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Designing Outdoor Spaces in Chicago

Ah, summer! Few relish it more than we Chicagoans do. To help you make the most of it we asked four top Chicago interior designers for their insights on creating inspiring outdoor spaces. These pros dished on everything from their outdoor design philosophy, to the specific considerations Midwesterners should take to heart, to creating outdoor entertaining spaces perfect for eating al fresco, to where they get their outdoor design inspiration. Read on to get one step closer to Eden!


Frank Ponterio Interior Designer Chicago, Outdoor Space

I aim to create outdoor spaces that are inviting, spaces that compel people to go outside. Outdoor spaces should be a natural extension of a home’s interior. I believe that they should be beautiful, but also smartly planned, with versatile seating arrangements and modern day amenities for entertaining and relaxing. They should also be long-lasting, especially for my coastal clients, many of whom are constantly dealing with unpredictable climates. Outdoor spaces in the Midwest need to be adaptable. I like to add features such as fire pits, fireplaces, and heaters, as well as blankets, to allow for an easy transition into fall and winter or early spring. These considerations can extend the time we Midwesterners get to spend outside by two months! I also gravitate towards neutrals and simple patterns for exterior furnishings and accessories, in order to ensure that the design remains relevant year-round, and so the landscape and plantings take center stage. If you are accommodating twelve guests for dinner you should have sufficient post-dinner seating for twelve. This doesn’t mean you need to have twelve lounge chairs; you can utilize neighboring ottomans or pull from other seating arrangements. But everyone present for dinner or lunch should be able to relax outdoors in a leisurely setting after the meal. Whatever the specifications, the success of the project lies in the artistry of the design professionals appointed to work on the project. Working with a great team transforms designs into a reality.

Lauren Warnock Project Interiors, Interior Designer, Lake Geneva Project

An outdoor space should be an intimate refuge to relax. It should inspire meditation, prompt entertaining, and be a place to enjoy with family and friends. For Midwest outdoor spaces, a fireplace adds warmth and ambience, and urges use, even in the cold months. Clever furniture arrangements and pieces that serve double duty are great for entertaining. You can enjoy a meal al fresco, savor your morning coffee, or host a cocktail party! For example, a tree stump can be a place to set a drink, and then later become a stool to pull up to a table for extra seating. An outdoor space can lose some of its appeal when every piece matches, so be sure to mix it up! I gather outdoor inspiration from my own yard, which backs into a forest preserve. It is just so green, textural, lush, serene, and full of surprises!

Stephen Gertz, Chicago Interior Designer, Mileu, Garden

When it comes to designing a garden, I like to design for outdoor entertaining and relaxing. My prime objective is to make sure the space is inviting and comfortable. In addition to the obvious details (such as sun exposure, native species, etc.) I also consider that our time spent outdoors in Chicago is limited. A garden, for those lucky enough to have the outdoor space, should be a true escape. If you get creative enough, even a small garden can be used for entertaining. Hang plants to maximize usable square footage. Don't be afraid to use found objects for tables or seating; stools take up very little room and are easy to place in any configuration. The most common mistake I see being made in garden design is the same one that's often being made in interior spaces: poor space planning. Sometimes people forget that plants need space to breathe and to grow. For inspiration I look to the gardens of Paris. Everything about them inspires me on a daily basis! From their gorgeous porcelain sculptures scattered throughout, to their flawlessly manicured shrubs, to those amazing grand fountains; they cannot be topped!

Kenneth Walter Chicago Interior Designer, Pool

As I begin a project that includes a garden, loggia, or even a small patio or terrace, I focus on the flow from the exterior space into the interior. Attention to design style is a consideration, but so is the landscape, project location, and needs of the client. For a thoughtfully designed outdoor space, the process is just as complex as planning for the interior space. There are many considerations for Midwestern outdoor spaces, namely due to our very short temperate season. One common challenge, for example, is storage. Where will all this gorgeous stuff go when the snow flies? That issue must be planned out in advance of proposing the design to the client, as it is essential that the client only commit to pieces that can be stored properly, or they are wasting their investment. The biggest mistake people make in outdoor design is fear of investing in quality outdoor furnishings. It is far better to purchase well-designed items, rather than paying for something that will last a mere one or two seasons. It is better for the client and for our planet to invest in pieces that will withstand usage as well as our Midwestern climate. For an optimal outdoor space, it is key to have many well-designed groupings that range from dining to lounge scenarios. My favorite type of outdoor space contains multiple outdoor rooms that flow into each other. Some might be partially covered, such as a loggia, and lead to an outdoor terrace, and then perhaps onto a pool or tennis court. That said, I am also happy at a sidewalk cafe, a tiny terrace at a friend's apartment, or just about anywhere outside when the weather is lovely!

Want your own secret garden but don’t know where to start? Browse more Chicago interior designers.

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