In the West, we can hike in January, picnic in March, and even celebrate Thanksgiving––at least partly––outdoors. Here are our ideas for year-round entertaining outside
written by Jess Chamberlain and Miranda Jones
1 of 11Photo by Thomas J. Story
Outdoor entertaining: Early-evening cocktails
Even if it’s too brisk for an entire open-air dinner, you can still start the party alfresco.
1. Quick spritzer: Instead of the expected cranberry, surprise your guests with pear: Fill a glass halfway with pear nectar (we like Kern’s) and top it with your favorite prosecco.
2. Easy eats: Make your own toasted herbed almonds: Combine 2 cups raw almonds, 2 tbsp. sea salt, 1 tbsp. finely minced rosemary, and 2 tsp. olive oil. Roast on a sheet pan for 10 to 12 minutes at 350°.
5. DIY drink IDs: With a pencil, trace the base of each cocktail glass onto heavy paper stock (a good use for old calendar pages or catalog covers). Next, use a dime to trace a circle within your circle, then cut around both and snip across one side of the “doughnut.” Write a guest’s name on each.
6. Interactive ambience: Set up a record player and a selection of albums—ask guests to bring their favorites and encourage all to play DJ. An iPod boom box works too.
Get it: USB turntable by Crosley ($131;amazon.com).
5 of 11Photo by Thomas J. Story
If your climate is temperate enough, go ahead—move the dinner table outside.
7. Garden centerpiece: Keep it low and give the gourds a rest. Make a casual garland with clippings from your own yard—ours was inspired by one on the blog Oh Happy Day.
8. Versatile furniture: Mix indoor dining chairs with outdoor ones as the length of your guest list grows. We used a table with wheels to make it even easier to bring the party outside.
Get it: Nandor ($70), Nordmyra ($40), and Urban ($40) chairs by Ikea. Egg salt & pepper cellars by Roost ($44/pair; available at Sallie Mac, 707/937-5357). Cruets by Roost ($30/set of 2; available atDigs).
6 of 11Photo by Thomas J. Story
Keep guests comfortable
9. Just in case: Draped throws on the backs of dining chairs offer warmth-as-needed for guests—and another punch of color.
11. Crisp palette: Who says Thanksgiving decor has to be dictated by the colors of turkey feathers? Try hues inspired by winter citrus and the blues of the Pacific.
12. Place settings: Mark each table setting with the guest’s initials. These vintage letters do double-duty as napkin weights and party favors.
13. Everything is illuminated: Tealights in jam jars keep each table setting visible as the sun goes down.
14. Home on the range: The genius of dining in your own backyard is that your kitchen is just a skip away. Serve food buffet-style indoors—it can stay warm on the stovetop.
Get it: Letters from Collage Gallery(from $6 each). Max Teal salad plates by Crate and Barrel($5). Coast dinner plate by Crate and Barrel ($6). Sky doily placemat by Urban Outfitters ($3).
9 of 11Photo by Thomas J. Story
End the night outdoors
Wrap things up with round-the-campfire coziness under the stars.
15. Bring in the light: Go beyond the ho-hum twinkle of traditional Christmas tree strands. We love these colorful porcelain shades, which shed a soft glow, like mini pendant lamps.
16. Create the space: Turn a backyard corner into a cozy nook with a colorful rug to define the area.
17. Warm it up: Cluster eco-friendly mini fire bowls for a little heat without all the smoke.
18. Inside out: Bring out your favorite cushions or blankets, or buy a few inexpensive ones that you can leave outside.
Get it: Porcelain Disk string lights in Storm by Pigeon Toe Ceramics($164/strand of 10). Pondicherry cube by Roost ($250; available at Lawson-Fenning, 323/660-1500). Mini River Rock fire bowls by Restoration Hardware($49 each; 10-in. diameter, 51/2 in. high). Ombré rug by CB2 ($249; 5 by 8 ft.). Pondicherry floor pillows by Roost ($195 each; available at Lawson-Fenning).
10 of 11Photo by Thomas J. Story
Warm up with a drink
19. And that nightcap? Brew some dark hot chocolate and serve it on a tray with add-your-own nut liqueurs and gourmet marshmallows. Our favorite combo: E. Guittard Grand Cacao Drinking Chocolate ($9) with Nocino della Cristina walnut liqueur (about $30).