It happens every year. There’s always an unseasonably warm day toward the end of winter when I lose my head.  Giddily, I tell myself that winter is over and it’s time to get my porch ready for outdoor living.  I sweep the floor, uncover the furniture, pull the cushions from the basement and spend hours accessorizing my outdoor retreat. Then it snows.

Even though I know I’m starting too early, I just can’t help myself. Having my screened porch ready for summer makes me so darn happy because this special outdoor room is one of my favorite spots in my home. This summer, turn your outdoor space into a retreat. Here are my six essentials for a perfect porch to get you started. 


1. Lots of Comfortable Seating

Comfort is king when it comes to my outdoor seating. I know I’ve hit the mark when I get home from work on warm summer evenings and find Dan zonked on the daybed, resting up before he makes dinner.

Before you put one chair, chaise, day bed or settee on your porch, make sure it’s sink-into wonderful, so inviting you can hardly wait to kick your shoes off, tuck your feet up under you and settle in for a while.

My porch is a size that is best suited for intimate gatherings. Instead of forcing it to accommodate more guests than it can really handle, I’ve opted to furnish it to seat four people very comfortably. Right now, in one corner I have an antique day bed that’s big enough to hold one sleeping Dan and his two sleeping cats. Across from that stands two comfy wicker chairs. If we want to expand our party, we can easily pull out extra chairs from the house. Or, I can shuffle things around a bit and bring out a dining table for a candlelight meal.

When you’re contemplating what type of seating you want on your porch, decide how you will use it most often. If it’s open air, do you want chaises where you can sun yourself? Do you need a sectional that will seat several guests? If you are the queen of the backyard barbecue, should you reserve plenty of space for a dining table? Once you’ve defined your priorities for the space, create a scale floor plan so you know how much furniture, and what sizes, will fit comfortably. I love how my friend Anne arranged the seating on her porch – it’s a wonderful set up for a conversation with friends.


2. A Spot to Serve Food and Drinks

I rarely see porches that lack seating. But I often see porches that don’t include a spot to serve food and drinks. Since imbibing in good food and drink is essential for finding bliss on your porch, be sure your outdoor room includes a great service piece. Years ago, I moved an inexpensive wooden hutch onto my porch, nestling it against the wall, protected from any rain that might blow in. Other than needing a fresh coat of paint every once in a while, that valiant hutch has handled the elements beautifully. Depending upon how I want to entertain, it can serve as a bar, a buffet or both. Best of all, it also gives me lots of lovely shelves I can dress up with seasonal decorations.

If you don’t have room on your porch for a hutch or console table, use a generously sized end table like this one on my friend Jean’s screened porch.


3. A Place to Dine

If I could, I would eat every meal of the day on my porch during spring, summer and fall. I’ve arranged my porch differently through the years, sometimes outfitting it with a dining table large enough for a dinner party. Right now, I’m crazy about dining on trays when it’s just Dan and me for dinner. We can either place the trays on the coffee table or on our laps. I like how the absence of a table allows us more room to move around in the space.

Another option is to pick an outdoor dining table and chairs like the one pictured above that doubles nicely as a conversation area. This is a divine spot to linger for hours after a great meal, sipping wine and watching the stars.


4. Cute Cushions to Give the Space Character

Once the bones of your outdoor room are in place, it’s time to have fun giving them life with an assortment of cushions sporting cute summer fabrics. I’ve gone lots of different directions with my outdoor cushions in the past. Right now they are awash in traditional mattress ticking fabric and I love the simple, clean, peaceful look it creates. Ticking is a great neutral that gives you a bit of texture but also allows you lots of freedom to bring in a host of different colors and patterns through your accent pillows and accessories. I’ve paired it with apple green, navy, red and white, and love the look every single time.

While I have traditionally used “indoor” fabrics on my outdoor furniture because I much preferred the selection and how the finished product looks, now I can honestly say I love the outdoor fabrics just as much. The manufacturers have refined the fabric so that it is not only durable but also lovely. At Nell Hill’s Briarcliff, we carry lots of stunning outdoor fabrics in solids, florals and stripes, and they all wear like iron.


