Outdoor Table Setting with tile table, roses, muffins and fresh fruit

Outdoor Dining Area Design Ideas

by / 23 Comments / 601 View / November 23, 2010

Nothing levels the playing field between the rich and poor as the experience of dining outdoors.

Everyone has the same access to the sun, the moon and the stars!

If you ask me, outdoor dining is one of  the most indulgent pleasures that we can all enjoy.

Whenever my family eats in our backyard, our "ordinary" meal is transformed into an extraordinary one!


Inexpensive muffins, strawberries, pretty dishes and flowers are downright luxurious in this outdoor setting.


One of my favorite landscaping features to design is outdoor dining areas and outdoor kitchens.

I love the challenge of creating  beautiful and functional dining spaces that fit within my clients budgets.


Here are some examples of outdoor dining areas that I've designed using "weird," recycled, inexpensive and non-traditional materials.



Functional design doesn't have to be expensive.

I'm  also including  some "optional design features" that are nice to have if you have want to spend a little more cash.



Instant Garden Dining Area Using TV Trays!


Outdoor Dining Using Portable TV Trays by Shirley Bovshow for an HGTV makeover show

TV tray collection surrounds a container garden"centerpiece" 


Some of you may remember my garden makeovers for HGTV's "Outer Spaces" show.

This was one of my favorites, "Green Thumb's Paradise."

Of course the budget was measly (as most garden TV makeover budgets are),  so I hatched this crazy idea of placing  TV trays around an urn to form a dining area!


A Funny Background Story About This Garden Makeover


Outdoor Dining area layout for a garden makeover show on HGTV by Shirley Bovshow

 My yard was my "live" drawing board for many years until I gave it a  makeover.


When I was designing this garden makeover, my yard was a  barren landscape so it became  my defacto "design lab."

I used landscaping paint to draw the patio and garden bed configurations on my dead lawn.


This way I could, walk through the area and  experience it before committing to the design.

Once I was happy with my "dress rehearsal" design, I'd draw up the plan!

Don't be afraid to do the same in your yard!


Garden designers, am I crazy?


Take a look at the slideshow to to see what came from that adventure.




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The Perfect Setting!



Three trees and lawn in backyard provide shade for new outdoor dining area

 Three trees offer shade for the future outdoor dining area.


The yard I was designing  for the HGTV  garden makeover had good bones.

Three trees enclosed  an intimate grassy patch which I immediately identified as the future dining area.


Container Garden as a centerpiece for outdoor dining arrangement for HGTV makeover by Shirley Bovshow

 Lower left is the urn planter used as centerpiece for the collection of TV trays


We created an informal patio floor using recycled concrete pieces embedded in sand to provide a level floor for the furniture.

Four TV tray tables were set around a tall urn planted with a tall ornamental grass for dramatic effect.

Instant centerpiece, instant dining area, instant happy homeowner!

Six years later, the homeowner is still using her tray table dining area.



Outdoor Dining for a Small Tract Home Yard!


One of my favorite repeat landscaping clients in Los Angeles bought a home with a small (800 square feet) yard.

Never mind the small square footage, my charming client wanted an  entertainer's retreat with dining for eight, a sunbathing area, and a garden for him to tend!


Recycled Concrete Patio and antique wood dining table sealed for outdoor use

The antique indoor dining table was sealed with matte marine varnish to protect from water. 


He also had a GINORMOUS table he wanted to use in the outdoor dining area, so I designed the whole backyard around the table.

Take a look.



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I divided the rectangular tract lot into three separate areas and used inexpensive recycled concrete for the floor.

The wood table was very heavy so we mortared the concrete pieces instead of setting them in sand.

Another important consideration was shade and accessibility to the kitchen.

You don't want to walk long distances between the kitchen and the table unless you are an experienced



Backyard Entertainer's Yard with Dining area in small tract lot


The dining patio area was constructed in a strategic location behind a few shade trees, so my client saved money on a shade structure.

Now my client  happily dines with his seven guests while listening to the calming trickle of the fountain, strategically placed in his garden.

He has it all!



Front Yard English Garden Tea Bistro!


English Tea Garden Patio with gravel, fountain and roses

An unused front lawn was removed to make room for the English bistro garden!


Landscape designer, Michael Glassman and I had a blast designing this front yard, English tea garden for our show, "Garden Police" on the Discovery Home Channel.

You  may ask, "Why place a dining patio in a front yard?"

The answer is, "No backyard!"


I know some of you may relate to this problem, but it's nothing to cry about.

Get creative!

Privacy is the most important issue when your front yard functions as your backyard.

Here's what we did.


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Ditch the Lawn!

