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After Three Years We Can Actually Use Our Upper Deck (Because We Finally Have The Right Outdoor Furniture…And Fabric)

The upper deck has sat empty for 3 years. Yet every time I went up there, surrounded by the trees, with the sound of the “stream” I would whisper “this is such a missed opportunity, what do you, upper deck, want to BE ??” It is right off our bedroom, above the dining area overlooking the yard – surely we could give it a purpose. So with the help of Sunbrella on some PERFECT-for-us Blu Dot furniture, it now has a purpose – a truly gorgeous, chill, grownup hangout area. In fact, I’m writing this from here, and feel like the luckiest person on the planet. 

But let’s revisit it empty – so you can see how it was BEFORE any reno. I almost forgot how much we did, it’s wild.

I didn’t know what the purpose of this space would be or what we really needed until recently. I had a girl’s weekend up here and while 8 children played down below safely we were desperate to hang somewhere within earshot but with a little bit of privacy (outside). So creating an outdoor living room started to make sense. So these are the wants and the challenges:

  1. We need ALL-weather furniture. Brian and I aren’t “furniture cover” people so I really wanted something that could last through the snow in the winter and heat in the summer. Sure, I can put cushions away for the big storms in winter, but we know our limitations as people. So we needed really weather-resistant (not even teak) that we knew could withstand the elements.
  2. This area gets blasted by the sun in the middle of the day – so we need shade if we want to use it during the day.
  3. Due to said sun blasting, we need fade-resistant fabric (thus the Sunbrella partnership which was so perfect)
  4. We wanted it to be mostly dark and tonal so it didn’t pop off the house so much. There is something odd about having a dark house in the woods then seeing a big white umbrella – just feels off.
  5. We believe in comfort – I’ve found that we don’t use the rooms or furniture that aren’t a joy to sit on.

So the goal is VERY comfortable, monochromatic, durable, with a warm modern vibe. Nothing too cold or stark – still with depth and texture.

Enter Sunbrella into the equation, by way of that dope Blu Dot furniture.

Sofa | Club Chairs | Rug | Coffee Table | Ottoman

That sofa and those club chairs from Blu Dot literally couldn’t be more perfect for this space and the vibe and function that we wanted. They are dark and modern with their slim arms and legs, but the added all-weather wicker on the backs and seats makes them so cool and warm. The proportions are so generous and the Sunbrella wrapped cushions make them unbelievably comfortable. We grounded the area with a rug, found a strangely good matching round coffee table from Target.

Natural Woven Pillow | Abstract Lumbar | Circle Pillow | Coffee Table | Tray | Cocktail Shaker | Mugs | Stump Table | Umbrella | Rug | Pup (sorry, taken:))

We kept the layout super simple with the sofa facing the chairs, threw in a couple of side tables, and then layered on Sunbrella pillows to add warmth. Add a dog for personality.


While you can purchase Sunbrella fabrics by the yard, (for interior or exterior upholstery projects) there are a ton of readymade furniture pieces from a lot of our favorite retailers, like Blu Dot to choose from already in Sunbrella. I simply put in “Sunbrella” in the search bar and up came all the different items that come already in the fabric, including the pillows, pouf, and umbrella.

Planter | Throw (similar) | Pillow | Chair | Side Table (similar)

We warmed up the black and green color palette with this terracotta and rust tones, as well as the wood and “wicker” (resin) to keep it feeling balanced. And of course, I needed some dark burgundy Japanese maples to pull it all together.

I planted the trees in that amazing Blu Dot pot (and did it by myself which pulled my back out, whoops) and while I might have to move them below if the sun blasts them too much they add a ton of life and texture up here.

The stump side table and round coffee table are both from Target. The tray is Skagerak and the copper cocktail shaker is from Tom Dixon that I’ve had forever (and has graced the photos in the blog like 200 times – so good).

Square Pillow

String Lights

The smaller pot on the ground as well as the one on the side table are both from Hilton Carter’s collection at Target, and they pull in more of that warm tone that we needed to offset the harshness of the dark tones. It’s hard to see in these photos but we strung string lights around the perimeter. It makes it so pretty to be out there at night. Dare I even say romantic:)

This is seriously one of the easiest and most successful spaces I’ve designed. I suppose it’s because buying a “set” checks a lot of boxes as you know they “work” together (and these clearly do). The clear color palette of rusts, copper tones against the black of the deck and the dark green of the house make it look so pulled together in just a few accessories. Designing a space doesn’t have to be hard, just intentional. A decided color palette will ALWAYS do that (and mixing up the textures:))

Brian and I now have “date nights” up here while the kids play below or watch a movie. And you bet I’ve been using this as my afternoon office on days when I wasn’t able to go on a walk or get any exercise – just being outside is helpful.

