Create The Perfect Space For Outdoor Entertaining With Tips From Designer Sabrina Soto

sabrina-soto-headshotEntertaining outdoors is one of the highlights of summer. Whether you are planning a casual dinner with friends or a more formal event, moving the party outside to a deck or patio can add to guests’ enjoyment. 

Creating a stylish and comfortable environment for outdoor entertaining doesn’t have to be difficult, says Sabrina Soto, Target Style Expert for Home, HGTV Designer and author of “Home Design.” What’s more, with a little planning, it can be changed easily to suit the nature of the event.

Start with a neutral base

Soto suggests starting with furniture pieces that have a natural-looking finish, like teak or wicker.  “Neutral tones provide a good base for an outdoor oasis, and they give you flexibility to accessorize with colors and patterns that suit your personal style.  A neutral base also makes it easy to change the look simply by adding different accessories for different occasions.”


Soto recommends investing in a few good-quality furniture pieces that will last for years. Target’s new Smith & Hawken Belvi Woven Lounge Collection ($399-$1,999) is built to withstand outdoor elements with a rust-proof aluminum frame and a scratch-resistant finish.  If budget is tight, she suggests buying fewer pieces, but choosing multifunctional ones – like an ottoman that can do double duty as a table and provide extra seating for guests. 

Next, add an outdoor rug – it will transform any deck or patio into a living space. Stick with a neutral tone, so the scenery and accessories tell the story. Be sure to choose an all-weather rug that resists fading like this neutral option from Target.

Use color to add style

target-pillowWith the neutral pallet of furniture and rug in place, you can use colorful accessories to create a space that is uniquely your own. 

“For a fun, playful look, I like to mix bright hues and patterned pieces,” says Soto. “Outdoor pillows and cushions are a great place to start, because they add comfort as well as color.” 

She suggests thinking beyond traditional chair and bench cushions. Plush floor pillows are an inexpensive way to add extra setting and toss pillows, available in bright florals and geometrics, make it easy to redecorate your deck in an instant. 

Soto also recommends changing tabletop entertaining essentials — like melamine plates, tumblers, trays and beverage dispensers. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different colors and patterns! 


Planters and urns are another way to add color and style to an outdoor space. Choose assorted sizes and shapes, and fill them with greenery or with colorful blooming plants, depending upon the mood you want to set. You can place them symmetrically around the perimeter to define the space, or cluster them for effect. Planters made of light-weight material are less expensive and are easier to move when you want a change.

Touches that add a special spark

The right lighting can set the perfect mood for outdoor entertaining after the sun goes down. “I love string lights around a patio or deck for evening entertaining,” says Soto. “They add a twinkling effect that makes the setting romantic and magical.” 

string-patio-lightsLanterns also are a great way to set the mood outside after sunset. Set them at intervals to illuminate the entire area or cluster them to create an intimate gathering area for guests. 

A fire pit is yet another way to add light – and create atmosphere. Fire pits come in a variety of shapes and sizes, like this pagoda-shaped fire bowl, to work with any outdoor décor. A fire pit creates a natural gathering spot for friends and family.

Keeping the sun at bay

If you do most of your entertaining during the day, be sure to set up at least part of your seating arrangement in the shade, since not all guests enjoy sitting in the sun. 

No shady spots in your backyard?  A market umbrella will add it with style. And umbrellas are not just for picnic tables anymore.  The new cantilevered umbrellas are designed with a sturdy, offset base to fit over most outdoor furniture groupings. Choose a neutral color, like this one from Target and it will work with any décor. 

Happy entertaining!