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By Leah A. Zeldes, Tribune Brand Publishing
Outdoor parties are among the highlights of Florida living. Smart entertainers pay as much attention to exteriors and interiors.
Good outdoor entertaining spaces can expand on your interior design, says Syril Lebbad, a designer for Baer's, a collection of fine furniture stores with 15 locations throughout Florida. Bring the same colors and styles outside. "It's an extension of the living room," she says.
Beautiful, well-constructed outdoor furnishings now hold up well to sun, water and salt, she says, with marvelous fabrics that don't hold the damp. Some of these furnishings are so well made, Lebbad says, "I've actually taken outdoor furniture and put it inside.”
The design of outdoor entertaining spaces should take features of the environment into consideration, the experts say. In some areas, Lebbad suggests bar-height tables and swiveling chairs that make it easy for your guests to take in the view.
"Watch the sun," advises party planner Martie Duncan of Martie Knows Parties. Keep seating in shadier areas away from blazing afternoon sun. At night, freestanding firepits or firepits built into cocktail tables are very popular, Lebbad says, especially where evenings are cool.
Outdoor kitchens are popular with people who do a lot of entertaining outside. "They can get pretty high-tech," Lebbad says, featuring not only grills but refrigerators, cooktops, ovens and more.
Avid bakers install wood-burning bread and pizza ovens, Duncan says. She recommends choosing outdoor cooking gear that complements your indoor kitchen equipment. For example, if you find oven space at a premium for big holiday feasts, an extra oven or a gas grill with baking or roasting capacity can make cooking for a crowd easier.
Even if you don't go all out with an elaborate kitchen outside, having some outdoor food prep space and equipment helps the host enjoy the party, Duncan says. She recommends adding a portable induction burner to your cooking gadgets. You can cook anything with them. "The sky's the limit!
"You don't want to be stuck inside in the kitchen while your guests are outside enjoying your great party area," she says. "Don't isolate yourself."
A bar cart can be invaluable in getting food and drinks from inside to outside with a minimum of back and forth. "Bar carts are fantastic," Duncan says, "beautiful, functional, they really expand your outdoor space."
Also make sure you have the ability to keep hot food hot and cold food chilled, she says. For food safety, cold food should be kept at under 40 degrees F., and hot food at above 140 degrees. On an 80-degree day, don't leave prepared food out for more than an hour. On a buffet, it's best to put out small servings of food and replenish the platters frequently than to risk contamination of a large amount.
To control traffic flow, put the food and drinks where you want people to be, Duncan advises. If you want your guests to circulate between indoors and outdoors, put a bar and munchies in both areas. To keep people congregating outdoors, keep serving outside. Place serving areas away from doors and pathways to keep them clear.
Outdoor living spaces can even include big-screen TVs and other electronic gear. Cushy, comfortable seating and conversation pits work just as well as indoors, Duncan notes.
"The man cave has moved out to the patio," Lebbad says.
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