now comes in blues, greens, pinks, and all kinds of other shades. “For somebody who loves color, it finally feels like the sky’s the limit,” says Hayes. “People have the opportunity to personalize their spaces like never before. You have to be a little brave if you’re going to have pink furniture. But if you love pink and you know you’re going to love it, I say go for it.”

Not that bold? It’s also easy to add pops of color through fabrics and accessories. “Adding a little accent in the form of toss pillows works really well,” says Forbes.

When it comes to fabrics, outdoor options abound that are just as durable as they are decor-worthy. “There are so many wonderful all-weather fabrics that are fade resistant, mildew resistant, and easy to clean,” says Goodwyn. “These are not the old-fashioned, stiff outdoor fabrics. They are beautiful, soft, and practical.”

And they’re good for more than just covering cushions. “We’ve found that interest in outdoor drapery panels has been unbelievable,” says Grace. “They create privacy and also create more of a shady area in sunny locations, two very important things for outdoor areas.”

More shade is something that’s often needed here in Southwest Florida. That’s why it’s also a good idea to consider placing umbrellas over dining and seating areas not already under cover. “If you have a great area but the sun is beating down on it all day long, an umbrella means you can sit in it for more hours during the day,” says Grace.

Another key accessory: an outdoor rug. “Having one makes such a difference in terms of warming up a space and making everything feel unified,” says Forbes. Good choices include raffia or sisal options.

Or grab a paintbrush and create the illusion of an area rug. “Paint a portion of the outdoor area one color, do a creative border, and put a coffee table, bench, or eclectic antique in the center,” says Goodwyn.

While you don’t want to clutter up your outdoor space, a few carefully chosen and well-placed accessories can help tie everything together. In covered areas, you can sometimes make use of indoor pieces, but that may not always be the best approach. “Consider the materials you’re using outside and the amount of exposure something is going to have,” says Hayes. “That will make a big difference in how something ages. Whenever possible, you should buy things manufactured to be used outdoors.”

And when it comes to lighting, that’s a must. “You want to make sure that you’re using lamps that are UL [Underwriters Laboratories] listed for direct outdoor use,” says Hayes. “Indoor lamps can’t go outside. When you’re talking electrical, you want to be careful when you’re dealing with a potentially wet area.”

But the right lighting can really help to set the mood outdoors. “My favorite tip is to add an outdoor chandelier over the seating or dining area,” says Goodwyn. “I also hang paper and glass lanterns all around, and I love to float things in the pool. It just gives the space a real dreamy feel, so that it almost doesn’t matter what you serve to eat. Almost.”

If you do like to entertain, keep that in mind when choosing furniture. “How many people you generally entertain is an important thing, because tables come in all sizes and shapes,” says Grace. “You can get something that’s twenty-four inches or over one hundred inches. So whether you want to entertain two, six, or ten people, the table is a really important first decision.”

If you’re limited on space and need pieces that multitask, a chat group might be the answer. Consisting of four club or lounge chairs arranged around a coffee or cocktail table, it provides a spot for a light meal or a conversation over drinks. “You get the best of both worlds,” says Hayes.

And if you’ve only got a small balcony at your disposal, accept the fact that you probably won’t be serving a five-course gourmet meal for eight out there. But by choosing balcony-height furnishings, you can at least get the most out of your view, whether you’re dining à deux or reading the paper over a cup of coffee by yourself.

“When you’re seated at them, it gets you up just high enough over the balcony railing so that the view appears again,” says Hayes. “So you’re not looking through the bars like you’re in jail or something.”

Outdoor kitchens are still hot and don’t require a palatial spread. “They’re doing so many compact outdoor kitchens now for smaller lanais and patios, that you can accommodate them in almost any sized home,” says Goodwyn. “Everybody wants an outdoor kitchen, even if they only use it once a year.”

And when it comes to your outdoor living space, that’s what should be important: what you want. “The whole idea of being outside, feeling really relaxed, and having friends over—it’s about what really feels good to you,” says Forbes. “It’s the perfect time to personalize your space.”

Beth Luberecki is a Venice, Florida–based freelance writer and an editor for TOTI Media.