Finally, our weather has cooled so we can expand our living spaces to patios, gardens and backyards. After work and on weekends we can retreat outside to enjoy the warm days and cool evening breezes we look forward to from now until next May. Weekends mean we can invite family and friends over for those famous Arizona barbecues. Special celebrations can now be planned such as an assortment of parties, fundraisers or even an intimate wedding.

Just putting a table and chairs outside is not going to create a special atmosphere. Designing several areas with different uses is the key to maximizing all the backyard spaces.

Planning for different types of dining will enhance typical meals into a special event and wonderful memories. Three places should be considered for “El Fresco” dining:

1.) A breakfast patio for coffee, donuts and the morning paper make for a relaxing wake up that is hopefully accessible from the master bedroom. This garden niche can be designed like a French bistro with a decorative small cafe table and a pair of chairs. Colorful flower beds growing nearby or flowers planted in decorative pots would be cheerful and add to the ambiance. Enclosing this area for privacy with a high stucco, tiled walls, or even some fancy fencing means you could enjoy that coffee in your pajama’s if you so choose.

2.) The basic family’s outside dining table should be durable and adaptable and big enough to seat six to eight people for everyday dinners whether it’s round or rectangle, whether under a patio cover, the trees or an umbrella. This table can be dressed up with many seasonal accessories depending on all kinds of merriments and events.

3.) Dining for bigger, more elaborate backyard parties and celebrations may require more space to accommodate multiple tables, food serving space and bar tending areas. Extra space may necessitate expanding the patio areas adding concrete, pavers or tiles to the surroundings. Each of these hard surface elements can be decorative: the concrete can be scored with geometrics, borders and colored stains; the pavers and tiles can have different sizes, patterns or colors. These hard surface elements can have endless design possibilities and create gorgeous backdrops for an amazing and useful array of entertaining events. If you decide to use outside area rugs, know they will only last a few years before they disintegrate and need replacing.

Outdoor furniture selections have expanded from the basic lounge and chaise to include all kinds of side tables, chairs and sectional sofas. Special fabrics for outdoor living look great and wear for years even in our harsh Southwest weather. Fabrics in textures, patterns, stripes and solids will make the outdoor living room a stylish, cheerful place to hang out and dine out.

Draperies around the patio adds a posh touch and an infusion of romance to the surroundings. Again, specially treated fabrics in sheers and canvas are made to withstand the weather while their colors and patterns establish an elegant setting. Some of these draperies are pre-made and ready to be hung up while others are custom made with added elements of contrasting valances, unique tiebacks and gorgeous trims.

Multi-level evening lighting is a must for establishing the atmosphere for all outside activities. Primary lighting over the dining table can be as simple as a fan light, a string of cafe lights, or recessed lights. Secondary mood lighting on and around the table can be achieved using various sized candles, even putting them on iron stands or stone pedestals. Landscape lighting can be highly involved and extensive depending on the budget and certainly adds to the unique environment. Trees and plants can be up-lighted, decorative pathways highlighted, fountains and pools awash in mood lights, and artwork can be spot lighted. There are so many choices.

Artwork outside is the jewelry that adds sparkle and personality to the over all setting. There are endless secondary art forms, materials, styles and price tags that can add to other garden locations. One primary piece of art should take precedence as the focal point setting it up in the most impressive location in the garden with appropriate lighting. The fun is searching for the unusual and unique pieces of outside artwork in metal, stone, glass, sculptures, water features and now canvas paintings. These canvas paintings have a specially treated surface that holds up in all kinds of weather and showcases interesting subjects with an impressive artistic flourish.

Liven up your outdoor spaces, make them fun exciting places to spend time. Make them elegant entertaining destinations for your guests and private retreats of repose for you. Outdoor designed spaces have become as important in Arizona as the inside interior designs.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Carol Sampson is an award-winning interior designer and author of 35 years. Reach her at (480) 759-6763 or visit

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.