It’s just so wonderful to know that A. another space I neglected, is totally complete and B. I don’t need to worry about this performance fabric and furniture. While nothing is indestructible, I’ve been using Sunbrella for YEARS outside (remember my old Glendale deck?) and literally nothing stained it – not even the sap from our trees. It seemed impermeable to moisture and resistant to muddy paws. After being sent so many of the fabric books, I’ll be using some inside of the farm to keep those muddy pup paws from ruining our furniture. But just know that there are a lot of readymade pieces out there you can purchase if going custom isn’t your thing – and if you can’t tell I highly recommend this Blu Dot line.

O and remember my obsession with hammocks???

Hammock | Side Table

It’s truly one of our most cherished spots in the yard. It’s hard to not feel at total peace when you are in a hammock (or at least for me). It’s also our family cuddle/reading spot which is clearly enjoyed but ALL of our family members…

Buttercup is obsessed with the hammock which is, you guessed it, also made with Sunbrella. So neither the sun nor muddy paws can mess with this treasured Henderson piece.

Thanks to Sunbrella for partnering on this makeover. It will get so much use this summer as we start to invite our friends safely up here for one last hurrah (and having this all decked out will certainly help to rent the house out). Another box checked. Here’s a quick get the look for all you interested!

1. Planter | 2. Sofa | 3. Natural Woven Pillow | 4. Abstract Lumbar | 5. Circle Pillow | 6. Umbrella | 7. Stump Table | 8. Rug | 9. Coffee Table | 10. Indoor/Outdoor Cast Pouf | 11. Cocktail Shaker | 12. Mugs | 13. Tray | 14. Stripe Napkins | 15. Chair | 16. Square Pillow | 17. Side Table (similar) | 18. Lumbar Pillow | 19. Planter | 20. String Lights | 21. Hammock | 22. Accent Table

*Design by Emily Henderson
**Styled by Emily Henderson and  Emily Bowser
***Photos by Sara Ligorria-Tramp


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53 thoughts on “After Three Years We Can Actually Use Our Upper Deck (Because We Finally Have The Right Outdoor Furniture…And Fabric)

  1. Stunning. As someone who has been frantically searching for a suitable round patio coffee table for weeks to no avail, I almost wept when seeing this table and then realizing I couldn’t get it in Canada. Sigh.

    1. Target not shipping to Canada anymore makes me so so sad. It was my go-to and now we are left empty-handed. Emily, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE use any of your influence to have Target start shipping here again!!!

  2. Can you really leave Sunbrella cushions out 100% of the time? We have a place on the shore of Lake Michigan so we have to deal with sun and wind…and extensive amounts of dew every morning. Fall bring leaves etc. And winter brings heavy snow. For winter we would obviously just bring them in since we wouldn’t be sitting out there, but the sun, moisture, and bugs in the summer have us bringing our cushions in from the patio every night. Would LOVE to be able to leave everything…

    1. I’m not a professional so they may have a different perspective…but year round Cali is not year round Michigan. I think you could get by with three seasons, but agree you’d pull them in over winter to avoid molding.

      1. for what it’s worth, arrowhead is pretty similar to michigan climate-wise (i think – insofar as that like, both places have snow, hah). but in my personal experience with my mom’s sunbrella cushions in delaware, we leave them out for 3 seasons and just bring them in for winter – they’re like 8 or 9 years old at this point and still kickin!!

    2. I have Sunbrella cushions that are just over 20 years, and still look great. I have accidentally left them out in the rain, but generally take them in during the winter. While we do have morning dew, they aren’t under any trees. I have multiple cushions I’ve bought over the years, and the darker ones are easier to maintain. The lighter ones clean up easily enough, but will show spots from bird, pollen, and leaf droppings. The cushions that are 20 years+ are a small geometric woven print of black and cream.

  3. This looks so lovely and relaxing! I’m very interested in the comfort of the sofa — I LOVE the look, but wouldn’t immediately be drawn to it as a comfy option because of the thinner cushions and skinny arms. Are you able to snuggle up on it, or is it more for sitting upright?

    also, for some reason it was very freeing to me to hear that you just accept that you are not people who will put covers on the outdoor furniture. I’m definitely in the same boat but felt ashamed about it!

