Outdoor living spaces – 20 ways to create a cool and cozy outdoor living room this year

Outdoor living spaces go beyond a cute patio or deck – they can be as comfortable and stylish as your inside living room. Create the perfect outdoor setting for 2021.

Outdoor living spaces: John Lewis Croft Collection
(Image credit: John Lewis)

Outdoor living spaces are all the rage. And, it's clear why. Creating an outdoor lounge area is a clever way to enhance both your indoor and outdoor garden space. Whether you have a large patio to play with, a tiny balcony or even just a courtyard garden, there is so much you can do to blend a little of the indoors, out! 

Making whatever space you do have as stylish, comfortable and inviting as your living room doesn't need to be complicated or expensive. You just need to be selective, a little creative and in no time at all, you'll have merged your indoor living room with your outdoor room perfectly. Connecting your space will amplify your lifestyle, keep reading for all of our ideas and advice. Soon you'll wonder why you'd never thought about doing it before...

How do you make a good outdoor living space?

Before you start making any plans, take a good look at your garden – its position, orientation and outlook – because this will determine how you best make use of your outside space.

Familiarize yourself with where the sun and daylight fall in different parts of the garden at various times of the day as this should be a major guiding factor in any outside living room plan. Then have a think about exactly what you intend to use your outside room for – is it chiefly for entertaining (a dining area is often better in shade or dappled shade); for sunbathing (choose the sunniest spot for lounge furniture) or relaxing (again, dappled shade)? Or perhaps it's for an outdoor home cinema, in which case you'll need to angle seating towards a shaded expanse of wall.

We spoke to Dani Taylor, Creative Director of Cox and Cox about how to create a dreamy outdoor living room. 'At Cox & Cox, we think in order to create the perfect outdoor living space, you have to blur the lines on what is indoor and what is outdoor. If you love an interiors trend or follow a certain style, this should definitely lead out into your garden, to make the outdoor space a true extension of the inside.' 

Every detail counts and you want this area to match and complement your household's lifestyle, 'We love to create pieces that you would be happy to have in your garden year round, making the outdoor space a pleasure to be in, not just in the day but at night time too.' 

1. Choose the best indoor outdoor furniture

Alana Rocking Chair

(Image credit: Graham & Greene)

To create the perfect outdoor living patio area, start by choosing lovely and sturdy garden chairs. Choose stylish pieces for outside living that aren't overly bulky and wouldn't be out of place in a conservatory or living room. Group them around an outdoor rug, add a side table, and you've got the perfect, sociable living room set-up, just outdoors. For a similar chair, try John Lewis. 

2. Design a covered outdoor living space

John Lewis Dante Sunlounger in Natural

(Image credit: John Lewis)

If you want to create a chill out zone where you'll be protected from the sun's rays or  the occasional drizzle, designing a covered indoor outdoor living area really is the way to go. You could even build a pergola – DIY store options are the most affordable – or use trail fast-growing climbers such as clematis or wisteria across taut wires supported on a basic frame. For comfort and quality, lie back and enjoy on a padded sun lounger

After all, what could be more relaxing than eating lunch outside on a hot, sunny day, sheltered by the foliage on your pergola, with the sun filtering through the leaves? 

3. Up the cozy factor

Light up an outdoor living room area: NEW Ravenna Lounge Set Cox and Cox

(Image credit: Cox and Cox)

Whether in a casual outdoor lounging or dining area, paying attention to detail with soft furnishings, lighting and accessories will make the space feel just as inviting as if it were on the inside. Taylor says, 'Lighting & textiles can transform your outdoor area and shouldn't be overlooked, especially when working with a smaller space. We are a huge fan of festoon lights which can be left out all year round and require minimum effort for maximum impact . Solar lights are an especially great idea, you can add them to any space without worrying about plugs or wires.' Plus, this means your evenings can last even longer.

4. Fire up an outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchen

(Image credit: Ikea)

An outdoor kitchen is the ultimate nod to entertainment in your outside space. Yours needn't be a permanent fixture either if you are on a low budget, as all you need is the best BBQ to get you started, plus some well thought out prep and  food/equipment storage zones to make cooking outdoors even more breezy (pun intended). 

