Michael Devine outdoor entertaining and design | Home Front

May 15, 2014

Michael Devine is the author of "An Invitation to the Garden: Seasonal Entertaining Outdoors." Devine is a designer and creator of a line of hand-printed fabrics and textiles. His work and gardens have appeared in print and online magazines, including House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Traditional Home, and the Peak of Chic. He is also a weekly columnist for Lonny magazine.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

Follow @jurakoncius on Twitter.

Home Front Live Q&A archive Older Home Front Live Q&As

I have known Michael Devine for years and he always has always been a tastemaker in so much different ways. His textiles and his gardens are renown, and so are his parties that I love reading about. His work has appeared in many publications including House Beautiful and Elle Decor and he is a columnist for Lonny. His new book published by Rizzoli "An Invitation to the Garden" has wonderful ideas for seasonal entertaining outdoors and inspiration for table settings, plus recipes. Great subject for today and let's get going.

Hi Jura, Thank you so much for having me on today! The questions look great.

Hi there. I have a wooden picnic table in my backyard that my family uses to eat dinner when the weather is nice. I'd like to make some cushions, but what kind of fabric? Just any outdoor, sunbrella-ish? Any should I bring them in when not in use? Any good resources for some I should copy? Thanks!

Outdoor cushions do make entertaining outdoors more comfortable. I have Sunbrella cushions on the furniture and then change out the pillows with ones in my fabrics which aren't Sunbrella. That said, ALL of them come indoors at the end of the evening. Otherwise they tend to be damp in the morning from the dew. 

What are the best candles to use outdoors? Does citronella really work? Can you use other scented candles or is that really ridiculous considering the natural scents around you!

Scented candles outdoors - I say yes. I like them to match the flowers that are blooming- roses for roses etc. However you generally need more than one to really get the effect. Of course when the scented Tabacco is in bloom it fills the entire garden with its fragrance - so no need for candles.

Hi Jura, I'm in the process of planning a kitchen renovation, ceiling to floors. Our kitchen is average size, 12X14-ish, but has an awkward position in that it also serves as the walkway from the garage into the house. It has a skylight and a window over the sink, plus sliders in the adjacent eat-in area. Yet it still feels dark-ish. I think it has to do with tree canopies blocking the light and that we don't get afternoon sun in that room. I'm thinking about going grey for the cabinets. Of course, I need just the right shade that doesn't lean too white or too dark. We also will have slate accents in the kitchen and in other rooms in the house. Do you have a recommendation for a grey for the cabinets AND for the walls (nothing too expensive, please - like no Farrow & Ball, as much as I love them)? Would you do the door/window trim in white or grey? Thanks!!

Sounds like you have a good plan going. I think doing a gray with a crisp white trim would be very nice. Grays that are nice by Benjamin Moore include Gray Owl, Harbor Gray and Coventry Gray.

I live in the DC area and recently completed a new deck. I have not purchased any deck furniture yet and I am interested in a modular couch. Are there any particular brands that you recommend?

There are so many to choose from- I like the quality level of Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn for retail then of course theres the trade level like McGuire or Janus et Cie. It depends on how much you wish to spend. We did find our bliss with vintage pieces which were a steal, until decided to change the color and had to custom make cushions. So like everything there are pros and cons. 

Jura, I'm hoping you can envision the right rug for my dining room. We have tan walls (something along the lines of BM Delaware Putty), a chalk paint grey buffet (I'm not sure this matches anything!), and are about to order a nice, deep-colored mango wood table from Arhaus. We want to add some color to the room with a rug. Any thoughts on what would work well? I like yellow, but worry about food stains showing up. Also, our dining and living rooms are basically one large room, divided by our front door. I'm not sure if it matters, but the living room is in reds, golds, and browns. p.s.-I love contemporary morrocan style rugs!

The best thing to do is to find a rug that has a subtle pattern, maybe something a bit faded looking, that would include the colors you mentioned - mango - tan - gray - and maybe gold. There are lots of Moroccan inspired designs around right now. Check out sources such as overstock.com, Horchow, Ballard Designs, West Elm and Ikea. Also 1st Dibs, One Kings Lane, Wayfair and Pottery Barn.