5. Potted Plants to Celebrate Nature

You’ve heard about how bad I am with plants, right? Still, I really, really like to have live plants on my porch during the summer. My favorites are ferns and ivy topiary, but since my kill rate is often high with these plants that actually need water, I’m starting to do a lot more with low-maintenance succulents. I sometimes put a huge potted palm into a blue and white Asian planter and nestle it behind my daybed or in the corner of the porch to bring in some drama. Other times I create a grouping of plants on the antique table that sits between the two side chairs, backs to the screened wall so they get plenty of sun. Not only are potted plants inexpensive, they are one of the most naturals accents you can place on a porch.


6. Seasonal Accents to Spice Things Up

Cute accessories make the world go ‘round, don’t they? Just as with your interior spaces, your outdoor room isn’t finished until you add the accents. I like to walk on the wild side and use indoor accents on my porch, like lamps, rugs, pottery, framed artwork, glass apothecary jars and hurricanes, and china. I can get away with this because my porch is sheltered. But if your porch is more exposed, pick your accents accordingly.

Your porch is an ideal place to weave in trendy and seasonal accents. Here are some of the killer pieces we just got in at Nell Hill’s for summer outdoor living:

I really like these rough planters with their aged patina. Fill them with plants, work them into your summer place settings, incorporate them into a centerpiece – the sky is the limit.

Get creative when making place settings for your outdoor dinner parties. Isn’t this rustic metal tray wonderful? I love it with the wicker charger and delicate cloth napkins.

I use clusters of votive candles on my porch during the summer to add a bit more romance to the setting.  Here are a few of the many styles of candle holders we have in right now.

One of the hallmarks of the Nell Hill’s look is mixing the rustic with the refined, pairing the unexpected. That’s why I adore this delicate etched glass decanter and glasses for outdoor dining.


Next Week … When I go to movies, I spend more time analyzing the sets than I do the action. I am often inspired by how the pros stage the home interior scenes, making a perfect backdrop for the story being told. I’ll show you how to dress your home so it tells the story of your life.


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24 Responses to “6 Essentials for a Perfect Porch”

  1. Brenda Says:

    I am getting ready to get our porch in shape for summer, so your blog this week is very timely for me.

    I remember the first time I saw that hutch on your porch. Gutsy but genius! It’s a wonderful piece, and you always have it styled beautifully.

    Surely it will warm up soon here in Iowa and there in Kansas!

  2. Debbie Says:

    I, too, am gearing up to prepare our three season-porch for warmer weather. Your subject couldn’t be more perfect or timely! (I’m happy to say farewell to the porch TV and focus more on conversational seating!) Thank you for the helpful inspiration!

  3. Lisa Fernandez Says:

    I am so excited to sit on my porch. I love all your tips and ideas. So wonderful and so beautiful. Wonderful post.

  4. Betty Legge Says:

    I live in Kansas too and I wonder how you keep your day bed and other upholstered chairs protected from the elements. I have a screened in porch on the south side of my house, and when it is rainy and windy – nothing is sacred. I have a settee with two cushions so I do bring those inside (to the living room) when it is really stormy. My other chairs are impervious to the rain and wind. I’d love to have more plush seating but it just doesn’t seem to work for me.

  5. Franki Says:

    Spring has FINALLY happened in our neighborhood and I LUV relaxing on our porch…hubby just installed a fountain outside and I can see and hear it….”*sigh* franki p.s. your porch is divine!

  6. Marilyn Says:

    Loved your post! I too get a little premature when getting my screened-in porch ready for summer. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that snow isn’t the enemy (in the metro Washington, DC area), but yellow is. Pollen. Thick layers of yellow pollen. Some springs I’ve gotten the porch ready three or four times before I realized that I can’t use our porch until mid-June. Oh well. At least the Potomac River view is nice from the inside until then.

  7. Mary Carol Says:

    Betty, I don’t have any special secret for keeping my porch furniture protected. Fortunately, my porch is pretty sheltered, thanks to its position on my house. Good idea to bring things in when it’s going to storm. Then, usually letting things air dry does the trick.

  8. Mary Carol Says:

    I’m so glad to hear you all love sitting out on the porch as much as I do! It is a wonderful treat to unwind and enjoy, isn’t it?

  9. Rebecca Moss Brovont Says:

    You forgot to mention what a rug does to soften a cement or tile floor!

