How to Create an Inspiring Outdoor Workspace

Need a change of scenery from your home office? Stimulate the mind with new surroundings, plus reap the benefits of fresh air, with an outdoor workspace. To help you set up shop outside, we asked top designers for their tips for setting up the ultimate al fresco office. 

Terry Lin | Outer

Before COVID 19, I traveled frequently and adopted a ‘work from anywhere’ mentality. Now that we are five months into this pandemic, my daily work migration patterns continue albeit in the comfort of my home. To create an ideal outdoor work from home space, I suggest having a bag that can be easily transferred inside and outside of your home that can hold all of your daily essentials you need throughout the work day. I’ve had years of testing and refining the tools I use for my “work from anywhere go-bag” and it’s proven to be just as effective in my backyard as it is in an office. As the co-founder of an outdoor furniture company, you will find me parked in my outdoor lounge doing everything that I would be doing from my home office.

Besides the obvious laptop and smartphone, these are the items I keep in my go-bag: Fotopro Flexible Tripod, Bose Bluetooth Speaker, Anker External Charger, Hydroflask, wide brimmed hat, Airpods and a Patagonia Long Sleeve Sol Patrol shirt. Another critical item you need to create an outdoor work from home space is comfortable seating. We designed the Outer Sofa to be fit for all seasons, it’s made with fully recyclable all-weather wicker and is stain, fade and mold resistant. I find that having a comfortable and supportive sofa to sit on throughout my work day contributes to my productivity and creates a space that I look forward to working in each day.

 

Joanna Leung | Ratana

Comfort is key when working since spending a lot of time outside, so all our upholstery is made to order with thick reticulated foam cushioning for maximum comfort. Because our collections are lightweight, they can match your interiors. All of our fabrics are performance making for durability (no color fading in the sun) and they uphold any tests from liquid spills to pet hair and more. Pair our workstations with an umbrella, and you'll avoid the glare and squinty eyes when putting on your best Zoom call face with colleagues.

Nicole Gaynor | Room & Board Business Interiors

The flexibility of outdoor spaces has become increasingly important as commercial settings like offices and public spaces look to support their occupants in safe ways. As we embrace social distancing and the open-air environment, people are turning to the outdoors to serve as office spaces, meeting spaces and entertainment spaces.  A celebration of color and texture, this collection embraces nature, while infusing Room & Board’s modern, material-centric aesthetic that is beloved in homes, offices, and hospitality spaces.
 

Meagan Camp | Meagan Camp Interiors

If your workspace is directly outside, you'll want furniture that can withstand the elements. Plastic furniture like high-density polyethylene won’t peel and is easy to clean, teak is a tropical wood that can resist warping, and aluminum is lightweight, and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. Power-integrated furniture is an added bonus so you’re not dealing with cords running through your setup.

Treat your outdoor workspace as you would any indoor space by adding pieces like pillows, rugs, lighting and accessories. An indoor/outdoor rug can easily define the work zone, and should be the first thing to consider. If you're building this workspace from scratch, colorful tile is the easiest way to define a work zone. We love a graphic, bold design.

For lighting, think beyond the typical outdoor string lights and bring a table lamp or a floor lamp into your outdoor space, or inexpensive jar candles. Materials like a cement or wooden lamp base give a nod to this outdoor environment while providing illumination when needed.

Adding potted plants to the design are the easiest accessories, and herbs like lavender, mint or basil not only smell good but are natural bug repellents. I love the look of clusters of potted plants in simple terra cotta pots, especially as the pots weather and patina, giving a simple plant an old-world, European feel. You can buy weathered pots from your nursery or florists, as that’s how plants arrive off the trucks from greenhouses. A grouping of planters dresses up a boring wall, hang them in a grid or in a random pattern as you would art.

Last but not least, don’t forget shade! A pergola painted black or whitewashed is a chic choice, or a simple umbrella can also do the trick.

Allison Babcock | Allison Babcock Design

Photo: Keith Scott Morton

From the start of the pandemic, Allison Babcock transitioned from her office in Sag Harbor to working from her home in the same town alongside her husband and two daughters who were now schooling at home. Allison and her family spend a ton of time outdoors all year round which was the key influence in the design of their home. They decided that an open floor plan on the lower level of their home would maximize their space and allow them to open it up completely to the outdoors.  There is basically no barrier between the indoors and outdoors in this space.  She designed the space so that floor to ceiling doors could completely fold and slide back, opening up the space as much as possible and connecting them to the outdoor space.

Allison converted the dining room table and the outdoor patio into her new wfh office space. While her daughters opted for the desks upstairs, Allison was drawn to the openness and airy feel of the outdoors. Going from a busy lifestyle to spending all hours in your home can make anyone go a little stir crazy. As a designer, one of Allison’s main concerns for a work from home space was that there was enough space for her to spread out and look at the various blueprints, floorplans, mood boards and samples. To keep the space from being overrun she suggests purchasing square stackable baskets (wicker, fabric or wood) that are deep enough to hold all the contents. She also ties labels to each basket so you know what exactly is in each. Having everything organized in separate baskets also makes it easy when you want to switch up your setting and head outdoors. When working outside, it is also important to consider your power outlets. If your patio or lounge spaces were not intentionally designed with outlets, extension cords and power strips are a must. Allison suggests using painters tape to string your cords outside because it will make them more discreet and it will not ruin your floors when it is time to pull it up.

