Style Your Outdoor Dining Space for a Festive Fall Feast

Warm up your outdoor autumn retreat with cozy cafe lights, candles, and a festive tabletop.


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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 some regions get too cold. These 10 outdoor dining areas 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.


June Scott Design, original photo on Houzz

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 this Southern California 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 multiple sources: tree-mounted lights, flickering floor lanterns and a warm uplight on the building.

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 Susan (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.


 Studio Map Architettura, original photo on Houzz

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 candelabra and proper place settings give an understated elegance to this terrace in Milan. 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.


Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture, original photo on Houzz

5. Anchor around a fire feature. This dual outdoor table and fire feature, custom-designed by landscape architect Jeffrey Gordon Smith and his team, looks like a memorable spot for lingering outdoors over a shared meal or drinks.

The table, made of concrete with a metal base, features a gas-powered fire centerpiece. 

Although not quite the same aesthetically, you can bring fire to your outdoor table with a portable tabletop grill or gas cooktop. 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.


Related: Cook More Outdoors With a New Pizza Oven



Hudson Place Realty, original photo on Houzz

6. Up the coziness with an outdoor rug. Covering the floor of a cold patio or deck with an outdoor rug makes an outdoor room feel that much more appealing on a chilly evening. Overhead string lights and whitewashed brick walls also help brighten this outdoor dining terrace in a New York City backyard.

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.


New Eco Landscapes, original photo on Houzz

8. Use cafe lights in a new way. Steal a design idea from this Manhattan rooftop garden by mounting string lights along an outdoor wall. The effect is both romantic and unexpected, and it sets the mood for evening meals enjoyed outside.


Gil Walsh Interiors, original photo on Houzz

9. Decorate the tabletop with fall colors. Even in the warm climates of Florida, Southern California and Hawaii, you can evoke a fall feeling with outdoor table dressings in rich, fall-themed colors and textures.

The designer who set this table in Miami 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 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: Get Cozy and Warm This Fall by Embracing Shabby Chic Style

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