I can hang the most beautiful holiday decorations all over the house and everyone will still end up crowded around my kitchen island where, of course, there are not enough chairs. Everyone wants to be in the center of the action, though, and who wouldn't want to be close to the cookies and within sneak-a-piece-before-dinner reach of the turkey?
When the weather is nice enough to be outside, the crowd gathers around our fire pit or, often, pulls every available chair up around the long table. It's the backyard equivalent of the kitchen island, and one of my favorite things about our yard.
No matter where people sit, as long as the music's good, the cocktails plenty, and the food delicious, guests will have a good time.
They'll have a great time, though, if you create a welcoming gathering space just for them. (And when the party's over, these spaces make great reading nooks and casual spots for weekend relaxing.)
Here's how to do it.
The table is a natural gathering place, and if you like to entertain, you'll want a nice long one. I like these because they can extend to accommodate friends and family, but shrink back down when everyone goes home.
Chat it Up
Second only to the table for family gatherings is a chat area, but only if it is super comfy and has everything you need to enjoy the evening.
Pro tip: A "chat area" usually includes 4 or more seats focused around a central point like a table or fire pit.
You'll want outdoor chairs or couches you can sink into and stay put, (I really love swivel chairs!), a central focal point low enough to see over, blankets and pillows, side tables to sit drinks on, and a few other finishing touches. Think of this as your outdoor family room and load it up with with your favorite creature comforts. Beware-once you debut your new hangout, your house will become the default celebration location of friends and family, so stock up on the wine!
Outdoor seating should be just as swallow-you-up comfy as your favorite indoor easy chair.
Pro tip: Mix and match love seats and lightweight chairs you can pick up and move around. That will give you a flexible chat space that can expand when there's a crowd and shrink back to an intimate space for a small dinner gathering.
These are my favorite choices for outdoor seating.
People don't think concrete is comfy but these Modern Concrete Chairs come with cushions! I have two and they're my favorite fireside chat chairs.
The chat space needs a centerpiece, otherwise you're just sitting around looking at each other. But, you want to make sure that everyone can see over the centerpiece, whether it's a table, a fire pit, or a big ottoman.
For instant ambience you can't beat a fire pit and there's one for every style. Sleek fire bowls have a trim footprint or you can indulge in a modern, sculptural banquette-style design. The "Zero" option is an eye-catching modern + rustic option.
On the Side
There's nothing worse than being super comfy in your chair without a place to put your hot cocoa (spiked with peppermint schnapps of course ;) ) I love side tables and feel like you can never have enough. I always make sure there are a couple in every chat area. Basically, you should be able to reach one from every seat for maximum comfort and utility.
Pro tip: Use a pouf with a funky brass tray on top for an unconventional tray + table combo.
Make it Cozy
Let guests customize their outdoor experience by providing pillows and blankets in baskets nearby. I always drape a blanket over a chair and then roll a few in a basket, with the top off so they can find them. Pillows can be strewn about, but if you're picky about keeping them off the ground, provide a big wicker basket to toss extras in.
Pro tip: If you have a fire pit, place extra baskets for fire tools and firewood in a spot convenient to the chat area as well.
Who's ready to relax in this gorgeous and comfy space? Bring on the hot toddys!