Style Expert

Creating a Family-Style Outdoor Dining Room

Brian Patrick Flynn


As the owner of a 1600-square-foot house which has a narrow 7X12 glorified hallway trying to pass itself off as a dining room, I often find myself NOT inviting people over for meals. When it comes to dining, especially dining with family, it’s important to have plenty of room as well as super comfortable seating; if not (a) everyone will argue over bread rolls and salad dressing (b) people will start stabbing each other (c) you will have a huge mess to clean up, and end up missing The Real Housewives of Orange County. Similar to the happenings of all four Real Housewives franchises, the last thing anyone needs is an irritated aunt tossing a glass of red wine in a trash-talking nephew’s face, or a matriarch trying to get a six-year-old to trade her iTouch for Brussels sprouts. When it comes to a positive family-style dining experience, it’s best to take things outside.

Earlier this summer, I made a visit to an adorable young family’s backyard in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz. Mom is in the medical field; Dad is a reality TV producer; both of the kids are active between school events and creative, extracurricular groups; the dog is short, squatty and jumps too much. With the California weather as beautiful as ever, they were excited to put a neglected area of their yard to good use as a place to entertain their entire family, up to 10 guests at a time. Unlike the drama-ridden families we watch on reality TV, this family actually GETS ALONG. In other words: No table flipping. Weird concept, huh?

In just one weekend, take a look at how we transformed the lackluster area into a fully-equipped family style outdoor dining room, a space now considered the happiest place of the home.


The family now has seating for 10, thanks to two outdoor dining sets pushed together Bella All Weather Wicker Patio Dining Set, not to mention more than enough table space to lay out platters brought over from several households.  And while the main view is all the way over at the end of the yard (about 300 feet to the left), the creative, reclaimed wood art piece is certain to spark just as much conversation.

The most important element of the new, family-style outdoor dining room is, well, family. To add a focal point packed with personality, my contractor Michael, used reclaimed pine to create graphic, rustic pop art depicting the family in an unexpected manner

The use of graphic carries over on to the table top in the form of patterned place mats.

Chooty & Co. Blaze Sunny Napkins
Chooty & Co. Boardwalk Sunny Napkins

Mixing prints is a designer trick which helps make a space seem more layered, and it can be complicated to pull off if never attempted before. The key to combining different patterns in the same space is to vary the shape and scale, yet stick with a similar color scheme.

After moving to California from Atlanta, I’d become intrigued by cucumber water, something served at many of the Los Angeles outdoor cafes as well as in spas. To put this new creation to good use, I invested in great glassware, including a pitcher and low and tall glasses.

Global Views Single Handle Martini Pitcher with Stir Stick
Circleware Oslo 16 Piece Drinking Glass Set

Layering different shades and tones of the same color is a huge part of how I design spaces, albeit indoors or outdoors. The perfect place to do that here is on the table with dinnerware. Although the colors of the patterned plates and bowls are slightly off from the solid ones, they still read as part of the same family, coordinating somewhat effortlessly. That’s the trick to using color without it reading all matchy-matchy.

Rachael Ray Curly-Q Green Salad Plates
Rachael Ray Curly-Q Green Cereal Bowls
Tag Sonoma Earthenware Dinnerware

Grey has become the modern neutral over the past few years. What’s so great about grey over beige or taupe is its ability to remain chic and glamorous, rather than simply just serving as a mediator. When I found this table Bella All Weather Wicker Patio Dining Set, I was drawn to it not only for its grey tone, but also for the graphic punch its X-shaped base brings to the table.

Since each set comes with seating for 6, and this family only needed seating for 10, I decided to use the extra pair of chairs as an alternate conversation area (my team pushed two tables together which offers seating for up to 12) just a few feet from the table. This is an excellent vote-them-off-the-island idea for gossipy guests who say things like, “If you haven’t gotten anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”

Need to add shade to your outdoor dining space? Well, let me introduce you to Coolaro’s Outdoor Shade Sail.  The product is super easy to use, and really helps keep a space cool. It simply attaches with grommets centered on each its three tips which you pull tight and fasten to either the exterior of a home, or to sturdy trees or fence posts.

The layering of color and pattern is also evident on the chairs themselves. To pop some green against the grey, I added pillows which coordinate well with the greens on the table top.

Green doesn’t end with the table top and pillows. We brought extra life to the space by filling different style planters with draping plants, grasses and super bright pink bougainvillea.

Square Fiberclay X Box Cube Planter
Mayne Square Polyethylene Fairfield Patio Planter


And that’s that! In just two days, we took this embarrassment below into the well-done, totally useful space above. Now, the only excuse for the family NOT to dine outside is if their next dinner party happens to fall on one of the four days a year Los Angeles gets rain.


Brian Patrick Flynn, HGTV designer/producer; Decor Demon

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