Ryan Garvin Photography
The terrace at Serena & Lily's Del Mar store.

Create an outdoor living room where guests want curl to up and stay awhile with advice from Serena & Lily designer Kirsty Williams.

Christine Lennon  – February 26, 2021 | Updated April 23, 2021

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For a five-minute armchair vacation, nothing delivers analog joy quite like finding a Serena & Lily catalog in the mailbox. The Bay Area brand has honed its coastal California aesthetic and mastered stylish outdoor living, leaning heavily on classic and tropical-feeling wicker, marine-blue accents, and crisp white upholstery without a speck of urban grime in sight. If the catalog is appealing, then their brick and mortar stores are the stuff of aspirational dreams. The brand’s latest outpost in Del Mar is so close to the ocean you can smell it, and the terrace created by the design team led by Kirsty Williams, chief design officer, is balanced, cozy, and full of design tips. Williams shares her strategy for creating outside spaces with inside comforts. “We want to create a seamless feeling when you walk through the doors,” says Williams. “Your backyard can have a unique personality, but you want the colors and textures to feel connected to create a flow.”

Anchor a Seating Area with Architecture

“Do you have a brick wall or patio to work with? Or a trellis?” asks Williams. Or a shady tree that’s begging for a sitting area? First, determine where you want to set up a living space, and then decide what you want to do there. If you’re lucky enough to have a larger yard, you can have separate areas for lounging and dining. If not, the same space can work for both functions, as long as you have a center table to put food down on, and a surface, like an accent table, near every chair to place a drink. Provide as much seating as you can while still allowing room for people to move around.

Think of How You Will Serve Food

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One way to solve the outdoor food and drink service-area dilemma is to invest in an outdoor bar cart, where you can display glasses, drinks, beverages, and snacks. But any long, narrow table would work. “The easiest thing is to have outside is a console. Put two together and create a long, thin surface to pile up food. Bring something from the inside outside for entertaining,” says Williams.

An outdoor bar (or an indoor one brought outside for entertaining) is a stylish, sensible way to serve food and drinks outside. Riviera Bar Cart, $948

Courtesy of Serena & Lily

Be Playful

“Take an opportunity to make people smile,” says Williams, who says backyards are for playing, even for adults. “Hang some basket chairs in a row, or even swings,” she says. “Consider a rocking chair, which is just a little more fun than a regular chair. These playful moments are like a grown-up version of a swing set and make people want to spend more time outdoors.

Fill in Shadowy Areas with Light

Lighting is one of those things that can completely and utterly transform a space,” says Williams. “Hang pendant lights in clusters from a tree. You can do the same with lanterns if you don’t have electrical wiring. When we hang lights, we think about scale and texture. Cluster lights in various sizes together and it lends itself to nice ambient light. Layer lighting at different levels. Put a lantern on a console and a coffee table, or string cafe lights for a European feel. A single light source hanging overhead creates too many shadows. Fill those shadowed spots. It’s softer and more functional.”

Summerland lanterns ($248) from Serena & Lily work with real or battery-operated candles.

Courtesy of Serena & Lily

Create an Intimate Corner for Conversation

“When we’re thinking about entertaining spaces, remember to create an intimate corner where two people can have a quieter moment,” she says. “It’s as simple as placing two chairs together with a side table in between, that’s just a little bit separate from a larger seating group. If I’m outside with my son or a good friend, I want to be able to sit closely together and talk to him.”

Add Layers of Textiles

“Outdoor fabrics have come so far in the last five years,” says Williams. “There are tassels and pompom trim that makes it all so much more interesting. Make sure it’s layered. Add a throw blanket if it’s going to be chilly.” And how does Williams keep those covers as spotless as they are in a Serena & Lily shoot? “I pile all of my pillows on my outdoor sectional and put a patio furniture cover on the whole thing,” she says. “It couldn’t be easier.”

Outdoor throw blankets, like this Swansea throw in navy ($128), bring inside comforts to the great outdoors.

Courtesy of Serena & Lily

Rugs are another great way to delineate spaces and define an outdoor room; just make sure it’s large enough. “One of my pet peeves is rugs that are too small,” she says. “Make sure that at least the front feet of furniture are on the rug. This also helps to keep it in place. A rug adds another layer of texture and interest. Even if it’s a rug of a single color, it creates an idea of a room without walls.”

Consider Sun, Shade and Temperature Control

“Ultimately, you want people to be comfortable, and to stay longer,” says Williams. That means you need some source of warmth at night and umbrellas for adequate shade during the day. “We’re living in a fire prone area in the West, so I recommend a heat lamp over a fire pit,” she says. “There aren’t that many that are great looking ones out there but don’t be afraid to get one if you want to be comfortable. You can position them in a way where it’s not in your sight line.”

Serena & Lily’s latest store, 3720 Caminito Court, San Diego, CA

Ryan Garvin Photography


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