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How to Decorate Your Outdoor Space for Summer

It’s hard to beat summer in the city — except maybe on the very hottest days. And if you’re lucky enough to have a little outdoor space, like a balcony, terrace or patio, it’s even better.

But how to make the most of that prime real estate?

Christine and John Gachot, the designers who founded the New York interiors studio Gachot, have a little experience with that. Not only have they designed homes and city hot spots like Pebble Bar and Jac’s on Bond, they have a Midtown rental with six balconies and terraces. That’s right: six.

The multilevel penthouse once belonged to the revered modernist architect Paul Rudolph, and it has a sweeping view of the East River, Roosevelt Island and the Pepsi-Cola sign in Long Island City from the largest terrace on the top level. Not surprisingly, that’s where they spend most of their free time.

“Having an outdoor space in the city is incredible,” said Mr. Gachot, 53. It can serve as a personal refuge, he noted, or a space for entertaining. It can even stand in for a summer house (without the annoying drive).

Despite the impressive setting, they go for a casual, comfortable vibe on their terrace, whether they’re preparing for a quiet evening in or a celebration with friends.

“You want it to feel as good as an indoor room,” said Ms. Gachot, 54. “But you never want to be too precious. It should put a smile on your face.”

The couple recently showed a reporter how they get their terrace ready for a day of entertaining.

Mr. Gachot begins each day by watering the containers on the terrace, which the couple planted with hydrangeas, echinacea and mandevilla.

But before entertaining friends, they examine their plants more closely and prune, deadhead and water them again. Few things look sadder on a sunny afternoon than drooping flowers.

To define a seating area and create a space that’s comfortable for bare feet, the Gachots roll out an outdoor rug made from synthetic sisal.

Otherwise, “the stone gets really hot,” Ms. Gachot said. “A rug creates the feeling of an interior room, and people can sit on it comfortably.”

On top, they place eucalyptus chairs based on a design by Gerrit Rietveld, which they leave out all summer long, along with a coffee table. For additional seating, they unfold butterfly-style chairs stashed in a closet, slipping on inexpensive canvas slings they bought on Amazon.

To soften the seating, they use pillows and throws made from outdoor fabrics, many found at Alt for Living.

“You always want super-comfortable seating,” Ms. Gachot said. “To be ready for extra people, we’ll pull in floor cushions, too.”

They use pillows in various shapes and sizes, upholstered in off-white and black fabrics, for a casual look. “I love black at the beach, or on a terrace,” Ms. Gachot said.

When they’re not spending time on the terrace, they stow the accessories in a closet just inside the apartment.

To prepare for sunset, they bring out portable lanterns. Of course, there are also string lights overhead — but creating several layers of light is as important outdoors as in.

“There should be a hierarchy of lighting,” Ms. Gachot said. “In this case, you have a canopy of overhead light, but then we also want something lower.”

The couple used to have battery-powered lanterns with open tops, but discovered that they filled with rainwater and always required cleaning and charging. So they switched to closed teak lanterns from Les Jardins that use solar panels to recharge during the day.

Music is also important for creating the right mood. Portable speakers make bringing sound outside easier than ever (the couple use a Sonos Move).

The Gachots don’t have an outdoor kitchen, but they still create a bar whenever they have friends over, by adding attractive wooden trays to a Uline rolling wire cart, along with a silver bowl to hold bottles of rosé on ice.

Next to it, they plunk down a vintage-style Coleman cooler filled with beer, cold-brew coffee and sparkling water.

Mr. Gachot also likes to put out bar accessories — coasters, cocktail shakers, small plates, cloth napkins — even if they won’t be used, to add to the sense of occasion. “That’s the smoke and mirrors,” he said.

As a finishing touch, the Gachots sometimes put out vases of cut flowers, and they always make sure there are snacks at the ready. But to inspire activities beyond lounging in the sun, they include diversions like board games, books and binoculars.

“There’s a bit of that ‘Rear Window’ factor,” Mr. Gachot said, recalling the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film. “The binoculars are part of that. You can get up and look around, down on rooftops or into gardens, and you just see some of the most interesting things.”

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