Designing for the outdoors brings a variety of challenges that interior specialists are usually all too happy to leave alone on the outside of their perfectly painted walls — weather-safe materials, seasonal changes, and, well, all that dirt. But these three indoor experts charged bravely into the wilderness of their backyards, leaving a trail of design and function in their wake.
A Fabulous Deck
Exterior spaces have become my favorite to decorate," says Travis Hamilton, owner and founder of U-fab, the upholstery-shop-turned-fabric-wonderland. Hamilton began U-fab in 2008 with a gut feeling that if people weren't ready to invest in new interior furniture pieces, they would relish the opportunity to update their existing ones. His hunch paid off, and in the ensuing five years, the company has grown to include 17 employees and a satellite location in Charlottesville.
But there were changes on the home front, too. Hamilton and his wife, Carley, decided to expand both their outdoor living space as well as their family. "We built our deck the week before our son was born," he says. The screened porch of their Westover Hills house had been boxed in by bushes, but once they had been ripped out and a deck was installed, the couple realized they'd created an open, airy space for dining, entertaining, and enjoying the peaceful backyard.
The Hamiltons have a more eclectic style, with items they've curated over the years. "Throughout our whole home, we've got things we've collected and up-cycled from thrift stores or discovered while antiquing or traveling," says Hamilton, who credits Carley with having a gift for bringing such assortments together with special touches and even a little crafting.
"You don't have as many constraints working with outdoor spaces as you do with interiors," he says.
"You can do more with different fabrics without having to worry about feeling lame. We just had fun with it." Styled by Molly Todd
A Patio with Pizzaz
Home accessory designer Dana Gibson can't bear to live in a boring space, and her line of vivid home accessories aims to make sure you never suffer that particular misfortune.
She began her career by creating and selling vases, boxes and other ceramics, but quickly realized that she needed to produce more practical, affordable pieces to keep customers interested. "People wanted wastebaskets to look attractive, and why shouldn't they?" Gibson says. Soon her distinctive wastebaskets and their corresponding lamps, trays, picture frames, and pillows caught the eye of Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Lately, her wallpaper collaboration with Stroheim Vervain pushed Gibson into even bolder color experiments, and she looks forward to pushing herself farther as she designs an exclusive line of home accents for One Kings Lane this year.
As far as her own home goes, Gibson's love of color prevails. And though she uses her house as a testing ground for product prototypes, she doesn't limit herself to her own designs, instead filling it with objects from her world travels and antiquing trips.
When Gibson and her husband were looking for houses in the Tuckahoe area, she was drawn instantly to a 1950s-era home in River Road Hills with an expansive, welcoming terrace. It felt like a natural extension from the kitchen and its bluestone floor transitioned beautifully into the garden's vibrant sprays of color and the towering trees beyond. Gibson's affinity for strong colors was satisfied with azaleas, camellias, Lenten roses and ferns, so she decided to let Mother Nature handle this one and keep the terrace furnishings simple. After having uncomplicated cushions made for her parents' antique cast-iron sofa and chairs, she was free to swap her own pillows in and out to highlight whatever the landscaping had in store that month. Now, Gibson can sit back, sip a drink, and enjoy the interplay of color between her own products and the rainbow of blooms around her. Styled by Molly Todd
Vestiges of the Past
Rick Friedrichsen spends every day surrounded by the crisp, geometrically fascinating contemporary furniture at La Différence. As visual manager, he ensures that each piece is being showed off to its best advantage, and as a salesperson, he has to keep a mental checklist of the store's inventory so that he can rattle off details at a moment's notice. At home, however, it's a different story.
"At LaDiff, we work with a lot of color, but at home I'm Joe Neutral," says Friedrichsen, who shares an 18th-century New Kent farmhouse with his partner, Philip Thomson. The two share an interest in history, particularly artifacts and ruins that have an air of mystery about them.
Friedrichsen wanted to add something to the house's exterior that had an antiquated look as well. Inspired by the vestiges of Jamestown, Friedrichsen sketched out the idea of an outdoor entertaining patio that would be as comfortable for a quiet dinner as it would for a cocktail party under the stars. It would have a defined space, seat a crowd comfortably, and would even solve one of their home's layout issues: a basement kitchen. With a grill out back, they can serve food to guests without navigating a flight of stairs.
But the patio's complementary look to their historic home arose from a very specific memory from Friedrichsen's childhood. "I'd be driving around the country with my parents, and I'd see a chimney standing in the middle of a field. I still wonder what happened to the houses those chimneys belonged to. Did lightning strike? Did the houses burn down? What are their stories?" Working with local mason Hank Degenaars, Friedrichsen was able to capture that same feeling by creating a standalone chimney as the striking focal point for the patio.
After weeks of designing and consulting with Degenaars, who then spent a few months laying the foundation and building the chimney and low walls, Friedrichsen and Thomson celebrated with a peaceful, fireside dinner for two. Styled by Wendy Umanoff, plants courtesy Sneeds Nursery & Garden Center.