Steal an Expert’s Tips for Designing Your Dream Outdoor Entertaining Space

I’m writing to you during the middle of fall (in the northeast, of all places), and there’s one thing on my mind. It’s not what I’m buying my family for Christmas, nor does it involve the sweaters I’ll be stocking in my closet this season. Sure, all of those things live rent-free in my head, but I’m proud to say that I’m more prepped for the summer than I’ve been in years passed. Believe it or not, I’m talking about outdoor entertaining design. And with the temps being in the 40’s in New England, I’m sure you think I’m being a little overzealous. But no, I’m simply ahead of the game.

Let me explain. When I learned that Camille would be lending her expertise to the Living by Design Virtual Showhouse, I knew I needed to steal her tips and approach—asap. The Embello team invited Camille to join a roster of top-tier designers (Bobby Berk and Brigette Romanek, among them) to create a virtual, shoppable experience that highlights innovative, inspiring design.

To dive in even further, I spoke with Ana Maria Bernal, an Austin-based design consultant for Summer Classics, the brand behind the stunning outdoor furniture that Camille chose for the Showhouse. Today, she’s sharing her game-changing approach to outdoor entertaining design. Because as we all know: you can never be too prepared for warm-weather gatherings.

Camille Styles selecting paint swatches.
Woman selecting paint swatches.

Any furniture used for an outdoor dining area will have to withstand the elements. What are the best materials with consideration to both functionality and aesthetics?

All materials offered as options in our Summer Classics line are suitable for outdoor. These are a few questions that can determine what is best for our clients:

  • Is your outdoor area covered, screened in, or open?
  • What is your style preference?
  • What is the color scheme of the architectural components, such as paint and flooring, countertops, cabinetry, etc?
Outdoor living room.

For a seamless alfresco dining experience, the furniture should blend cohesively with the surrounding nature. How can buyers get inspired by their environment and select pieces that pair well?

Second to good food and great drink, comfortable furniture is everything when enjoying a wonderful al fresco dinner. When working with families, I like to have them test the furniture to make sure it’s comfortable. If they have a great view of a patio, pool, lake, or golf course, I like to make sure the furniture enhances those features rather than blocking them.

In terms of placement and creating the greatest sense of flow from the home into the outdoors, how should the dining area be positioned?

Space planning is as critical to a space as the furniture you implement. Most outdoor areas tend to mix dining with seating, and many have architectural components that determine the layout.

A good space is easy to navigate, safe if you are carrying trays or other objects, allows for both activities to occur comfortably, and honors the natural surroundings.

Outdoor entertaining space.

How do you approach designating between the dining area and the entertaining areas of the outdoor space?

There are several basic measurements that are good to keep in mind, like giving a 3-foot distance between a dining table and a wall or other objects for easy accessibility. The following questions can be helpful to consider when designing the space:

  • If you are watching TV, how far and how high is the seating from the TV?
  • Do you need or have end tables, side tables, or a fire pit, that needs extra space?  These considerations will affect size or degree of inclination of your furniture pieces.
  • Is the lighting reflecting on the TV screen?
Summer Classics chair.
Outdoor dining table.

The pieces from the Summer Classics collection exude a mid-century modern, California-cool vibe. How can homeowners with more eclectic tastes still incorporate these furnishings into their outdoor dining space?

Although our line is often shown or perceived as cool California, it is actually one of the most versatile outdoor lines I have ever known. From our traditional Provance cast iron pieces to our Majorca neoclassical swivel rockers to our Rustic weave sectionals to our clean line, minimalist Seashore Endura chaises. There is enough variety in style and finishes to create one of a kind spaces for all.

Thank you to our incredible sponsor of this article— Summer Classics, And, to YouSee, for transforming my idea into this stunning 3D visualization.

How I’m Designing Our Beach House Bathroom to Be (Basically) A Spa

A truly inviting home designates areas for relaxation. And, at its best, a well-designed bathroom can be a  haven—a place to enjoy solitude and rest. As we gear up to begin our 1950s beach house renovation, I’m focused on transforming the bathrooms from purely utilitarian to serene and spa-like. Here’s how I’m incorporating the impeccable design and efficiency of Duravit products to bring my vision to life.

inspiration image: Molly Madfis’ bathroom

Ease and Efficiency

It’s no secret that I love organic, timeless aesthetics, which I’m weaving into the entire renovation. I also love efficiency elements that deliver utility with ease. This mix drew me to Duravit, a revered company that has been bringing bathroom solutions—from toilets to bathtubs to faucets—to homes, hotels, offices, restaurants, and more for over 200 years. The collections convey a timeless quality and deliver a functionality that works seamlessly and adds a sense of ease to everyday life.