  4. The space is beautiful! I’m curious, how well will the sofa and chairs stand up to the sun and heat? I ask because I am moving to Tucson from Ohio and I’m at a loss for which type of outdoor furniture would best stand up to the heat and sun. Anyone have any ideas? My fear is spending a bunch of money on something that looks great but will need to be replaced in a couple of years…

    1. Polywood makes furniture out of recycled plastic with a 20 yr warranty. Not only do they recycle plastic from landfills and the ocean but their chairs are excellent quality. Add Sunbrella fabric cushions and you should be set. We get both sweltering heat and lots of rain and they hold up well

    2. I live in Tucson!! Ok first of all don’t get anything with metal arms or any metal parts that will touch your skin because they will legit burn you in the summer haha. Even though the summertime is when you are actually least likely to be using these items because it’s really too hot to be outside in the day. Secondly, SUNBRELLA. If you’re getting something with upholstery it must be Sunbrella – it’s the only outdoor fabric we’ll buy because anything else we have bought fades out in a year, truly. My mom has had some Sunbrella bench cushions for 5+ years left out literally all the time and they still look great in navy blue with no fading. Thirdly, consider rope-type chairs. I bought a set from Target about three years ago and leave them outside 24/7 and they have held up great and are not hot to sit on. I don’t think they have my exact set anymore but basically like this:

      I actually would not recommend plastic furniture for the same reason as metal – it also will be hot to the touch and those things tend to just crack and dry out with the extreme dry heat. Good luck, welcome to Tucson! 🙂

    3. Honestly, your best bet is to look at what your neighbors and new friends have after you move. Look for locally made stuff too. Tucson’s climate can be extreme and the wear/tear is just different than other parts of the country that have a lot more trees and less dust/sand. See what other people have settled on after making mistakes – learn from theirs, rather than your own. 😉

  5. The paint new stain also looks lovely. Did you have to do any spot repairs or was the process fairly straightforward? Also if anyone in the EHD hive has any tips for (gently) discouraging urban raccoons, our upper deck is basically the neighbourhood poop spot and it is a draaaag (and as a result we never, ever use it).

    1. Find one of those natural oil (not essential oil) sprays for repelling animals. There are ones for dogs, cats, mice/rats, and deer that I know of. The mouse/rat one might work for raccoons too. These will have strong scent though, so make sure you don’t hate the smell. The oils are usually a mix of smells the animals don’t like or smells that overwhelm their ability to scent predators and then they are too nervous to hang around. Liquid Fence, Deer Away, and Grandpa Gus are brands I have used and liked.

        1. It looks as if that post was written a couple of years ago–before design publications and the real estate industry started referring to the biggest bedroom as the main or primary bedroom. It is interesting how quickly these norms can take effect though. Looking at this not-actually-very-old post now, I find the word “master” fairly jarring, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have given it a second thought in 2019.

          1. Thanks Eliot, I know it’s a previous post. It goes to show how rapidly things can change for yhe better, huh?

          1. You are one of the reasons I have stopped visiting or posting on this site. And look, the ONE day I pop back in, here you are, still rushing to judgment and preaching — as if the rest of us should care what you think. I’m out. Again.

          2. And FYI, as the New York Times has reported about “master suite” — “The origins of the term are unclear” and quoted the realtors association saying there was “no evidence” that the phrase had ANY “historical connection to slavery.” That didn’t stop people like you from taking offense.
            But whatever you think of that phrase, or whatever its origin, why jump on your soap box over an OLD article? Now I’m really gone. 🙂

  6. Very very nice. how about addressing the fireplace a wee bit. Price brand etc.😊

  7. Beautiful! And such a wonderful spot for “date nights”!

    I want to second the endorsement of Sunbrella fabric. I have a patio set that is 20 years old, and the cushions still look fabulous! I do take them in during the winter, but they have survived a couple unexpected rain days. I also have Sunbrella cushions on a covered porch that stay out year round that are 13 years old, and they still look great. After buying a few cheaper outdoor pillows, I only buy Sunbrella. They are more expensive, but they last so long. There are also a bunch of makers on Etsy, who offer a ton of choices to customize if you can’t find what you want from another store.

    Now I need to pull out my cushions for my (much smaller) upstairs deck. And maybe I need to add lights.

    1. Woah, love the Etsy tip (and the seconded endorsement!)! Thank you Suzanne!!

    2. I have a wonderful wicker sofa and chairs that I want to keep, but the cushions that came with were TERRIBLE. So we have been using the set without cushions which sucks. I have looked into buying replacements but it seems so expensive. It’s almost cheaper to buy a new set which seems wasteful. I also looked into buying the fabric as I can see but that wasn’t any better. I’m hoping to find a good option, will check Etsy. Any other suggestions are welcome and appreciated!