5. Pick indoor outdoor plants

container planting on a balcony

(Image credit: Getty)

Link living rooms and kitchens to balconies and patios with plants that look and feel as good outdoors as they do indoors. Place large-leafed house plants by French doors or windows overlooking gardens and put garden plants in complementing pots just outside to create a seamless connection between indoors and out.  

This small balcony has been visually linked to the living room with the help of a plant stand from Ikea.

6. Create a focal point in an indoor outdoor living space

Chevron 2-Seat Double Garden Sofa Pod

(Image credit: John Lewis & Partners)

An indoor outdoor living space is all about the pose. In other words, it has to look good to cut the mustard. One easy way to achieve this is to introduce one statement piece – in this case an eye-catching (to say the least) garden daybed. A love seat, arbour or garden bench could have just as much impact. 

The very sumptuous Chevron 2-Seat Double Garden Sofa Pod is from John Lewis. It comes with comfortable padded seating, and is weatherproof.

7. Create an outdoor cinema space

Ikea outdoor cinema

(Image credit: Ikea)

What could be more blissful than watching your favorite movie under the stars? Hang some fairy lights, get your best outdoor projector set up, throw all the outdoor cushions and furnishings you have on your dedicated space and grab the popcorn because your evening's entertainment is sorted.

8. Find outdoor planters that could be indoor sculptures

Serenity Swan Planter

(Image credit: Graham & Greene)

Swap run-of-the-mill pots and planters for more decorative ones that would look just as at home in an indoor living space to effortlessly blend the lines between your indoor outdoor living areas. Display them on the ground and on tables to add interest at different levels.

We love these elegant and unusual Serenity Swan Planters from Graham & Green. They have a realistic stone finish, but are actually made from lightweight resin and will not damage your furniture or decking.

9. Keep playful garden features close by

Aluminium Water Table & Millboard Decking by Garden House Design

(Image credit: Garden House Design)

Up the ambiance with a little white garden noise and consider a lovely water feature close to your outdoor living room space. Taylor suggests 'A water feature never goes amiss in a garden, however big or small. With our range you simply plug them in, fill the water compartment and you're ready to go. The sound of gently trickling water is so lovely to hear through an open window or whilst dining alfresco and makes any space, however compact, feel relaxing and zen.' 

We are loving the Cox and Cox Roma Water Feature this year. The classic shape and solid grey color gets full marks for suiting both classic or contemporary patio looks.

10. Elevate your space with layered finishes

John Lewis dining table

(Image credit: John Lewis )

If you have quite a small area to transform into an outdoor living room then you want to add more layers to your design. Create a connection with the outdoors by incorporating greenery, from top to bottom, and choose natural woods as a contrast to a smooth patio floor for added interest. Want to go the extra mile? Perhaps even add a faux outdoor fireplace to create that instant room you're after. We like the Duhrer Extending Dining Table from John Lewis.

11. Do not forget the mini bar

Garden bar idea

(Image credit: Not on the High Street )

If your indoor lounge isn't complete without one, then your outside lounge won't be either! Set up a swanky or funky outdoor bar for endless entertainment, in all seasons.

12. Create a dedicated chill zone

Double Indoor Outdoor Hanging Chair

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

Not all hanging seats are created equal. Choose a garden chair that is good enough to use indoors during colder weather, paying attention to quality, shape, and finish, or one that can be left outside all year round without it suffering. Think something that will be inviting enough to spend hours curled up in reading or napping, and layer up with lots of stylish (if supermarket bought) soft furnishings – from cushions to throws. 

Our pick is the stunning Double Indoor/Outdoor Hanging Seat from Cox & Cox. It comes with a soft cream seat cushion and matching headrest cushions. 

