Mary Walgren

By Mary Walgren, MATC interior design instructor

As the weather gets warmer, our thoughts (and our lives) move outdoors. A recent trend in home design creates beautiful outdoor living spaces showcasing upholstered furniture, fireplaces, exterior kitchens and even oversized televisions!  But, how realistic is this concept for those of us living in the “frozen tundra?”

We can all embrace the dream of sipping a mojito, lounging on a crisp, white-cushioned sofa, binging on Netflix, all while surrounded by softly billowing sheer drapes protecting us from that summer sunshine. Unfortunately, in a typical Wisconsin summer, that mojito glass would be dripping, leaving water marks on the sofa. And let’s face it, that white cushion would be slightly grey from construction dust, and may even sport a few black walnut stains. Those billowing drapes would be tightly wrapped around the posts of the pergola from the high winds that triggered a recent tornado watch. And, the outdoor Netflix binge would be quickly replaced by the summer sport of swatting mosquitos!

But truly, all is not lost. Creating an outdoor oasis that can withstand a Wisconsin summer is as simple as the ABC’s.

A.  Location, location, location!

Select a spot in your yard that takes advantage of natural shade and wind barriers.  Placing outdoor entertainment space against an existing building wall gives protection from the wind while providing structure to mount an exterior, waterproof television. (Yes, they do exist!)  Natural shade, when combined with a pergola structure, will protect outdoor furniture from the heat and UV rays that can fade, dry and crack fabrics, plastics and woods.

B.  Be materialistic (in a good way)!

Exterior materials need to withstand the elements.  Is it sturdy enough to stay in place on a windy day? Can it handle rain and humid conditions, as well as sunshine? Teaks and treated lumber work well, but new resins have a similar look without as much maintenance. Indoor /outdoor fabrics are specifically designed to resist fading and have water impermeable qualities.

C.  Mix it up!

Select heavier quality pieces for your primary furnishings – the exterior dining table and the sofas. Dining chairs, occasional tables and chairs should be lighter weight so they can be easily moved around the space. Use an indoor/outdoor rug to define the space, while creating a cozy retreat on the hard concrete of your patio.  Don’t be afraid of color! Keep larger, more expensive furniture pieces in darker neutrals – it will hide dirt and have staying power as your decor changes over time.  Bring in bright, fun summer colors through accessories. Throw pillows, accent tables and flower pots can add an inexpensive splash of color throughout the space.

Finally, use what you’ve got! The Wisconsin landscape provides you with lush green grasses, fabulous perennials and colorful annuals to create a perfect backdrop to your summer oasis. And if you add an outdoor fireplace or fire pit and a few throw blankets, you can extend that outdoor season well into the fall months.