6 ways designer Kit Kemp creates the most relaxing outdoor spaces

Set the scene for a summer of entertaining with these tips for curating a beautiful outdoor living space

A dining area in Kit's Barbados garden
(Image credit: Simon Brown)

Designer Kit Kemp knows all about relaxed summer living. The designer behind such internationally loved hotels as New York's The Whitby and London's Ham Yard, there is a breezy sense of refinement too all her terraces and outdoor spaces. 

And as we welcome the warm summer weather, we're throwing open those back garden doors and embracing the indoor/outdoor lifestyle. Your backyard is another part of your home that is there to be styled to your taste, and deserves just as much attention as your interiors. Taking a leaf out straight from Kit's own home in Barbados, with the addition of a plump cushion here and a soft throw there, your outdoor space provides ample opportunity for playing with texture, color and pattern. 

Kit Kemp has some great ideas for how to make the most of your backyard in simple steps. 'With brighter days, garden and outdoor areas command our attention,' she says - essentially, you get out what you put in. And if you add a few soft accessories, that means you get relaxation opportunities aplenty. Read on for the designer's ideas for styling your outdoor space and beautiful examples from her Barbados home.

1. Throw down a rug

A picnic rug makes for an unusual al fresco dining idea

Photography: Simon Brown

(Image credit: Kit Kemp)

Take your tablescape to ground level with a Boho chic picnic rug on the grass, making a nice outdoor table setting where you can fully embrace being outdoors as the sun sets and the temperature slightly cools. Kit Kemp (opens in new tab)'s collaboration with Annie Selke (opens in new tab) make a nice choice for a picnic rug. 'Less stiff than traditional woollen rugs, the tight weaves allow greater flexibility,' says Kit. 'They feel like cotton and wear like iron.'

When tidying away, these rugs are easy to clean too. 'Simply take your rug outside and scrub stains with an eco-friendly soap and a soft brush and then rinse with fresh water. Leave the rug to dry outside or propped up in your bathroom.'

2. Create a dedicated dining area

A dining area in Kit's Barbados garden

Photography: Simon Brown

(Image credit: Kit Kemp)

Take inspiration from Kit's outdoor dining set-up in Barbados with a designated zone for al fresco feasting. Cozy underfoot, and carving a separate space in the backyard for outdoor feasting, a rug on the patio sets the scene for the table to take center stage, beckoning guests over to take a seat outside. 

The trick is to choose the right material - clearly a wool rug isn't going to cut it. 'Each of these rugs [above] are flat woven using P.E.T (polyethylene terephthalate) performance threads,' explains Kit. 

'P.E.T is a non-chemically treated recycled polyester made from recycled plastic water bottles. Not only are the rugs environmentally friendly but they will also stand the test of time. How upsetting is it when a favourite rug fades and gets bleached by sun? This collection is the perfect solution to that.'

3. Embrace color outside

A porch area with Kit Kemp designed soft furnishings

Photography: Simon Brown

(Image credit: Kit Kemp)

Kit Kemp is all about color in her interiors, and her backyard in Barbados is no exception, filled with seaside blues, cheery pops of pink and orange and sunshine yellows. 'These areas bring an entirely new opportunity to express color,' says Kit. 

Think pattern too, and don't be afraid of picking bold, clashing soft furnishings which bring a joyous look to your backyard. Take advantage from your garden's bounty and look to your flowers for color inspiration - if it grows together, it goes together!

In this screened-in porch area, the color of the surrounding greenery and the lick of bright blue paint on the ceiling are reflected in the choice of soft furnishings and the blue of the Lily Pad rug, tying the scheme together in a beautiful and harmonious way.

4. Don't forget the atmospheric lighting

Ocre wicker lanterns over an outdoor dining table

Photography: Simon Brown

(Image credit: Kit Kemp)

As the sun sinks into the sky, outdoor lighting means evening entertaining can continue. Outdoor lanterns like these pretty wicker fixtures create a symmetry with the garden landscape. 'I like using anything that creates impact and drama such as these woven basket pendant lights,' says Kit.

'Individually they are beautifully crafted but relatively simple. To create a sense of arrival into an outdoor space you can used as many as possible.’

5. Try a runner to connect your outdoor space

A roadrunner used in Kit Kemp's garden

Photography: Simon Brown

(Image credit: Kit Kemp)

'Have you got an avenue or pathway in gravel that you find yourself hopping over? Why not lay the rugs as carpets or runners over that space,' says Kit. 

A runner is a good soft furnishing addition that can transform a passageway space in your garden, softening the space in one simple step and bringing that indoor feel, outdoors. The runner also will entice guests to discover what's around the corner of your garden, and is a welcoming piece that leads you nicely around the backyard.

6. Finish off with a well-placed cushion

Brightly colored cushions of a sofa in a small porch area

Photography: Simon Brown

(Image credit: Kit Kemp)

'Never underestimate the power of a cushion,' says Kit. 'They are key for adding extra contrast, pattern, texture and colour to a space, as well as a tool for tying a scheme together.' 

The Kit Kemp collection with Annie Selke has seven cushions that work for an indoor outdoor space. 'They are extremely versatile, durable, fade resistant and of course, pet-proof,' says Kit. 

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.