13. No outside fireplace? Warm up with a fire pit

Halo Elevated Fire Pit

(Image credit: Solus Decor)

There is nothing like a fire for conjuring up a convivial atmosphere in your outdoor living area and a little warmth will mean that your outside space is fit for use in all seasons too. Fire pits are a popular garden feature that help create a cozy space to rival your living room. Choosing one that will double up as a coffee table when not in use will make it handier still...

14. Play with levels and seating

John Lewis Iona 3 seater sofa

(Image credit: John Lewis)

Secluded or covered garden areas will particularly benefit from having lots of different types of seating and levels. Shelving with added plants and more decor will draw the eye up, making the area feel more spacious and luxe, adding more interest and character too (not to mention places to sit!). If your outdoor living room isn't covered, be sure to choose shower-resistant fabrics or put them away in a garden storage bench. Mix and match cushions, padded seats, and outdoor rugs. And, of course, accessorise with plenty of planters and vases. Try the Dante sofa from John Lewis for a similar look.

15. Layer lighting in an outdoor living room space

John Lewis & Partners Festoon Outdoor Line Lights

(Image credit: John Lewis & Partners)

Creating a successful outdoor area is about more than just having a place to sit... It is a lot about that too! But, if you get creative you can design a much more atmospheric, stylish and inviting area. Pick a variety of garden lighting (think festoon, candles and fairy lights), a boho lamp perhaps, then try layering them in a few different ways to see which look best suits your space and needs too.

16. Create a streamlined look with indoor/outdoor flooring 

Carpetright Windermere Artificial Grass

(Image credit: Carpetright)

Make stepping out into the sunshine effortless – and not requiring outdoor shoes – by laying the same flooring outdoors as the one indoors. Floor tiles are best, since they can withstand fluctuations in temperature and are easy to clean. Artificial grass is another solution to indoor outdoor flooring – forget cutting and mowing, while enjoying the outdoorsy vibe of greenery underfoot. 

The Windermere Artificial Grass by Carpetright is realistic and very soft, thanks to its tufted construction. 

17. Choose furniture that doubles up indoors too 

Bamboo link chair, bamboo bench and bamboo side tables from Rockett St George

(Image credit: Rockett St George)

Creating an outdoor living space on a budget? An outdoor living area that isn't covered will realistically need to be seasonal, with furniture stored indoors during winter. So why not choose pieces that you would happily keep in your conservatory or even lounge anyway? This is easier to do if it's made from a lightweight material and luckily for all of us, rattan garden furniture is not going out of fashion anytime soon... 

18. Choose brights for positive vibes

decking area

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Make your outdoor living space pop will bright azur blues and other lovely colors. If your outdoor living space is decked, including the seating, you will want to soften it up with padded seating and some scatter cushions which is the perfect opportunity to layer up on color. 

19. Accessorize like there's no tomorrow

Outdoor Living area: Ochre outdoor cushions and rug

(Image credit: MaisonsDuMonde)

This is the perfect example of going all out. From the gorgeous parasol to the focal coffee table sat upon that dreamy rug (from Maisons du Monde) – both of which centre the area like a dream. You would have everything on display here indoors too, meaning that the whole family will be beyond cozy and entertained in this outdoor living room space.

20. Add a starry gazebo

outdoor furniture

(Image credit: Aldi)

Compact gardens might be more suited to a small, neat gazebo - a stand-alone structure with sides and a roof. They are often hexagonal or octagonal in shape and can come with lattice-work sides and built-in seating, making them feel snug and enclosed. Place your gazebo so that it looks out on the prettiest part of the garden or the views beyond. Some subtle fairy lights, cushions and a couple of throws will make your gazebo a cozy evening destination.

How much does it cost to build an outdoor living space?

You can create an outdoor living space even if you're on a tight budget. Setting up a small cozy space with the help of accessories and some cute garden furniture could cost you less than $100. If you want to go all out with outdoor fireplaces, heavy set garden furniture, a covered patio area and/or outdoor kitchen too then you may be looking at $2000 plus, purely cosmetic and depending on how luxurious you want to go. 

It's worth noting if you are considering structural changes to really fit out your patio or garden space, that done well, your outdoor living room could even add value to your property.

