Embrace the great outdoors

Summer officially starts tomorrow and outdoor living is about capturing the moment. Let your imagination run riot, plan ahead and pack an umbrella, says stylist Selina Lake


‘In countries like ours where rain is an integral part of the summer, getting outside is about capturing the moment when you can, the minute the clouds part and the sun shines,” says UK interiors stylist Selina Lake whose work appears in glossy magazines Country Homes and Interiors, Ideal Home and Country Living.

This you do by planning for such moments in advance and by being pragmatic, she says, recalling one childhood picnic in Windsor Park when the heavens literally opened and the family had to run for cover and, she thought, abandon ship. “My mother had other ideas. Undaunted she retreated home but held the picnic on the floor of our lounge at home instead. It remains one of my favourite childhood memories.”

It’s about not letting the weather get in the way of a good party by being practical, she says. “Always take a huge umbrella with you, the kind golfers like, and picnic near some trees so that even if it does rain you have shelter. Take a festival approach and pack Wellingtons and wind cheaters too, so that you stay warm even if the mercury drops. And as long as the food doesn’t get soggy, all will be OK.”

She has some gorgeous ideas for dining al fresco including making use of the items in your own garden. Discarded wood pallets weathered by their time outdoors are piled high and topped with a vintage table cloth to make an impromptu table. Some folding bistro chairs form the seating.

What makes this look really appealing is the fact that flowers picked from the surrounding garden are put into formal vases on top of a vintage tablecloth. Lake likes the idea of using “not too arranged flowers that are whimsical and natural on the table, even if we are outside and surrounded by blooms”.

She’s also partial to romantic set-ups. Her take on the daybed is very literal. It features a decadent antique French frame covered in vintage throws.

“It’s about conjuring up an idea that is really romantic and luxurious and very different to the average DIY shop sunbed,” she explains. If you were so inclined and the 24-hour Met Eireann forecast said dry, you could overnight under the stars in it.

Summer is about setting a scene that feels like an outdoor lounge and claiming a different space to spend time in, she says. “It will give you a fresh perspective.”

For seating, she suggests building it rather than buying it. In her back garden she had a carpenter construct horseshoe-shaped seating from reclaimed wood, with hinged storage where she stores cushions at night, wrapped in plastic bags so they don’t get damp.

As a stylist she has been collecting gorgeous vintage crockery, tablecloths and napkins for years from markets, charity shops and antique shops. Part of her professional kit is a bag of different ribbons that she dips into for most jobs.

A woodland picnic using old fruit boxes as a table and chairs is festooned with a mini maypole of ribbons of different lengths that blow in the warm summer breeze. Neon pink ribbon is a favourite for summer 2014.

Camping gets the tepee treatment, the structures made using a trio of similar length sticks that you can find in woodlands. To this triangle she ties a couple of two metres swathes of cloth knotted at the top and weights down the fabric in place at the bottom, using stones found in the vicinity. A waterproof picnic blanket is an optional extra that will keep bottoms from becoming damp. Lake loves festoon lights, something she used to great effect when she styled her own wedding in 2011. The event took place at Horsell Village Hall in Woking, Surrey and featured in Irish bridal magazine, Confetti.

The strings she bought from lights4fun.co.uk adorn her deck, where she leaves them up all year because they add a “rosy glow” to the ambiance.

She is also a fan of a barn party, where bales of hay can be used as seating and a wheelbarrow can be filled with ice and trundled around as a portable bar. For special occasions, she suggests taking afternoon tea outside or holding a romantic wedding feast in a lavender field.

For a really memorable picnic, she suggests picking a natural beauty spot near your house. She chose a field of buttercups for her party for eight.

She used a lightweight folding table, the kind of catering design that is easy to carry. You can buy something similar in Woodies for €59.99.

As well as bringing their own booze, guests were asked to also bring their own seat. Pity the poor guy who was asked to lug the armchair outside. That’s probably taking the indoor furniture outside idea a bridge to far, Lake admits, but “it is a way of getting everyone involved”.

Outdoor Living by Selina Lake, photography by Debi Treloar, is published by Ryland Peters &Small, €23.99

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