Photograph by Jenn Pablo

The Collective How-to

Using Art Outdoors

By Elizabeth Wallace
August 1, 2017

Interior techniques, fabrics, and even pieces themselves can make your great outdoors even greater

When the season arrives for backyard barbecues and rosé on decks, poolside lounging, and lounging in general, your outside spaces need as much love as your interiors. “We approach outdoor spaces the same as indoor spaces, paying attention to styling and lighting,” explain Jenn Pablo and Olivia Korenberg, cofounders of Los Angeles design firm Twofold LA. One way of differentiating exterior spaces is by bringing traditionally indoor-focused art—paintings, photographs, sculpture, fabrics—outside. Durability is key, of course; outdoor art is most practical in warmer, drier climates, but can also work in semi-protected outside areas. Read on for how to do it.

PHOTOGRAPHY: “We incorporate landscape photographs or nature-inspired artwork that will complement the surrounding views,” say Pablo and Korenberg—and framed photos can withstand outside climates better than more fragile art. For a client’s Palm Springs home, they selected works featuring cooler tones and water references to connect to a lap pool off the sunroom.

SCULPTURE AND LARGE PIECES:Canvas pieces risk suffering from the elements, so I tend to lean towards sculptural works in stone, steel, even glass,” says Miami-based furniture and interiors designer Bea Pila. “A great Chihuly sculpture or a light installation adds drama when viewed directly, but also projects beautiful reflective elements.” Plus, glass and metal “can take on a nice patina as they weather.” Pila mounts large mosaics for a dramatic art wall, and for clients with a more experimental aesthetic, she might create outdoor video art. “Video is a great way to express art through light, and technology has come a long way in withstanding the outdoors. Suddenly that bare wall or hedge in the space comes to life.” On the other end of the spectrum, Pila has used antique carved teak doors as focal points for an entire outdoor space.

A patio in Palisades, California, by TwoFold LA. Photograph by Jenn Pablo
A patio in Palisades, California, by TwoFold LA. Photograph by Jenn Pablo

RESILIENT TEXTILES: Acetate-based fabrics and acrylics for pillows, rugs, and upholstery “are perfectly durable for outdoors and now you can’t even tell the difference against indoor variations,” says Pila. “There are a lot of artists transferring their works in fabric form.” Pablo and Korenberg contrast throw pillows and blankets in geometric and ikat prints with furniture in solid colors and organic materials like linen, rattan, bamboo, and wood.

NATURAL DECORATIVE ITEMS AND LIGHTING: Cement planters, pendants, painted ceramics, shells, driftwood pieces, faux greens, and battery-operated floor lanterns are practical but fun for backyards and decks, says Calgary-based outdoor living designer Ana Cummings. She also uses antique furniture, covered and treated, safely in outdoor spaces.

A sunroom in Palm Springs by TwoFold LA. Photograph by Jenn Pablo
A sunroom in Palm Springs by TwoFold LA. Photograph by Jenn Pablo

WINDOW TREATMENTS: D.C.-area textiles designer Marika Meyer creates custom drapes around an exterior portico or patio, using fabrics that are bright but won’t detract from a space’s natural views. “Fabric is often thought of for the interior rooms only,” Meyer says. “But by bringing it into the outdoors, it creates sublime spaces.”