Our Best Summer Decorating Ideas
For that kind of social calendar, you'll need a setup that inspires a relaxed atmosphere and easygoing lounging among your guests. Find inspiration in the season itself: Head outdoors for lush greenery, shoreline stones, and river rocks, seasonal flowers like peonies, sunflowers, and dahlias the size of dinner plates. There are seashells to be coveted from the shoreline and made into vases or an easy centerpiece. Pillowy seats and an array of bright potted plants create the perfect setting for an outdoor dinner on the front porch. Deck out your yard with tiki torches as a festive way to bring island style home and to light up the night without electricity (bonus points if yours also drive away pesky bugs). You can also use them to line a path or surround a patio.
As the long summer days melt into balmy nights, ease the transition—and extend the fun—by dining outdoors under a private starry dome of twinkling candles or café lights. Hanging a set of miniature glass lanterns from your patio umbrella not only creates the effect of a magical chandelier, it also makes more table space for an inventively placed centerpiece. Whether you're looking for a new idea to spruce up the beach house, the lakeside cabin, or your own home, we have the ideas to enliven your living space.
Nylon-Twine House Number
Summer starts with a welcome at the front door. For your lakeside retreat or cabin in the woods, give your screen door a custom-stitched house number that guests can spot easily in colorful nylon twine directly into the mesh, using its existing grid as our foolproof guide.
Knotted Seat Cushions
For those summer days of lounging outside, make your own cushions by taking this artisanal shortcut: Start with basic tufted cushions, and give them a bohemian upgrade with fluffy accents that mimic the look of quilt knots.
Clean, modern pieces made from jute, rattan, rush, and other durable fibers are easy to find and look fresh indoors year-round. Caning is known for its signature octagons and becomes the base material in these simple vase covers and light-catching wall hangings—both of which are a breeze to make.
When ferns unfurl across this tablecloth, the otherwise understated dining room comes alive. Rustic linen is ideal to work with, since it readily grabs pigment and won't smear easily, and this 22-by-28-inch stencil is a snap to repeat along its length.
Bandanna Table Settings
Rugged and practical, bandannas seem almost patriotic, so this table runner is fitting for the Fourth of July. Because the edges of the bandanas are already finished, they make for easy sewing projects that require no hemming.
When herb gardens overflow with more than is needed in any kitchen, why not use the extra yield in a fragrant centerpiece? Mix shapes and textures, and add color with edible flowers and herb blossoms. This arrangement, which could include dill, rosemary, mint, basil, thyme, lavender, nasturtiums, and flowering herbs, sits in a high-sided bowl; a smaller bowl within keeps the stems in place. But a vase, pitcher, or jar would work just as well.
The shells that the ocean cast at your feet this summer—the ones you so fastidiously collected—make lovely remembrances of the season with candles formed inside them. Even better, a collection of candle-filled shells brings natural charm to any table. Deep shells like scallops, clams, and quahogs work best and burn longest.
The summer sand and dirt outside always makes its way tracked indoors. For a stylish solution, update small and inexpensive area rugs (these are only $4) into a full-length runner. The result is one sleek piece—more than seven feet long—that's truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Personalize your home décor with printed photo fabric that can be sewn into pillows; these beach and boat scenes go beautifully with blue-and-white patterned fabrics.
Change up any room in the house—long-term or just temporarily—with durable but removable vinyl decals that make a bold statement. They're often used on walls but can be trimmed to fit a piece of furniture. Use them to upgrade vintage pieces or as fitting embellishments for a special event. Our wall and chair decals were printed with photos that Martha took on a misty morning at her farm; each brings a lush, green view of nature indoors.
Terrazzo Tray Table
Shelving like this is often easy to find at flea markets in the summertime, but they often look plain. Give one instant style with a sheet of self-adhesive wallpaper. Choose one in a natural pattern like marble, quartz, or this speckled terrazzo to customize it.
Painted Camp Stools
With a little paint, the classic folding stool is ready to come indoors, creating a chic entryway and extra seating. To make one, detach the seat from the base of the folding stool and lay it on a paper-covered surface. Brush on an easy pattern freehand or block off areas with painters' masking tape or geometric stencils before painting; let the canvas dry overnight. Once dried, remove the tape and stencils, and reassemble your new stool for use.
Raffia Door Panels
You can also use raffia, a lightweight fabric that resembles grasscloth, as your decorative inspiration. Just a few yards give the doors of this plain armoire a custom, earthy finishing touch.
Preserve the fleeting botanical beauty of favorite flowers and plants. Before printing onto fabric, trim it to the shape you want for the pillow, with a few inches extra all around. This will give you more flexibility when positioning the pattern on the pillow.
Cocktails at sundown are more memorable when you supplement the waning daylight with pretty lanterns. To make one, fold a 25-inch square of vellum paper following our illustrations; blow into the bottom to expand the paper, and thread a 4-foot piece of string through the hole and out the bottom of the lantern.
Flower Votive Displays
Flowers and candlelight are nothing new, but together they create tabletop decorations fit for relaxed summer entertaining. Place votive candles in tall glass vessels, and attach a flower (dahlias are shown here) outside each, trimming the stem to fit and tying with raffia that matches the flower. Set each display in a saucer of water to keep the flowers fresh.
Decking your yard with tiki torches is an inexpensive, festive way to bring island style home—and to light up the night without electricity. Use them to line a path or surround a patio. If the ground is paved or rocky, you may not be able to find places to poke the torches into the soil. Instead, anchor them in gravel-filled, galvanized-steel flower buckets, and have yourself a tropical night. To anchor the torches, position flower buckets on level ground for stability. Hold one torch upright in each bucket, and fill the bucket with garden gravel to about three inches from the rim. The containers are then heavy enough to support the lit torches safely as they burn.
Turn a camp cot into an elegant patio daybed. Throw pillows in coordinating colors provide a soft surface to lean against. Depending on your sewing skills, you may wish to enlist an upholsterer for this project. We covered a four-inch-thick foam cushion with striped fabric and trimmed the edges with piping. The cot slipcover is sewn from more of the same fabric; box pleats at the corners are tied with ribbon. To complete the look, we applied two coats of light-green exterior paint to the frame.
To complement your backyard with the most appropriate furnishings, you might forgo a trip to the garden center and head to the lumberyard instead. Encircling a majestic black locust tree, this bench delivers 360-degree views. Plus, it always has a shady (and a sunny) side. We used poplar, but any durable lumber coated with weatherproof exterior paint will do. While you can mimic the design of this hexagonal structure, alterations will have to be made to suit your tree and terrain.
Geometric "topiaries" inspired by the paper sculptures of Isamu Noguchi stand on both sides of this swimming pool. A few white plastic beach balls tied to weighted lines float in the pool like pearls cut loose from a giant strand (for safety, never cover the surface of a pool with a large number of balls).
Natural Elements Centerpiece
Whether the materials come from your backyard or a garden center, its easy to incorporate natural elements into the centerpiece of an alfresco dinner. Position stones down the middle of an outdoor table, and intersperse bunches of cushion moss. Place votive candles along the sides to cast a warm glow over the arrangement.