One of my most fun memories as a kid is eating on the porch on a New England summer night. The porch had to be screened in to keep mosquitoes at bay, but to me, it was no screen apparent with fresh air and wonderful summer evening smells and sounds! Corn on the cob dripping with butter, iced tea loaded with sugar, noisy crickets and scrumptious roses in bloom made those nights special!
The porch had a large glass-topped dining table and a full set of patio furniture. The table was adjacent to the kitchen so we could easily bring food out and dirty dishes back in. It was a simple 50s type setup.
You can eat outside no matter what your space, size requirements or eating needs are. It doesn’t need to be just dinner. Coffee outside is a great way to greet the day! A full-blown kitchen is not necessary, either.
Outdoor dining, sitting, thinking space
A dining area for one or two people can be a small café table and a couple of bistro chairs tucked away in a corner of the garden or on a balcony. A vine-covered arbor or an umbrella can provide shade. I have a small covered porch on the sunny side of my house. This is just enough room for two chairs and a coffee table. I eat out there most days, and I always have my coffee out there! At night, it becomes a pleasant sitting area.
A family could use a larger table in a larger area. Outdoor dining rooms are essential for summer entertaining. No matter the size, though, it needs to be close to the kitchen.
Choosing outdoor furniture and lighting
Outdoor dining furniture can evoke a casual feel with a rustic wooden table and chairs. A crisp white tablecloth and cloth napkins says formal through and through. High contrast is dramatic, whether that is a formal table in a natural setting or bright colors in a dark, cozy corner.
Lighting is important, especially for dinner. I have strung Christmas lights, which are bright enough to read by, yet subtle enough to be out of your eyes. They can even be hung on the underside of your umbrella. Paper lanterns lend a soft light and add color. Chandeliers or candles can dress up an ordinary table. Be sure there is good lighting leading to and from the dining area, too.
Shelter, privacy, and comfort in an outdoor dining space
A roof or a structure such as a gazebo will protect diners from the elements. A privacy wall will protect them from the neighbors. This can be a fence, a vine wall or a hedge, which could also double as a backdrop and add definition. For visual interest, utilize any scenery that is available – trees, water or mountains.
Design an outdoor space the same as an indoor space. Add art as a focal point, and consider using cool colors to beat summer heat. Blues, purples and greens will psychologically cool down diners. On the other side of that, think of a fire pit or fireplace to extend the outdoor season in spring and fall. Invite people to linger at the table after eating by making it comfortable. Be sure there is enough room for efficient traffic flow and for people to put their chairs in and out without running into a wall or each other.
No matter how big or small your space is, you can make a comfortable spot to eat any meal of the day. Create memories for family and everyone who comes over for coffee or a four-course dinner!