  10. Mary Friend Says:

    Your ideas and suggestions are excellent. It is always fun to change things around from one year to the next. I like drapes on the porch and have made them from sheets.
    Your carpet is bold and attractive. It certainly defines the area. I plan to try some paintings on my walls. Thank you for all of the inspiration. You are delightful.

  11. Kandace Says:

    Mary Carol,
    Great post! I am coming to KC this weekend and can’t wait to see the votive holders, trays, and decanters up close. My back porch is sadly lacking in style and with two little girls’ toys all over, there is much to be desired. I have added pillows to our dining set and set up a lantern and faux wreath as a centerpiece. Of course directly next to it is the large pink and white playhouse! Ha!
    My dream would be to add a rug and hutch like yours…maybe when they outgrow their roller skates!
    Very beautiful and inspiring! (You can’t tell you have a black thumb at all!)

  12. christie Says:

    Love these tips, and would love to see more tips around outdoor porches (porches that are not enclosed)… We live in Arizona and outfitting a porch for harsh weather is difficult!

  13. Joyce Says:

    Love this! Your porch is charming. I love spending time outside and I too would like some tips on a porch that is covered but not enclosed with screen and is open on 2 sides. I get a lot of sun and wind and on occasion I have come home to things laying out in our yard picked up by the wind (and some things have not survived). I need stylish tips on durable ways to decorate my porch that are wind and weather resistant without looking like a warehouse.

  14. Debby Says:

    Thank you so much for all the pictures and tips!! It is so inspiring!! I really have something to look forward to when the warm weather gets here (hopefully soon!). We just added a new screened in porch this past fall, not as big as I would like it, but it certainly will serve the purpose. All the arrangements you showed have given me tons of wonderful ideas!! Thank you!!

  15. Janet Johnson Says:

    Love the beautiful pics. I have seen the wicker chairs shown on your porch at the Briarwood store. Are they considered indoor or could they be used on a screened porch that gets some rain?

  16. Lynne Ann Mulroy Says:

    Mary Carol, just loved all these tips and ideas. I look forward to all your new items and ideas, ready for spring and to come shop at Nell Hill’s again very soon. Appreciate all your ideas and talent….Keep it coming!
    Lynne Ann Mulroy Holton, KS

  17. Lisa Brown Says:

    I LOVE the iron table featured in photo one. Do you have a source? Thanks, Lisa Brown (number one Nell Hill’s fan)

  18. Mary Carol Says:

    Christie and Joyce — great blog idea! I’ll put it on the calendar. I love to know what people what me to blog about, so keep sending your ideas my way!!!

  19. Mary Carol Says:

    Janet, these wicker chairs are intended for indoor use — they are not the faux wicker but the real thing. The work well on covered porches that are protected from the weather. However, you could probably get away with using them on patios that are covered by a canopy of trees, if you were willing to pull them in when the weather turns bad.

  20. Mary Carol Says:

    Lisa, the iron table in the photo of my porch is one I’ve had a long time. We don’t sell one exactly like it any longer but we have tables that are similar. Give us a call at 877-746-4320 to find out more, OK?

  21. Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors Says:

    You hit the nail on the head this time girl ….. Everyone loves a porch !!!!! Now if the builders in our area would add big porches instead of decks … Bingo !!! Dearly love my porches !!! The wicker chairs you show have held up great on my friends covered porch with screens . She s had them for five years . Has just changed the fabrics on the seats !!! They are so reasonable too !!!! Had to enclose one of my porches with windows …. That open to screans so it is marvelous in summer but even without added heat ..haven’t had to close living room French doors in the winter …. Now I use this space all year and LOVE it !!! Happy Spring to all

  22. Rene Verdugo Says:

    Very inspiring! I too am guilty of rushing the season. Your pictures and suggestions are very inspiring, and I love all the different colors and unique pairings. My outdoor covered deck is one of my very favorite places, and after reading this email, I am anxious to add some new touches this year that will make it even more inviting. Thanks for sharing. Your home is beautiful. I look forward to my next trip to Atchison. Have a wonderful spring, summer, and fall in your beautiful and inviting outdoor area!

  23. Betty Kowalewich Says:

    I have a screened in patio… and hope to use some of your ideas…. they are really beautiful…. thank you …. and my daughter introed me to your Blog…she is very clever in decorating…

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