You’ve heard of bringing the outdoors in, but how about taking the indoors out? When it comes to creating an inviting and tranquil backyard, there are plenty of tips and tricks you can borrow from interiors that will help to ensure your outdoor space feels like a natural extension of your home. We turned to expert designer and founder of the eponymous interiors studio Henry Bickerton for his advice on how to decorate an outdoor living space.

A rectangular outdoor dining table surrounded by outdoor chairs and set with tableware.
Two images, one showing an outdoor dining table set with tableware, and another showing a pile of outdoor cushions.

Make it Multi-Functional

Just as the rooms in our homes have to adapt to different purposes— the sitting room doubles as a space in which to relax or entertain; the kitchen can be a spot for feasting or working so too can your backyard. If you’re looking to borrow ideas from your interiors, let this be your primary source of inspiration. Look for outdoor furniture that can offer both comfort and practicality—this is particularly useful for those looking for small outdoor living space ideas. “If you have the room, it’s great to have different zones—such as a dining area and a seating area—but those with city patios might have to incorporate one into the other,” Henry says. “OKA’s lovely wicker outdoor chairs are great, because they are both comfortable enough to sit on all afternoon, but you can also pull them up to a dining table. With outdoor spaces, as much with houses, you can take from some areas to make other spaces work.”

Indeed, it’s about looking for those designs that can work for different activities—if you only have space for one outdoor living area, for example, Henry recommends springing for a set of table and chairs rather than a sofa, as these are naturally more versatile. “I’d like to pretend that I have time to spend my days lying in a sun lounger, but in reality a table and chairs can open you up to different activities,” the designer explains. “You can take your laptop and work outside, you can dine outside, or you can sit and read the paper.”  

Keep it Pretty as Well as Practical

Summer sadly doesn’t last forever, so it’s important to think about how your outdoor space might look when you’re not using it. Seek pieces that can bridge the gap between function and form, to ensure your chosen designs always speak to your style. Henry is the proud owner of our Callanish Indoor/Outdoor Dining Table, and he has big plans to make it a focal feature of his backyard for alfresco dining and beyond. “We’ll use it mainly for entertaining, but when we’re not it will be a decorative feature, much like you’d have a central table in an entryway,” Henry says. “I’ll decorate it with terracotta pots when we’re not using it, and it will be a structural focal point in an area that’s otherwise quite soft.”

Two images, one showing an LED light sitting on an indoor/outdoor rug, and another showing glassware on a ceramic stool outdoors.
An outdoor lounge area arranged at the edge of a swimming pool, featuring an outdoor sofa, armchair and indoor/outdoor rug.

Zone Your Backyard

If you have the space to spread out, you can create outdoor area zones to give your backyard different ‘rooms’, as you would have in your home. Grouping seating together, with coffee tables, side tables and indoor/outdoor rugs, will help to create the illusion of an outdoor living room and make it feel separate from your dining area, even if those furniture pieces are in fact quite close together. “If you’re lucky enough to have the space, you should embrace it,” says Henry. “For example, it could be as simple as having a separate chair or bench under your tree that you only ever use in the morning when you’re having your cup of coffee, and it can become a special place just for that.”

Layer Your Textures

Just because you’re outside doesn’t mean you can’t rely on the same techniques you’d use to style your interiors—and layering your textures is one such example. In a home, it’s the blending of those tactile materials that really make a space feel inviting, and it’s no different when it comes to the great outdoors. “In a backyard, layering textures is even easier because you have trees, hedges, plants and flowers creating an interesting background, just as you might have a patterned wallpaper in a room,” Henry says. “You can mix that in with a stone table and wicker chairs, layering it much like you would an interior.” Adding décor, such as outdoor pillows, an indoor/outdoor rug or terracotta plant pots will also help you to achieve that layered effect.

Let it Glow with Atmospheric Lighting

Nothing makes a home feel quite as cozy and inviting as good lighting, and the same rules apply to the backyard; as the sun sets, it’s those little glowing pockets of light that will make the space come alive. “The dream is to sit outside on a summer’s evening and have it beautifully lit, whether that’s with candlelight or, if people are lucky enough, electric light that’s built in as part of a planned scheme,” Henry says. Our collection of wireless LED lamps is also a great go-to for casting an inviting glow; add them to tabletops, side tables or coffee tables as the sun sets. Candles, too, can create a warm and dramatic effect. “I’m always a big fan of glass hurricane lamps and I’ve used OKA’s a number of times,” the designer adds. “They’re so lovely because they’re indoor/outdoor; a glass hurricane lamp that you might have sitting on a table indoors can also go outside and sit on the floor among some plants.”

An outdoor dining table and chairs
Two images, one showing an outdoor dining table set with tableware, and the other showing a range of seagrass baskets.

Add Personality with Décor

Whether your style is classic or contemporary, both traditional and modern outdoor living spaces can benefit from a few character-filled additions. Even if you favor a more minimalist approach, it’s those little details that make all the difference, and will really help to ensure your backyard feels like an extension of your home. This could include the perfect set of outdoor pillows to bring pattern and color to outdoor sofas; a vase full of blooms placed in the center of your outdoor coffee table; or planters in decorative finishes to add depth to your florals and foliage. When it comes to outdoor dining tables, décor come into their own. “The joy of outside entertaining is that you can theme it; just by adding a tablecloth, which might have some colored embroidery or a pattern, you can create a completely different look,” says Henry. “On a sunny day, you can pretend you’re in the Mediterranean, and dress it in a completely different way than you would if it was a slightly colder, early summer’s day.”

Choose an Alternative Style

Making your backyard an extension of your home doesn’t mean you have to match your interiors exactly; the beauty of an outside space is that, unlike an interior, it’s much less easy to control, and so naturally lends itself to a more carefree approach. Just because you’ve chosen one color palette in your sitting room, for example, doesn’t mean you have to echo it outside—in fact, it’s an opportunity for you to try a completely different style. “I very much like the haphazardness of creating an outdoor room,” Henry agrees. “That’s the joy of creating those indoor/outdoor spaces; if you’ve got your dining area outside your kitchen, you can relate the areas, or you can create a complete contrast, which is always rather nice because you’re creating a completely different room really.”

Though you may want to bring the creature comforts of indoors outside, and indeed borrow design rules from interiors, there’s no reason your end result should have to mirror your house. In fact, all the better if it doesn’t. “I always have a million ideas for a room, so I don’t have a theme throughout a house; I want every room to feel a bit jewel-like and different, and that’s what I think with the backyard as well,” says Henry. “I want to escape and get away from the world, and that’s the joy of an outdoor space.”

To find out more about Henry’s world, visit his website.