Obviously when working outdoors, you cannot control the weather, so having some paper weights on hand is always a good idea. While Allison opts for a more natural solution - by using rocks she finds along her property - you can also purchase some beautiful paperweights that bring you joy. Whether working indoors or outdoors, lighting is an important consideration from what kind of lights, how the lighting changes throughout the day, and if they are able to dim or not.  Allison believes that adding a simple task light on any table surface could really help your situation.  When working outside it's important to remember to protect your skin with sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher and to have protection overhead.  Allison often uses the patio which is open on three sides with a roof to shelter her from direct sunlight if this is not an option Allison highly recommends purchasing a heavily duty umbrella on a stand. When she is sharing space with others, she takes advantage of the walkway they built around the exterior of their home and pool, and walks laps while talking on the phone. She uses this time as an opportunity to stretch her legs and get some movement.    

While taking over the dining table as your wfh space can seem intimidating - because let’s face it who wants to clean it off every night for dinner - Allison suggests creating an alternative, more intimate dining space. Switching up where you enjoy your meals is a fun way to utilize more areas of your home and gather with your family. She converted their living room into a cozy dining space in front of the fireplace, on chilly nights she had blankets and throws for everyone and set the small table for dinner and they all gathered around.  As the weather turned warmed  they started dining outside around their fire pit. 

Anthony Barzilay Freund | 1stdibs & Introspective Magazine

Wovens like raffia, rattan, wicker and cane, as well as exotic hardwoods such as mahogany and teak, were long popular materials in outdoor tropical decor before their current ubiquity in the world's most stylish interiors. It makes sense, therefore, that many contemporary designers are again turning their attention to deploying these materials in outdoor furniture, whose textural richness and handmade quality evince a chic bohemianism. Then some designers, like Patricia Urquiola, are treating modern, more durable materials, like polypropylene, in ways that reference traditional, natural fibers.

Liz Caan | Liz Caan & Co.

If it were up to me, I’d spend all of my WFH hours in a covered outdoor patio much like this one. You can’t beat the perma-shade and slight breeze, and if you’re lucky, the great view. A covered patio ensures shelter from an unexpected downpour while still reaping all of the benefits of being encased by nature.

Heather Trilling | Trilling Landscape Design & Build 

Research shows that seeing green, even for a few seconds, can boost creativity. I would suggest positioning or creating a workspace so you have easy access to a scene that is brimming with verdant greens. As a general rule of thumb, I try to design outdoor spaces that bring "the inside out."  You can enhance your outdoor workspace with pots and plants and small trees that compliment your inside design (but be sure to look for pots that have matching saucers to avoid water stains in your WFH set-up). 


At Home With Emily P. Wheeler

On ‘At Home With,’ we virtually visit our members and catch up on their current normal. From recommended reading and podcasts to creative recipes and wellness routines, get to know the network - and maybe even come away with a little activity inspo.

Meet Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Emily P. Wheeler. Having just finished building out her home studio, she’s been able to spend the extra downtime on her natural creative outlet. Emily shares what else she’s been up to as she waits for the right time to release new collections, including finding fresh gratitude for what’s truly important.

What’s your usual location, and where are you currently sheltering in place? 

I live in Los Angeles and I'm currently sheltering at home. I'm lucky because I'm a homebody and just completed my studio/showroom which is a detached building behind my house.

Any new pastimes or creative outlets? 

I've been working full time still which is naturally a creative outlet. The extra time has been spent working on new designs and upcoming collections. I wouldn't say I'm ahead now, but I am finally feeling on schedule and not behind. I'm also a huge animal lover and took on a foster in the spring who ended up having puppies. A lot of time has been spent helping the mom raise them and finding them good homes. We adopted the mom.

Do you have any favorite podcasts, books, newsletters?

My favorite podcasts are Left Right and Center, The Daily, Reply All, and My Favorite Murder. A few favorite books are The Dog Who Wouldn't Be by Farley Mowatt and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I read Little Fires Everywhere and Rules of Civility during quarantine so far and enjoyed both. I'm reading some animal behavior books now which is probably my favorite subject. I read lots of news. I try to get it from everywhere (both liberal and conservative) to balance out all the bias.

What’s keeping you going right now? 

Work is a huge outlet for me. It's frustrating because I'm having to hold back so much work that I'm really excited about (I don't think it's smart to launch too much right now.) I'm happy that things have slowed down a bit but annoyed that everything is sort of on hold. Momentum is a big propeller forward for me in my career and I feel a bit like the wind is out of my sails. My husband is my lifeline in general and especially right now. We could have fun together while the world was ending, so we're still laughing and keeping each other going. My dogs are also a big part of what keeps me happy. And taking care of my fish pond.

What do you miss most from pre-Covid life? 

Hugging my friends and family. When we watch movies or tv now and watch scenes of people hugging or dancing or shaking hands, it makes me so sad. I miss contact with people, both ones I know and strangers. We had to cancel our wedding which was supposed to be in April. I can't wait until it happens some day and we can sweat all over each other on the dancefloor.

Best advice you’ve received lately? 

I haven't received any good advice lately, but one thing I try to remind myself always, especially now, is to be grateful for what I have. It's easy to feel bad for ourselves right now, but I am still so grateful for my family, animals, my friends, my job, my house, and my health. I try to remind myself of the things to be grateful for every day. I'm grateful for each day that goes by where me and my loved ones remain safe and healthy. On the other side of that is thinking about those less fortunate and how to use our energy to help. Like many, I've spent a lot of time learning about the racial injustices in our country and fundraising for the NAACP with others in my industry.

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