I love being outside but hate the mosquitoes. They are awful in our neighborhood. We've had neighbors who spray yard guard to reduce insects for a few hours (which works but kills the good insects too), some put out cans of Off, some burn citronella candles all over. I always figure those beautiful outdoor entertainment setups must be in California or somewhere else that isn't teeming with biting insects. How do you handle this?

This is a tricky one. Living in upstate NY and having grown up in Il I should have a gene that knows instinctively how to deal with mosquitos. I make sure that theres no standing water for them to hide (plant saucers etc) in and add a little bleach to to the fountain to prevent them from setting up house there. Yard Guard does work as first defense. Then I like short citronella candles and citronella votives all around. 


When I bought my house a couple years ago I purchased not-cheap deck furniture. Near the end of last summer I noticed that the woven material (covered by glass) of the cocktail and end table were sagging. By the end of the summer, both had collapsed completely. The chairs and sofa are okay, but the some of the woven material has cracked and snaps off easily. Any suggestions on what to look for in a new table that will last more than a couple years?

I have ceramic garden stools in my seating area that work well to hold drinks and as extra seating. Metal tables are good or even concrete can be great options and can offer really interesting finishings. Sometimes waiting for end of season clearance sales is the way to go- if you spied a Cadillac of a table on a Twingo budget come end of season it may be within reach.

Would you recommend paying extra for white-painted cabinets and white quartz counters, to get a beachy feel in a new townhouse? The builder offers a nice medium brown cabinet (cinnamon color) and granite with no upgrade. Is my preference for the white reseallable?

I love my white cabinets (Kraftmaid) in my kitchen. They are easy to keep clean and add a fresh feel to the space. No spills or drips go unseen which I think can happen with dark wood cabinets.

Hi - I have a typical two-story Cape Cod. The stairwell connects to the living room that leads to the landing at the top with a bedroom on each side. Do I need to paint the stairwell and upstairs hallway the same color as the living room because they connect at the bottom to the stairs? I should add you can see straight up the stairwell when you walk in the house. The current living room color is Shaker Beige (I know, not very imaginative). The stairwell actually gets more light than the living room from a window at the top.

Since the stairwell and the landing aren't places people tend to hangout in why not use a jazzy color or try a fun wallpaper? Experiment - spaces like that can be really fun. 

What is the best way to become an interior designer? I have a BA and MA in Art History. I have the "eye" for decorating. I'm looking at MA programs in the DMV. I could easily take an online program while I stay at my current job. But would it be detrimental in terms of building relationships/networking if I don't go to a physical classroom? Are there any programs in this area you recommend over another? (I live in MD but there are no schools accredited by the ASID.) Is a degree the best way to begin as opposed to trying to volunteer or apprentice with a designer? Thanks for any advice as I explore this new career.

I would contact the local chapter of ASID. Ask them for advice and for contacts with members who might give you their stories. asiddcmetro.org

I finally signed a contract for having my living room and dining room painted. Yay! But this is where the rubber hits the road -- choosing colors. I am 99% set on BM Gray owl for the LR, but the DR is giving me problems. While I don't have an open floor plan and the DR is a distinct room, the entryway between LR and DR is wide. I wanted to go orange in the DR, but didn't know if doing the whole room in that color would be too much. There's also a chair rail, so would it be better to do orange either above or below? I'm thinking the warm of the orange DR would be offset by the coolness of the gray owl and a light blue LR rug. There are also a few orange accents in the LR/foyer. Does this sound like a plan or am I way off base here?

This sounds throughly thought out. Orange is a fantastic color for dinning areas. I was thinking about redoing my kitchen in the country orange. If you want to keep the chair rail I think the orange on top would be the way to go. Of course you could remove it altogether and store it and do the walls all orange. 