  8. Our family is also not into spending too much time fussing over protecting outdoor furniture. However, we found that our patio under our outdoor rug gets super gross because of rain, even though we don’t get much rain in Southern California. Taking in the rug is much harder than bringing in the cushions. Does anybody else have this problem? Tips?

    1. It will really depend on what your rug is made of and if you use a pad under it (I’ve never seen that recommended, but know people who do it). You may want to look into the flatweave recycled plastic rugs for outdoors. The weave is looser and allows for better light/air/water exchange than outdoor cotton rugs that are tighter woven.

  9. Okay! Now that’s a massive improvement! (Even without such enormously cute-as scruffies as props!)
    The whole space sings now!
    Looks llike a great summer evening hang-out space for the grownups.
    The hammock is wonderfully relaxing!🤗
    *(you might need bigger pots or more soil for those maples-looks like the root ball is sticking out?)

  10. The furniture is lovely and suits the space very well. I have been very into deck trees lately so I’m obsessed with these Japanese maples! Such a nice way to add extra color and shade, plus you don’t have to replace them year after year.

  11. Those animals are gorgeous and I, for one, would love more dog content. I assume you’re going to address designing for/around dogs as the farmhouse design develops and that’s very exciting, but gratuitous dog pictures on unrelated posts would also be welcome.

    1. I’d love more dog content too as related to design and some cute dog photos for no reason

  12. Love the space. Why you didn’t do that sooner, Cra-cra! (I love spending other people’s money! :-)) I have been off for awhile, sorry… everyone is getting so goofy with words feeling so sensitive with every single thing said, and I just felt frustrated and unwelcome. I apologize if this question was addressed in a previous post, but I sure hope you aren’t selling your mountain home. Hold on for a few years. I am from the northwest originally, like you, and I love Oregon (the roses in Portland in late spring!!!), Bend, Seaside, Crater Lake, I love it all. But I think you could regret leaving all of CA behind. Maybe keep the vacation home for a few years until you are totally sure you want to go back to the rain. Lastly, I recently read that Portland crime or homicide (I cannot remember which) was up 800% in the last year. Thoughts on that?

  13. I love this whole look, but my back deck has sooo many bird droppings. Every morning there are a dozen more! Does this not happen for other people? I just bought a sunbrella couch set and haven’t put it out until I get the cover because I know it will be covered in a few hours. Very jealous of how clean and breezy this all appears, and would love any tips to either deter birds or for easy clean up!

    1. I’ve noticed more droppings on the deck since the railing was installed a week ago. I hope that the new patio will be spared. I dont have trees, but I do have a bird house nearby and ivy with berries and insects that both cardinals and robins eat. And I plan on adding a few trees too. I’m starting to realize that the landscaping and patio I dreamt about will require lits of cleaning

  14. It turned out so beautiful, loving the clean lines and colors. Just curious, did carrying the heavy vintage stump coffee table up there turn out to be too much of a challenge?

  15. Beautiful reveal! Really well designed space! BUT I’m here for the dress worn by Emily in this shoot!! Source, please. 🙂

    1. Yes, please! Where did you get that dress! It looks great on you! Also, what paint colors did you use on the exterior of your house?

  16. Lovely space! I was inspired and dashed out to Target for the rug! I really like the lines-interesting, but not too busy. Thank you!

  17. Anyone know what kind of beautiful red tree is in the black pot? Maple?? Can you grow those in pots? It’s a gorgeous color.

  18. Love the set up, just beautiful. Wondering about the shoes used as a prop. They don’t have the usual white soles which I am not a fan of. Any link would be greatly appreciated!!

  19. This looks lovely! Thanks for sharing such wonderful ideas! I have a similar back yard in the woods and have wanted to keep my outdoor furniture uncovered but how do you keep it dry, clean, and bug free?? I find if I don’t keep them covered they become unusable, covered in pollen, tree and bird droppings, spider webs (yes, new ones every morning) ants, earwigs, caterpillars dropping from the trees…..not to mention wet from rain or dew whenever I want to sit. Is there a trick I’m missing to keep them dry and bug-free especially? I love being out in nature except for nature’s little 6 and 8-legged pests. And the shade from the trees keeps things wet until late morning or early afternoon sun is warm enough to dry them. Is it just me?😞 I’d love any tips!

  20. Taking notes here for my upstate NY very sunny deck situation…! I see Sunbrella fabric in my future for sure. And seconding the poster above who asked about the exterior stain color, and deck color too. I’m researching my options for those two things and it’s overwhelming. If you’re able to share, it would be lovely.

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