By Lauren Dunec Hoang, Houzz
There’s a romance to fall — the fleeting beauty of changing leaves, the welcome freshness of cooler weather and a general giving in to all things comforting and cozy — that’s quite unlike any other time of year. Dining outdoors can be a lovely way to enjoy the season before temperatures in the Hudson Valley get too cold. These 10 outdoor dining spaces are filled with ideas to help set the stage for enjoying a meal outside, including fall-themed tabletop decorations and an easy addition to boost outdoor ambiance.
1. Bring on the glow. Adding outdoor lighting is the single best way to create an inviting evening ambiance in the garden. What could feel like a shadowy patio outside the home instead feels closer to the outdoor table you’d request at your favorite restaurant. What makes this work well is the soft and glowing light that comes from the larger, glowing twinkle lights that are threaded around the patio area.
2. Add fall-themed potted plants to courtyards. Whether or not you have a fall-colored accent wall dripping with changing leaves, you can bring a hit of autumn color with container plants. Potted chrysanthemums are a popular choice, with bedding varieties often sold budding or just beginning to bloom in nurseries this time of year. Other options to consider: pansies in rich fall colors, golden black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), bronze-leaved coral bells (Heuchera spp.), or ornamental grasses.
3. Set a luxurious table for an occasion. Throw a fall-themed dinner party outside as a celebration of the season. Go all out with decorations — vases of fall flowers, metal accents, and candles down the table — or keep things simple with a few leaves running down the table as a centerpiece. Use dark linens, if you have them, to really make the bright golds, oranges, and reds of fall flowers or mini pumpkins stand out. If you’re concerned about guests getting chilly, you may want to consider renting a few outdoor heaters (or invest in purchasing) or draping throw blankets over the backs of the chairs.
4. Decorate with candles. Make eating outside feel like a treat without going over the top by dressing up an outdoor table with flickering candles. A pair of candelabras and proper place settings give an understated elegance to any table at an alfresco fest. Hunt for old candleholders and metal trays for a row of candles at thrift stores and garage sales. You can pick them up for a bargain and then won’t think twice about using them out of doors.
5. Anchor around a fire feature. Whether its an outdoor fireplace or a portable tabletop grill or gas cooktop, a fire feature can make any outdoor setting pop. Use it to cook appetizers for a party, roast s’mores, or keep a pot of spiced cider warm, with mugs around for guests to help themselves.
Note: Tabletop cookers are not recommended for wooden outdoor tables.
6. Up the coziness with an outdoor rug. Covering the floor of a cold patio or deck with an outdoor rug makes an outdoor dining space feel that much more appealing on a chilly evening. Overhead string lights and whitewashed brick walls also help brighten an outdoor dining terrace or patio.
7. Warm up furniture. Laying down a fluffy sheepskin and bringing out cozy blankets and cushy chair pillows can all help outdoor furniture feel more inviting. This can be particularly helpful for metal furniture sets that may feel cold and unappealing on a brisk fall evening.
8. Use cafe lights in a new way. Steal a design idea from this charming wedding setup by mounting string lights along a string or clothesline. The effect is both romantic and unexpected, and it sets the mood for evening meals enjoyed outside.
9. Decorate the tabletop with fall colors. Even in late summer, you can evoke a fall feeling in your outdoor dining space with table dressings in rich, fall-themed colors, and textures. For example, utilize layered place settings on woven placemats, choosing napkins and a table runner in yellows, oranges, and reds. Bouquets of pumpkin-colored roses and the glint of silver candleholders with orange candles can finish the table and help set the stage for a fancy fall dinner party.
10. Make a porch a fall destination. If your outdoor table is under the covering of a porch — or can be moved there — take the time to make a few seasonal changes to get the space ready for fall. First, add lights, if you don’t already have them, to create a warm glow. Next, bring out blankets and purchase a few fall-colored throw cushions to make the space feel cozy. For finishing touches if you’re eating outside, bring out candles or a bouquet of flowers from inside the house, and your porch will feel like a true extension of your home.
Related: Savor Outdoor Dining at These Hudson Valley Restaurants