Event producer Doug Smith transforms his small patio into a multi-level retreat with open-air living spaces as stylish and inviting as any indoors.
By Brad Mee, Photos by Adam Finkle
In Utah and beyond, corporate event producer and design guru Doug Smith is known for magically converting plain venues into magnificent spaces for celebrations, conventions and galas of all kinds. Think exhibit halls to airplane hangers and ballrooms to mountainside meadows. Clients ranging from international corporations to blushing brides rely on Smith’s transformative talents to dynamically design spaces for their special soirees.
No matter the size of the challenge, Smith rises to the occasion with head-turning results. So when he decided to overhaul his home’s small, unsightly walled patio, it’s no surprise that the outcome was hugely spectacular. Here’s how he created such big results.
Staged on the patio’s new upper level, this outdoor living room is shaded by an existing tree growing through an opening in the raised deck. “There was this large 20-foot tree to work around, so I decided to think ‘tree house’ and build an aerie around the trunk,” says Smith. He positioned sofas and a chaise around the perimeter of the lounge area to provide plenty of seating while shaping an open lounge area.
Water trickles from a traditional Japanese bamboo spout into a small pool positioned in the raised garden separating the dining and lounge areas. Smith incorporated the water feature to introduce the ambient sound of moving water to the patio. “The sound of trickling water is especially calming and refreshing on warm summer evenings,” he says. Smith used dimensional foam blocks rather than solid debris to fill planter space beneath the pool.
Wide stairs lead from the dining area to the raised lounge space. A rusted metal planter box doubles as a wall that encloses the area under the deck and frames the steps. A lacy Japanese maple softens the hardscape and serves as a natural screen that draws people to the upper level. “Creating a pathway of discovery is very important,” says Smith.
Durable (and Dynamic) Furniture
“Decide how you live in a room inside the house and create the same outdoors with suitable materials,” Smith says. He selected large seating pieces to match the scale of the great outdoors and chose accent pieces like small, easy-to-move tables for flexibility. Sunbrella fabrics, all-weather wicker, Trex-topped tables and metal frames make the stylish furnishing perfect for outdoor use.
“Having materials and surfaces that can stand the abuse of weather is important to me,” says Smith. Regarding wool finishes, he suggests a weathered look from the beginning rather than becoming a slave to constant maintenance.
Zones and Levels
“Zones and levels give the patio texture and make it more interesting,” says Smith, who explains that they also make the small space look and feel larger. Smith planted greenery in the corner of the lower dining space to ease the wall’s hard angles and used leafy trees to create airy screens that help define the areas. Fostering continuity, he used four tons of black Mexican beach rock to surround the patio and to help fill the pond, garden beds and planters.
Bold Tabletop Design
Smith prefers simple and subtle serving pieces that welcome the introduction of vibrant flowers and table linens. He topped this table with an orange runner layered with lacy placements, grouped candles, bright napkins and fresh cut zinnias and marigolds. “Floral arrangements should be simply constructed and whimsical,” he says.
Neutral Palette (with a Punch)
“Nature will guide you if you listen,” Smith says. “Bold, unnatural colors may be appropriate for accents and accessories, but their use on walls, canopies and other large surfaces doesn’t support a natural, restful environment.” By creating a monochromatic palette for the patio, Smith enjoys a neutral canvas that encourages the addition of colorful pillows and lively tabletop pieces.
Serve with Ease
Smith frequently serves buffet-style by lining up trays of food on a console table brought from indoors. He prepared some dishes, and others takeout. Drinks chill a bowl filled with ice.