I have purchased multiple paint samples and have not had luck finding a color that works in my new kitchen. Painter coming Monday so need to decide. New cabinets are Decora Harmony in Chantille and countertop is silver paradiso granite (black with silver/white vein). Backsplash is sea gloss glass subway tiles (3' X 7") so modernish in feel. Floors are natural hardwood - maple/light color. We get full afternoon sun and the kitchen connects into the dining/living room area. We also have a pass thru. LIving/dining room is painted in shades of celadon so would like a green that would complement that space since they are combined. Fixtures are brushed satin and appliances are the new slate. White wood blinds at the window. Can you recommend a good green for the walls. I'm thinking I need a fairly bold color with all the light but I may be totally wrong. Help! Thank you.

Benjamin Moore Potpourri Green; Benjamin Moore Pale Vista; Farrow & Ball Cooking Apple Green; Martha Stewart for Home Depot Beach Sand.

Is it okay to have people over and serve them on nice disposable dishes? I really don't want to bring my china outdoors as it gets chipped with all the moving and carrying.

I am not a fan of paper plates. However I am a fan of colorful  reusable plastic plates that can go in the dishwasher.

How do you decide what flowers to showcase for indoor or outdoor parties? Anything unexpected? And any cost-cutting tips welcome.

Growing your own is the least costly I think- That's what I do. I also use whats blooming at the time of the party etc. During the winter months there are loads of options for unexpected- like the rock candy trees I used in An Invitation to the Garden Christmas dinner. So chic and so fun.

When I have an outdoor party, I always have to drag an unsightly trash can outside. Or just put a trash bag. Any other suggestions?

How about lining a beautiful wicker basket with the bag and walking around with that instead?

We invested in a very nice outdoor seating set with a sofa and two rockers. This winter, squirrels decided to tear into two of the cushions to take out the stuffing for their nests. So, now we have two cushions that have been gnawed. Can we repair these? If not, do we have to replace all cushions? That seems expensive. The cushions are a sunburst orange color. Thanks.

A friend of mine just had that problem in their FL house- It was more than the cushions the squirrels dined on. I would fix the cushions (since it well most likely be less expensive than replacing)and make sure not to leave them out. 

We live in a small home in Arlington with a large yard. We are having a patio installed for outdoor living. What sort of furniture would you suggest for a patio that will be part living room and part dining room with no potential for over-winter storage (except cushions). And, if you have thoughts, where does one start with yard design that is not terribly expensive (landscape architect is not in my current budget). Many thanks.

In our small garden in the country we have a 42" round table and an extra round plywood top thats 60". The 42" table is great for 4, add the top and its good for 6, 8 if everyone is smallish. Once again in our garden - we used vintage metal furniture. Be sure to find it with cushions, custom making cushions is a fortune. They frames live outside all winter and the cushions go in the bagatelle.

Garden design- start with pots - get your plantsman skill set honed. Add a raised bed or two- 18" high is my preferred height lower is a pain to bend over. Keep them to 4' wide so you can reach across from both sides.  

I want to incorporate some whimsical lighting in my yard but there's a ground level deck. I would like the lighting to be overhead. Any ideas about how to install, how many lights, and any maintenance tips? The deck is about 14x14, the yard is adjacent and only about 300SF (I'm in a row house.) Thanks!

How about keeping it to candle light like we do in our own garden? Everything is so poetic under the glow. Find some pretty torches to light the garden. Glass hurricanes are great if its great breezy over the candles. loads of votices. 

Inspired to do some outdoor entertaining? I'll be hosting nine in my garden this Sunday so will use some of these tips. Thank you for being on the chat, Michael, and I look forward to spending more time with your book. Next week we'll be talking paint colors (I know, one of your favorite topics on this chat) with Sharon Grech from Benjamin Moore.

Thank you so much Jura and the Washington Post for having me on today and thank you to everyone who sent in so many amazing questions! Sorry I ran out of time and didn't get to answer them all.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archiveFind Jura on Pinterest
Michael Devine
Michael Devine is the author of "An Invitation to the Garden: Seasonal Entertaining Outdoors." Devine is a designer and creator of a line of hand-printed fabrics and textiles. His work and gardens have appeared in print and online magazines, including House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Traditional Home, and the Peak of Chic. He is also a weekly columnist for Lonny magazine.
Recent Chats
  • Next: