We may not be blessed with daily sunshine like our cousins in Spain, but, writes Nathalie Marquez Courtney, we can still create stylish outdoor spaces
Every summer, in the ultimate triumph of hope over experience, I get excited about outdoor decorating. I stare at the forlorn, abandoned back garden and imagine cocktails at dusk, as fairy lights twinkle and friends gather and laugh around a stylishly decorated table laden down with tasty barbecued delights.
Of course, these Pinterest fantasies can soon be quite literally dampened by the realities of an Irish summer, but even a handful of sunny days is enough justification for a few fun al fresco-friendly accessories.
For the past few seasons, things have ratcheted up a notch when it comes to outdoor living decor. From furniture and soft furnishings to dedicated crockery, lighting, rugs and even wallpaper (all weather-proof, natch), there has never been a better time to turn your garden or balcony into its own stylish outdoor room.
"The trends are moving towards 'inside moving outside', whether that be al fresco dining or lounging," says John Rastall, head of Extended Range at DFS.
As with any space, it's important to ask yourself how you want your outdoor living area to feel, as well as what practical uses it will have. Will it be used mainly for casual gatherings or would you like the option of sit-down outdoor meals?
"Is it visible from your indoor rooms, and, if so, do you want a complementary palette?
Outdoor furniture can be as big an investment as indoor pieces, so it's important to shop smart. It's often better to stick to simple seating with clean lines for these big-ticket items, as it's so easy to add colour and texture through soft furnishings, accessories and of course, potted plants.
"When buying garden furniture there are three main things you need to think about: how much garden space you have to play with, the amount of seats you will need and what you will be using your garden space for," says John.
Petite, foldable bistro sets that are easy to pack away are no-brainers for balconies and small gardens, but if you have more room to play with, consider larger modular pieces that can be easily adapted for different occasions, whether it's hosting a gang for a meal or simply lounging on with the papers on a sunny day.
"Just make sure that you have somewhere to store the cushions over the winter months!" says John. Alternatively, divide your garden into key zones - some for eating and drinking, near the kitchen or barbecue, and others for relaxing, with more comfortable seating that's well shaded from those stiff summer breezes.
When it comes to accessories, tropical motifs are a timeless summertime trend. Though we've seen hints of them in interiors decor for the past few seasons, it is outdoors that they really come to life and we can play with our wild side - think lush green palettes, fun, unabashedly loud jungle prints, and pops of bright, decorative tableware. String lights, richly patterned outdoor rugs, pretty lanterns and relaxed hanging and swing chairs create a chill, sunny vibe - even if the weather doesn't cooperate.