Dinner on the patio, reading in the garden—summer activities are for savouring. I've noticed that decorating outdoors is rarely as daunting for people as decorating indoors. I have a few theories about why. For one thing, we use outdoor spaces in more casual, forgiving ways, plus the choices feel less permanent since the season is short. But more significant, perhaps, is that the patterns we rely on for outdoor decor—checks, stripes, polka-dots—are so familiar that we welcome them into our lives without a second thought. Although your choices depend entirely on personal taste, being aware of the impact of various patterns will help you make selections that contribute to an overall feeling of harmony. Here's a guide to the season’s favourites.
orderly, precise stripes
For those who crave organization, stripes are ideal. They gracefully define boundaries and restore order. Traditionalists are likely to prefer 2- to 3-inch-wide cabana stripes. Classic two-tone combinations, often featuring white, create dramatic impact on seat cushions, decorative pillows, umbrellas, tents and awnings. Contemporary settings call for narrower stripes, often in multicolour designs. Whereas wide stripes typically lend a calming influence to spaces, their narrow counterparts seem to energize whatever they touch.
Classic: Black-and-white stripes are ideal for classical or formal settings. Complement with damask or toile patterns as well as timeless motifs like the Greek key or French fleur-de-lis.
Contemporary: For contemporary settings, work with proven colour combos, like sand, brown and blue, to instill liveliness. Including green as part of the colour story helps create a soothing atmosphere because it blends in with the garden. Complement with polka-dots and geometrics, but include solids for stability.
Kravet Soleil’s Seamless in Lawn, $75 per yard, Kravet/Lee Jofa Showroom.
dependable checks, confident geometrics
Regularity is the hallmark of the humble check. Every square, if not exactly like the one adjacent, is part of an organized procession. Traditional interiors frequently include checks and their close cousin, plaid, as part of a reliable mix of pattern. Think Ralph Lauren, and you get a sense of how sophisticated checks can be. Contemporary settings use traditional checks in limited ways, preferring more geometric applications.
Classic: Handsome patterns lend solidity to delicate furnishings like wicker or rattan. Camel, hunter green and brick red are favourite colours widely embraced by traditionalists.
Contemporary: Contemporary settings almost always rely on tried-and-true neutrals to set a tone. Black, chocolate brown and charcoal combine beautifully with pale pink, blue or green. Complement stronger-statement geometric checks, like the one shown, with solids and stripes.
David Hicks Groundworks’
La Fiorentina in Domino, $136 per yard, Kravet/Lee Jofa showroom
Traditional homes rarely feature cheeky polka-dots, but subtle versions might be appropriate. For instance, tiny champagne bubbles and dotted shagreen (imitation sharkskin) create depth and interest on otherwise solid materials. Polka-dots are much more comfortable in contemporary settings, where their playfulness dominates. Complement with stripes, solids and florals that have as much visual weight, or else the dots will steal all the attention.
Classic: Classic polka-dot patterns almost always feature white plus one other colour. Kate Spade is the pioneer of sophisticated dots, using them to decorate dishware, luggage and clothing.
Contemporary: Pale aqua and white are perfect playmates. Or go Miami Beach, and enjoy a range of colours, from sunny yellow and sky blue to Popsicle pink and mint green.
Robert Allen’s Mini Disco in Seaglass, $54 per yard, Robert Allen