How To Dine Outdoors

How To Dine Outdoors

Welcome to Second Nature, a Q+A series with Jute founder, Ali Davin, that explores all things healthy living, with a fond emphasis on that thing she does best—interior design.

For many of us, the first of spring isn’t the when the trees begin to blossom, the birds start to sing, or even an arbitrary date on the calendar. Instead, it’s the first day that’s still bright enough to enjoy dinner outside—even if we’re still bundled up in our parkas.

There’s something truly magical about dining outdoors. Here’s how to set up an outdoor dining space that feels like a true part of your home.


Isn’t it a little early to be thinking about outdoor dining?

Believe it or not, no. March is the month that we change the clocks and spring forward, so all of a sudden, dinnertime is happening when it’s still light and we want to eat outdoors. It’s more the daylight than the weather, which is still not great this time of year. The other big thing is that March and April are when retailers start to get their outdoor furniture inventory, and if you don’t jump on it now, you’re going to be waiting until next spring.


How should you set up your outdoor dining area?

If you have an outdoor kitchen, you’ll want to be close to that, but if not, you’ll want to be near the indoor kitchen. You’ll also want some sort of cover, whether you’re underneath an overhang, an umbrella, a covered porch, or anything that protects you from the sun setting—you don’t want to be blinded while you’re trying to enjoy your dinner.


What’s your stance on umbrellas?

If you don’t have a naturally shaded area or a more permanent structure to sit underneath, they definitely serve a purpose. A lot of it is personal preference—some people like umbrellas drilled into the center of the dining table, and others like them on some sort of base where they can be positioned around the table. You can also go for sunshade sailcloth overhead, which you can even motorize and attach to the side of your house. It all depends on where your table sits.


What about the table itself?

I’ve found that most people like to leave them outside year-round and cover them up when they’re not being used. Heavier materials like lavastone, granite, marble, or stainless steel are nice and sturdy and made to last. If you feel strongly about wood, I usually steer my clients toward teak or cypress, which need to be treated but do better outside. If you want a more flexible setup, I love French bistro tables that are more casual and lightweight.


And chairs?

While outdoor tables tend to be heavier, people tend to prefer lighter chairs that can be moved around. And the lightness is often a bigger factor than comfort. Benches are popular because you can squeeze in more people, but I like to mix in chairs as well. It doesn’t all have to match. Stacking chairs are really convenient, because you can pile them up and throw a cover on them when you’re not using them. Just make sure that if you have any cushions or pillows on them, that you bring those inside—outdoor fabrics are filled with manmade stuffing, and for whatever reason, mold grows like crazy in between that and the furniture, and obviously you don’t want that.


How do you make the space feel more defined?

Lighting is very important, and you can have a little fun with it. String lights and decorative lanterns are very popular—you want some sort of overhead fixture to anchor the space. If you have trees or a natural covering overhead, you can string lights along those, or you can create a more formal structure overhead.


What about rugs?

Most outdoor rugs are made from plastic or PVC and can turn into a mold-growing situation quickly, so I try to steer people away from them. If you want to define the space, you can do tile, stone or granite pavers underneath, or a special poured concrete, brick, or even gravel.


Should an outdoor dining area feel like an indoor dining area?

No, and that’s the most important part—you don’t want to feel like you’re inside; you want to feel like you’re outside. If you don’t have a lot of natural foliage, I like to add potted plants and trees surrounding the area to reinforce that idea. But don’t feel the need to buy melamine plates or drinkware—whatever you’re using inside is fine outside; it’s not like you’re going to break stuff just because you’re outside. Your outdoor dining area should feel like part of your home.


Put the same thoughtfulness into your outdoor dining area as you do inside.

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