Create an Outdoor Room

Transform a deck or courtyard into a comfortable outside living space.
Alice Welsh Doyle

Not everyone is blessed with rolling lawns and expansive terraces. You may live in a townhouse or condo with only a small courtyard or deck and no yard to speak of. Don't let that stop you from creating an exciting and stylish outdoor living room.

Just follow the lead of Rosemary Conroy. Every summer, she transforms her modest rooftop deck in Baltimore into an inviting spot where everyone wants to hang out. "I have always been intrigued by interior courtyards. They're like secret gardens. This one is small enough to manage, and every design detail counts," she says.

The Room's Decor
Rosemary treats her secret garden deck like a true living room. The weathered wood floor, painted in a diamond pattern of gray tones, gives it more decorative appeal. For the furnishings, she mixed together a green wrought iron table and chairs, light-colored Adirondack pieces, canvas lounge chairs, and blue ceramic-top portable tables that fold up for easy off-season storage. A generous chest does double duty as a seating spot and storage space for all the gardening tools, "sort of like a hidden potting shed," notes Rosemary.

A lively cornflower blue fabric forms the basis of the color palette; it is used for cushions, pillows, and chair covers. "This bright blue really looks good with the colors in the garden. I like it in combination with the chartreuse in some of the leaves and the lavender flowers." Varying shades of green complement the cornflower blue. These color choices create a cool feeling during the hot summer.

Container Garden
Of course, the deck's main attraction is the numerous pots of plants and flowers that form a virtual oasis in the city. Rosemary and her neighbor bring out their ficus trees and set them around the deck to add some height to the presentation. Other houseplants are "taken on a walk" for the summer, as Rosemary calls it, and placed on tables and in other strategic locations. Next, she adds a few junipers and barberry shrubs to give the garden an initial structure. The latticework at one end of the deck is covered with several clematis vines that bloom at different times.

With the structure in place, it's time for some fun--layering and adding color. Some of Rosemary's favorites for container gardening include yucca plants for their tropical feel, spider flowers for their height, coneflowers for their blooms and heat hardiness, verbena for its purple color and billowing shape, and black-eyed Susans for their showy August blooms.

No matter what furniture and plants you choose to outfit your outdoor space, the key lies in making it an intimate retreat--distinct from your interior rooms. Plan for visitors, though, because such a spot is unlikely to remain a secret for very long.