On a beautiful summer day, you don’t need much of an excuse to eat outside – especially if you have a garden, patio or deck surrounded by greenery.
“It’s more relaxed when you’re out, so the way you entertain tends to be more casual,” said Young Hu, an interior designer based in New York. “It’s a little more fun and a little less anxious. I focus more on bright colors and creating a joyful feeling.”
During the summer, Mrs. Huh and her husband, Joon-Yeung Huh, a lawyer, entertain almost every weekend at their 19th-century house in Hyde Park, N.Y. And setting the table for those outdoor meals is “part of what I look forward to. to,” Ms. Huh said.
On a recent sunny Friday, while preparing lunch for friends, she invited a reporter to see how she does it.
Select the Configuration
“The first thing I think about is who’s coming and what might be fun for them,” Ms Huh said. That dictates the menu – and the setting too.
There are any number of places on Ms. Huh’s eight-acre farm where she can serve a meal: on the patio, around a pond, on grassy expanses under the trees.
When she needs to be near the kitchen for meal preparation, she usually chooses the patio. But moving the table out into the landscape — or even just spreading out a picnic blanket — “creates an instant romantic mood,” she said. “There’s a pastoral beauty that we don’t get on the patio.”
Prepare the Table
There are a few tables that Ms. Huh uses for outdoor dining. When she expects a large crowd, she chooses the long wooden table that will accommodate everyone. If she and her husband are entertaining another couple, there is a small, round iron table that feels more intimate.
Either way, she dresses the table with a tablecloth, giving it a clean, clear surface that begins to define a color palette. For her recent lunch, Ms. Huh chose a white cotton tablecloth from Fete Homeprinted with a floral pattern in reds and blues – colors she planned to repeat in flowers and accessories.
And Now: the Flowers
Some people may think of flowers as a finishing touch, but when Ms. Huh prepares an outdoor table, she focuses on them from the beginning: “That’s the drama and excitement.”
Instead of using one large arrangement, she prefers to place a few flowers in several small vases. “Then everybody gets some flowers at their place,” she said. “I like to use clear glass vases in different styles to mix it up.”
She placed purple cornflowers, blue delphiniums, and pink peonies in an array of low glass vases and Delftware tulips without arranging any of them too carefully.
“It’s easy,” she said. “I like that the flowers feel a little wild.”
Set the Locations
To set your outdoor table, look beyond your everyday dishes.
“If you have the same friends over a few different times, it’s nice to have different tablescapes,” said Ms. Huh, who holds a variety of dinner parties for that purpose.
On this day, she chose black and white floral dishes from Ralph Lauren’s collection with Burleigh to reflect the pattern of the tablecloth. Then, for color, she added purple and pink goblets from Bitossi Home and red-rimmed wine glasses from ok.
“I love wearing colorful glasses outside,” she said. “But nothing too expensive – because there is a high percentage of breakage when you eat out.”
For flatware, she considered using mismatched antique silverware but ultimately chose pieces with bamboo-shaped acrylic handles from Blue Pheasantfor their foreign appeal.
Finally she laid out simply folded napkins to match the tablecloth. “I don’t wear ear rings outside,” she said. “They tend to fly everywhere.”
Add Place Cards and Candles
Although Ms. Huh prefers outdoor dining with a casual feel, she still likes to use place cards, which she often buys from Mr. P’s Place Card Company.
“It’s so easy to do,” she said. “And it makes people feel really special,”
She also puts out candles, for atmosphere – even when it’s not dark.
“I always make candles outside, usually in lanterns,” she said, for a romantic flicker the wind won’t blow.
Plan the Cleaning in Advance
A surefire way to spoil the pleasure of a meal is to be faced with a massive cleanup afterward. That’s why Ms. Huh thinks about the aftermath of a party when she plans it.
She uses large, sturdy trays to make carrying plates between the patio and the kitchen quick and easy. And whenever possible, she chooses a dishwasher, so she doesn’t have to hand wash it after everyone goes home.
“You take all these extra steps to bring things out for guests,” Ms Huh said. “But in the end, you want the cleaning to be nice and easy.”
For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here.