Ward & Child’s Rob McFarland and Jerry Stanger offer insider tips for creating spectacular living spaces outdoors.
By Brad Mee, Photos by Adam Finkle
Behind the charming Ward & Child—The Garden Store in SLC, there is an Eden-like plot where garden design flourishes and locals turn for ideas, advice and enchanted escape. “We wanted to inspire people and let them see the possibilities, even on a central city abandoned lot,” says Rob McFarland who, along with Jerry Stanger, owns Ward & Child and designed this petite piece of paradise. Over the two decades since the store opened and its garden was created, outdoor living has grown into an obsession in Utah. So naturally, when we went looking for advice on creating ultra livable and stylish outdoor spaces, we turned to these pros. With their captivating garden as an inspiring backdrop, the duo teamed with Petit Feast’s Victoria Topham to provide invaluable advice on creating, furnishing and even entertaining in spectacular outdoor spaces.
USD: How has outdoor living evolved over the last decade?
W&C: People are realizing that creating and furnishing an outdoor space requires a strong commitment—both from a design and investment standpoint—and they’re willing to make it. Homeowners are installing pergolas, decks and terraces to create the architectural framework that’s so important to many outdoor living spaces. They’re also investing in higher quality, longer-lasting furniture.
Q: Any tips on locating and sizing an outdoor room?
A: Outdoor spaces can be anywhere and almost any size, but they do need to be defined. For a space intended for lounging and dining, a 16-by-20 foot area is a good starting point. A common mistake is making spaces like decks or terraces that are extensions of the house too small. Ever heard someone say, “I wish my deck were smaller”?
Q: What about smaller garden spaces?
A: It’s key to have one major outdoor living area, but intimate spaces are important, too. If there’s a garden spot you’re drawn to, create a sitting area, a comfortable place to pause. Consider building a pergola or some other overhead structure to shade and extend the time the space can be enjoyed. And, of course, create a space for dining.
Q: You say dining with conviction.
A: Absolutely. Notice how outdoor dining spaces are always full at restaurants? People love to eat outside. If you don’t have room for both lounging and dining, have a nice table and quality, interesting folding chairs to bring out. Have a small bistro size table that’s always set up and available for a spur-of-the moment al fresco.
Q: Any other advice for selecting furniture?
A: Think quality. People are tired of replacing cheap outdoor furnishings from big box stores. They don’t have the quality standards to endure outdoor exposure. Take teak, for example. If it’s grown at a low elevation it grows much quicker, leading to higher yields making it less expensive. It also lacks the hardness, strength and high oil content of high-elevation teak, which can last for decades outside. This type grows much more slowly, is denser and has the high oil content that makes teak a great choice for exterior furniture and accessories.
Q: What about wicker?
A: All-weather wicker is a very strong trend right now, but it has quality issues as well. If the vinyl that is used to make the resin for the wicker is diluted to make it go further, the price goes down, but the material becomes brittle over time. High quality, allweather wicker stays supple for years, doesn’t fade and is virtually maintenance-free.
Q: Are there any new products that excite you?
A: We’re carrying a loom product made from wood fibers that are saturated with an architectural resin then spun into small rope-like threads woven into many shapes. It’s then painted with an automotive finish. Clients get the look of all-weather wicker with the ability to choose from dozens of colors.
Q: Any pointers on designing outdoor living spaces?
A: Furnishing outdoor spaces can be daunting because of their openness and the scale of nature itself. Main living areas require larger, more serious pieces. Look at the main living areas inside your home. The scale of the pieces you place outside should be similar in both scale and color especially if the outdoor space can be seen from inside the home. This makes the transition from indoors to out seamless and gracious.
Q: Are there particular pieces you suggest using outdoors?
A: Outdoor spaces need a good sofa, chairs, end tables, consoles and lighting, much like an interior space does. Everything doesn’t need to match, however. While an eclectic, mixed look can be difficult to pull off outdoors, it creates an interesting look.
Q: What’s the secret to successfully mixing outdoor materials?
A: Mixing a dining set can be easy. Pair woven chairs with a wood table for example, or metal chairs that are a different color than their metal table counterpart. It’s also okay to mix a wicker sofa with teak or metal chairs. Pairing different woods or wickers, however, can be tricky. To use assorted wickers, remember to change the color and the size of the actual wicker threads from piece to piece. A fine dark wicker on a chair could work with a larger, lighter wicker sofa, for example.
Q: Is there a specific style that outrivals others outdoors?
A: Because nature is so stimulating, simpler furnishings often work best. Look for simpler, cleaner and straighter lines. Don’t think traditional or contemporary, think classic.
Q: Any tricks for choosing colors?
A: Repeat interior colors outside to link indoors and out. Also, choose a neutral for big pieces like a sofa, and remember that neutrals needn’t be beige. Grays, browns, taupes and creams come in endless shades and variations. Add pops of bright colors using ottomans and pillows to change the look of a neutrally toned big piece. Small fabric-covered pieces are the easiest and least costly way to get a fix of your favorite color that may change in a year or two.
Q: What other outdoor accents do you suggest?
A: Outdoor rugs are indispensable. They create a refined finished look for outside spaces and hide any flaws of existing surfaces underfoot. Planted containers add architectural interest and color, and remember, bigger is better. Also, invest in a few big trays that allow you set up and entertain without constantly running inside and out. And don’t forget outdoor lighting—it’s essential.
Q: What advice do you have for choosing and placing lights?
A: Plan lighting from inside the home looking out as well as from within the garden areas. Because a glow is aesthetically the most pleasing, use a higher quantity of fixtures with lower watt bulbs rather than a few fixtures putting out huge amounts of light. Light architectural features, statues, fountains and important plants with a strong framework. Unless it’s a statement piece—a chandelier, lantern or an outdoor lamp—outdoor fixtures shouldn’t be too decorative. Bear in mind, outdoor lighting is a serious but very rewarding investment, so work it into the budget early.
Q: Having previously photographed and spent time inyour home’s amazing garden spaces, I know you truly live in your outdoor rooms.
A: We really do. We spend mornings on the balcony becausethe sun is so nice then. During the day and for predinner drinks and nibbles, we’re on the covered porch. We actually dine in the garden. With the glow of the landscape lighting and candles, the sound of moving water, and good food and wine, it really doesn’t get better than that.