You can install outdoor lighting and heaters and sofas and dining tables on a patio—in fact, I am considering all of the above—but there comes a time when you have to ask: what's the point of turning the outdoors into a copycat extension of indoor space? I'm talking, of course, about an outdoor rug. Should I go there?
There's nothing wrong with nature, so maybe we should stop trying to improve upon it. On the other hand, perhaps anything that lures us outdoors is its own justification. Unfurl the right rug, and it has the effect of creating an instant room. There it is on the ground, defining a physical space and transforming a motley collection of winter-weary wicker into an inviting spot for all the important summer activities: reading, napping, and drinking cocktails.
Which side are you on, rug or no rug? To help decide, we took photos at Julie's house of four outdoor rugs (and of her patio sans rug). Tell us in the comment section which look you like best (and why):
Photographs by Michelle Slatalla.
Option No. 1: No rug. On Julie's brick patio is her outdoor furniture, collected over the years. She bought the mid-century metal chair and coffee table from a secondhand store in San Diego 15 years ago. The sturdy teak two-seater and chair date to the days before Smith & Hawken was a chain and the original store was in downtown Mill Valley, a few blocks from her house.
Option No. 2: A Savanna Cane Rug woven of weather-resistant UV-protected polypropylene comes in six sizes (shown above is a 6-by-9-foot rug); prices range from $24.95 to $399 from Crate & Barrel.
Do you like the solid neutral color or is it a distraction that pulls your eye away from the garden? Tell us your opinion in the comment section below.
Above: A close-up view of the Savanna Cane rug; although made of what is essentially plastic, it looks as if it could be woven from a natural fiber and feels nice under bare feet.
Option No. 3: A Tonal Flatweave Rug, hand loomed of yarn-dyed cotton, is recommended for indoor-outdoor use; available in four sizes (shown above in a 6-by-9-foot size), it is available for from $49 to $499 from Williams-Sonoma.
With wide stripes and a strong pattern, the rug turns Julie's furniture into an instant seating group. Do you like the effect?
When we say we want to enjoy the outdoors, sometimes what we really mean is we want to subvert its power and bend it to our will. We go camping with fancy tents—to keep out the rain and wind and the sunlight—and propane-powered cook stoves and insulated sleeping bags and folding chairs so we don't have to sit on the actual ground. At the beach, we lie on blankets to avoid the sand and pitch umbrellas to block the sun. And don't even get me started on picnics, with fancy china plates and linen napkins and insulated cooler bags to keep the food at a kitchen-worthy level of refrigeration.
Above: A close-up view of the Tonal Flatweave Rug; the colors are rich and the wide stripes establish a dominant color palette for the patio. This rug requires dry cleaning and its use should be limited to a covered outdoor space or sunroom.
Option No. 4: A Quil Diamond Indoor/Outdoor Rug from Pottery Barn is available in five sizes (shown above is a 5-by-8-foot rug) and is available at prices ranging from $49 to $349. Woven of stain-resistant polypropylene to mimic the look of grass cloth, it has a latex backing and is durable enough to use in an uncovered outdoor area.
My husband says: why buy something that is going to get beat up and weathered? I say: we decorate our homes with lots of things that aren't meant to be permanent. Bouquets of fresh flowers, for instance.
Maybe the world can be divided into two camps, "practical decorators" who think a furniture purchase should be forever, and "impulsive decorators" who buy for the moment and do not care if leaves fall on a rug, or ants crawl across it, or rain and wind eventually subdue it.
Above: A close-up view of the Quil Diamond Indoor/Outdoor Rug, with a pattern based on an early 20th-century African rug. The pattern is subtle; the background shade is a light beige color.
Option No. 5: A Tierra Outdoor Dhurrie, available in five sizes (and shown above in a 5-by-8-foot size) is waterproof and handmade in India from yarns made of recycled plastic bottles; available at prices ranging from $49 to $749 from West Elm.
Above: A close-up view of the Tierra Outdoor Dhurrie, which looks and feels very much like cotton. And yet it can be cleaned with an outdoor hose and mild soap; to prevent mold or mildew, avoid leaving it in standing water for extended periods.
OK, which rug would you choose? Or do you prefer Julie's brick patio uncovered? Tell us your opinion in the comment section below.
Window treatments are the indoor equivalent of outdoor rugs: how much is too much when it comes to curtains, blinds, and shades? See 5 Strategies for Coving 50 Windows—for Under a Million Dollars.
For more of Michelle's adventures in home design, see Domestic Dispatches.