Prioritizing Wellness

Duravit’s vision is to enhance daily life through outstanding design and smart functionality. “Our days begin and end in the bathroom, so this space is integral to how we feel,” points out Kerry Rudd, VP of Sales – National Wholesale for Duravit USA. “Duravit looks at the bathroom as the centerpiece of the home—a place to unwind, recharge, and spend some time alone,” adds Rudd. “Whether it is a product such as our SensoWash shower toilet, or one of our numerous bathtub options, Duravit upgrades our customers every day.”

For the primary bath and powder room, I chose the Sensowash toilets from Duravit’s Soleil by Starck, a sea-inspired collection designed by revered French architect and designer Phillipe Starck. Completing the look will be the statement-making Soleil By Starck freestanding bathtub. The overall aesthetic is timeless, pulling inspiration from the natural world.

inspiration image: Ashley Robertson’s bathroom

Making A Statement

For Duravit, every detail is critical, from the curve of a faucet to the clean lines of a bathtub. This attention to detail is why the company has garnered some of the most acclaimed international design awards on an annual basis, notes Rudd. It’s also a reason why I trust not only the unparalleled quality but also the beauty it adds to such critical spaces, the ones we look to for wellness and respite, day after day. It all makes my at-home bathrooms feel like a spa—calming and serene.

This Is One of the Most Impactful Decisions We’ve Made In Designing Our Malibu Beach Home

Nothing influences the feel of a home quite like the materials from which it’s made. So, when it came time for our family to refine the exterior of our Malibu home, we looked to the natural beauty and durability of California redwood, sourced from Humboldt Sawmill, for our coastal property, Sunset’s 2023 Idea House.

Featured inspiration image of Ashley Merrill’s Malibu beach house by Teal Thomsen.

Image by Kristen Kilpatrick

Natural Vibes

There are certain materials I’ve always been drawn to, and they usually come from the earth—stone, wood, linen, and clay. Since wood illuminates the natural raw beauty of coastal California, it was the perfect fit for the home’s exterior. The soul of the house is surf shack vibes, and we knew that a wood-clad exterior would capture the timeless, beachy essence we were after.

The Right Wood

While researching domestic wood species, I was intrigued by the natural beauty and durability of California redwood. We decided it was the right fit after talking to the team at Humboldt Sawmill. They shared details about redwood’s strength and natural resistance to termites and decay, which is a consideration for coastal living. Even more, the purity of the material was compelling. The team at Humboldt Sawmill says that all the redwood and Douglas fir the company offers are completely natural wood products. They’re not derived from plastics or petroleum-based sources, which makes them an ideal fit for the organic environment that Malibu embodies.

When installed, the beauty of the wood is evident, but over time, it will patina to a driftwood gray tone fitting with the aesthetic we’re hoping to obtain. I absolutely love the warm tones of redwood, even more with age. We’re working with our builders to treat the wood so that it develops that beautiful grayed-out color even faster.

Image by Teal Thomsen

Sustainability at Its Core

Choosing materials and methods that best honor the earth has been paramount for our family during the renovation. Given that Humboldt Sawmill is dedicated to such makes the company and its redwood and Douglas fir even more compelling. The timberlands, manufacturing, and distribution operations of
Humboldt Sawmill are certified to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC® C013133).
Harvest rates for Humboldt Sawmill redwood and Douglas fir are only about 1 percent of the total inventory of trees the company owns, meaning that the company grows significantly more trees than it harvests annually.

Architects, consumers, contractors, and developers can be assured that Humboldt Sawmill redwood and Douglas fir lumber and timbers are produced to the highest possible environmental standards. And because all Humboldt Sawmill redwood and Douglas fir products are manufactured in California, their overall carbon footprint of transporting the wood to our Malibu home location is relatively low compared with materials from farther away.

The most impactful design decisions are usually the ones you agonize over since the final verdict can
completely change a home’s appearance. But the energy spent over choosing Humboldt Sawmill redwood will prove worthwhile for decades and beyond.