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How I Made My Narrow Patio Feel Like an Outdoor Living Room

Sep 21, 2023Sep 21, 2023

Think beyond string lights.

Published Sep 1, 2023 1:15 AM

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After years of navigating the pandemic within the confines of a snug central London flat, my husband, our lively 1-year-old, and I yearned for space. So we traded up to a three-bedroom rental in breezy Brighton—a town known for its British seaside charm.

Our switch meant swapping spontaneous European getaways for the charm of a terrace-adorned haven. The patio, a northeast-facing, L-shaped stretch that curves around the kitchen, was desperately calling for reinvention. White walls and gray concrete tile form the backdrop, while a palm tree—left behind by the previous occupants—injects a touch of unexpected Mediterranean flair into our Victorian abode.

This unconventional addition sparked an idea—why not infuse our outdoors with Côte d’Azur allure? Memories of rattan loungers, sunlit metal tables, and the distinctive Palladino terrazzo floors from Hotel le Sud in Antibes kindled my creativity. The challenge, however, was harmonizing this Mediterranean vision with a nod to our home’s history.

My decorating tale began with an eBay gem: a modular rattan sofa boasting storage prowess. The cushions were diamonds in the rough, longing for new covers, and I felt drawn to awning stripes as a playful nod to our seaside location. While I’m all for classic vibes, I didn’t want a space that screamed “nautical.” Cue my savior: Colours of Arley. Led by the talented Louise Tratalos, an interiors photographer–turned–textile magician, this brand brings bespoke stripe dreams to life.

Choosing from 180 shades, three widths (1cm, 5cm, 10cm), and an array of eco-friendly fabrics made of recycled plastic bottles, I quickly settled on baby blue, but wrestled with the second choice. As summer’s end loomed, my husband came to my rescue by choosing burnt orange. To complete the transformation, I enlisted the skills of a friend, a budding seamstress, who masterfully brought my cushion design to life.

With the bulk of our patio budget invested in reupholstery, a furniture revival was in order for the remaining space. A coffee-table base, boasting intricately designed legs and a dreamy metal patina, sat tucked away from a prior eBay escapade. Its original marble top currently moonlights as my desk top, so I needed a fresh solution. Inspired by Mediterranean terrazzo elegance, I ventured into a pavé experiment. First, I used a rubber mallet to render marble samples from a local stone yard into fragments. After meticulously puzzling each piece into the right layout, I finally glued them to a waterproof membrane attached to the inside of the table and sealed everything with outdoor grout.

Though my design choices usually lean contemporary, a latent penchant for Britishcore often surfaces, leading to curtain placements where they’re least expected. My quirky discovery on Facebook Marketplace—an abandoned candy bar cart—became the perfect canvas.

With handles gone, shabby wheels and roof discarded, and a fresh coat of paint, the crafting of a cabana-esque cover featuring a pearly fringe followed suit. The pièce de résistance? An original Italian lemon ceramic bowl that lends Mediterranean charm, perfect for cooling drinks and creating a summery focal point.

Every space craves art, and our patio’s walls yearned for a spark. My outdoor favorites like mirrors and decorative plates couldn’t join the party due to stock shortages, so a desperate, last-minute deep dive on the Internet led me to Isabelle Vandeplassche’s Desenio collection, which offered the perfect coastal-contemporary fusion. I purchased two canvas prints and weatherproofed them with polyurethane spray sealer (though winter might see them cozily stored away in one of our modular sofa seats, as I don’t intend to push my luck).

There’s nothing quite like ending an arduous workweek on a patio that whisks you away to a beachside haven—all while skipping airport lines. Even though this summer’s constant rain left us in wool sweaters and raincoats, luckily limoncello’s charm remains undiminished. And at least our new sofa upholstery is waterproof.