Front lawn area before garden makeover as an English tea garden


The first step was to remove the water-thirsty lawn and in it's place, create a gravel patio.


The crunchy sound of the gravel is very European!


Recycled brick used as garden edging in English tea garden

 Brick edging surrounds the fountain and flower garden


There were some bricks from  the entry planter that had to be removed  because they posed a trip hazard in the new patio.

The bricks were re-used as edging for the new patio and garden beds.

No materials went to waste.


To make the dining experience more enjoyable, we added a fountain and planted the area surrounding the patio with a variety  of colorful plants and roses.


Front yard English garden with gravel patio, roses and fountain

 Front yard English garden with gravel patio, roses and fountain


Although you can see the patio from the sidewalk, it is not completely exposed, just enough for people to see  and feel a little jealous!



Outdoor Dining Elements From Shirley's Gardens!

Here are some design elements from some of my other outdoor dining rooms.

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See any ideas you can use?


For those of you who are contemplating building an outdoor kitchen, here are some tips I posted on my other blog, The Foodie Gardener!

"Five Tips For Creating Functional Outdoor Kitchens."



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This post is part of a group post by the

Garden Designers Roundtable on the theme of  "Alfresco Dining."


Visit some of these other blogs for more creative ideas.

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : Hampton, NJ





23 Comment

  1. […] you have visions of hosting crowds that are bigger than your outdoor furniture can accommodate, you should seriously consider incorporating built in seating into your […]

  2. These are lovely! 

  3. Excellent use of space love the ideas.  

    Thank you

  4. […] Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : […]

  5. Love all the outdoor dining areas, they look beautiful, Great Job!
    My wife and I love dining outside.  We also have the Hudson Indoor/Outdoor Ventless Fireplace by Brasa Fire to keep us warm at dinner, now that the nights are getting a little chilly.  It's romantic and functional.  It also burns inexpensive bioethonal, so it uses a clean renewable fuel.
    You can see it here at our online store http://www.lightopiaonline.com/hudson.html or visit our gallery and see it first hand.  We are located in Laguna Beach.

  6. Lovely transformations, i quite like the TV trays idea, quite quirky (as I like it). I like how you simulate the area with furniture before you start.

  7. Hi Pam,
    Yes, I like the patio too and the garden has grown in beautifully!
    Thanks for commenting and visiting.

  8. Thanks Jocelyn!

  9. Hi Janine,
    So you have a sense of humor too! I know I’m a little strange with my ideas, but my clients like them.
    Thanks for the nice comment.

  10. the t.v. trays were awesome! love the photos. you have a knack for seeing potential beauty in spaces that others would ignore. thanks!

  11. Small spaces and small budgets can be a challenge, but you've mastered them beautifully! Thanks for sharing all of these great ideas. I especially love the TV tray treatment!

  12. […] : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : […]

  13. I really love the front yard European style garden and alfresco dining area shown in the last set of pictures. How welcoming is that, especially compared to the boring lawn from before!

  14. Very creative use of space and budget Shirley, Well done!

  15. Hi Susan,
    Thanks for taking time to visit EdenMakers!
    Happy Thanksgiving to you.

  16. Thanks Gen,
    I agree that “hot pink” is your color. Appreciate your visit.

  17. Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks for your visit. I LOVED your very comprehensive coverage of Alfresco Dining. You are amazing!


    Hi Susan,

    Thank you for your nice comment. I know that the TV tray dining area isn't for everyone but it gives one an idea for impromptu entertaining!



    Hi Bren,

    You like my photo? Doesn't compare to your artwork, but I did like that photo! Thanks for visiting me on EdenMakers!


  18. Wow, Shirley!! What amazing, impressive spaces!! I am awed by the beauty you've created even in very simple backyards. 
    And may I say that no more will I buy white marking paint – I'm following your example and going hot pink all the way!!!

  19. Nice to see you at the roundtable today Shirley.  You shared a feast of ideas for people to get inspired to create their own dining area al fresco.

  20. LOVE all of your before & after's, Shirley!  I'm sure they've inspired all who've seen them (I know I picked up a few ideas….like those totally cute TV trays!!). And I love your phrase "nothing levels the playing field'…very, very true.  

  21. I like how you created areas under the trees to create shade and also a sense of enclosure. Your use of inexpensive paving materials just goes to show that it's the overall picture that counts. I'd like to dine in any of those gardens!

  22. […] : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : […]

  23. Taking notes from these dining area creations for my adventures in gardening this spring and summer.   The image at the top brings a whole new meaning to bringing the garden to the table.  I am usually referring to growing my own food via the veggie garden. 

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