Outside rooms: acid drop light by Curiosa & Curiosa

(Image credit: Curiosa & Curiosa)

How do you build an outdoor entertaining area?

If you want your outdoor living room space to be 'the place to be' for friends and family then there are some style and layout considerations to think about. 

The dining area

You'll want to remember that an outdoor dining area is often better located in shade or dappled shade. Then furniture-wise, if you have a small courtyard garden or compact patio, choose folding furniture or bench seats that can be tucked away under the table when not in use, or a table that could even be folded completely away is wise. 

When choosing your table and chairs, pick a size and shape that allows enough room for each person to be able to sit comfortably and slide their chair out with ease. You will also need to be able to walk around behind your table and chairs when everyone is seated. If you can, place your dining area in a spot that catches the early afternoon sun. A patch that benefits from evening sun could take a smaller seating area for drinks at the end of the day. In a dark corner, you can use an outdoor mirror to reflect light.  

The seating area

Seating is beyond important when it comes to garden entertainment and if you have a small space, then a compact L-shaped sofa that will fit neatly on your patio, will add a luxe look. If your outdoor space is larger, you can plan for a designated seating area with a set of matching chairs, table, sofa, sun loungers and swing seats.  

Whether you have plenty of outside room or very little, modular seating enables you to build up your sofa to fit the space. If you want to further create the impression of a living room that has strayed outside, dress your seating area with some tactile throws and cushions. Bear in mind that if your furniture is staying out (or if you continue to entertain) over the winter period, you will need a weather-proof range and good quality covers to protect them. 

Lisa Dawson sitting in her garden shelter

Instagrammer and influencer, Lisa Dawson sits in the shelter of her outroom

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

Heating an outdoor living space

Considering how to heat and light an outdoor living space early on in your planning is important if you want guests round in all seasons. Get it right and you’ll extend the length of time you can use the space, making sure you have the means to keep warm on cooler days and to cast light on darker evenings.  

For heat, consider a stylish chimeneas and firepits; not only are they practical, but their warming glow makes an outside room instantly welcoming.

Lighting an outdoor living space

When it comes to lighting your outdoor living room, approach the task in the same way that you would indoors – select a range of sources from table lamps and lanterns with candles to strings of bulbs and standard lamps. The best solar powered garden lighting comes in all shapes and sizes these days – including bulb string lights and tiny copper wire lights, both of which can look great when they are twinkling in a tree or looped around a pergola, gazebo or arbour.  

  • Use our buyer's guide to the best chimeneas to find one to suit your space.

Creating shelter and privacy

You'll either want your space totally open to the sky, but with some tall boundaries to shelter your space, or shaded by an open-fronted summerhouse-type structure, a pergola or gazebo. If your garden is overlooked, a pergola covered by a grape vine or climbing plant will give an extra bit of privacy for when you have guests and are entertaining.

What's the best flooring for an outdoor living room?

If you are keen to landscape your garden a little to achieve a great result, then it's worth considering all the patio flooring options for your outside living room as the surface will provide a strong design direction for the rest of the furniture, plants and styling. Take into consideration the lines of your garden and the amount of space available to make the surface work as a harmonious part of the overall effect.  

If your outdoor area is uneven or on a slope, looking at different decking ideas might be best as it will help level out awkward dips and bumps. You can also introduce split levels and steps to your design. You will need to make a choice between softwood, hardwood, composite and anti-slip.  

If you don’t have a massive area to cover and you love the idea of little or no maintenance, you could consider artificial turf. It is best suited to flat surfaces because it is tricky to anchor strongly enough on an incline and any sand base beneath it will end up at the bottom of your slope. 

Paving is another practical choice, alongside natural stone – sandstone, limestone, slate, granite and travertine – can be the more expensive patio paving option – but all these materials their own colors and characteristics, which will add an extra layer of interest to your outside living space.

Time to enjoy more of the outdoors too 🙌

Anna Cottrell
Anna Cottrell

Anna is Consumer Editor across Future's home brands. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening.

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