Ever since her mix-and-matched dinnerware collection debuted in 2014, we’ve regarded Bunny Williams as our own entertaining expert, so we’re delighted to take that entertaining prowess to the outdoor spaces. This Spring, we’re introducing her first outdoor furniture collection named after her home in the Dominican Republic. Of course, we had to sit down with Bunny herself to talk about what inspired all the new pieces and how she envisions people using her fanciful outdoor pieces.
Ballard Designs: The big news this spring is that you’re debuting your first outdoor collection, La Colina! Why did you decide to name your collection after your villa in the Dominican Republic?
Bunny Williams: Well interestingly enough, when John and I first built our house, I ordered some round back dining chairs from Ballard which I loved. This was 16 years ago, and I didn’t even have a relationship with Ballard! In those days, indoor/outdoor furniture was so new, and the saltwater and salty air on the island were just too much for these chairs. So of course when we starting talking about an outdoor furniture collection, I knew these round back chairs had to be in the collection, and they were our jumping off point.
The great thing about this collection is that it’s all synthetic and aluminum, so it can go by the water, sit out by the pool, it can sit outside, be rained on, and snowed on. You name it! The chairs are very comfortable and light weight, so they’re easy to move. You know for pieces outside, you want to be able to move them around based on the weather or the sunshine, so I look for things that are not too heavy. I especially love the curves of both the classic klismos chair and the round back chairs.
I chose a dark color because I find that it accentuates the greens of the trees and plants and the sky and water. I love all of the silhouettes of the collection, but what stands out most to me is the nature all around it. When I’m outside, I want to be taking in nature, so that’s why I like the dark color outside.
BD: There are definitely some special details in this collection. Tell us about your goal to have the cushions built into the woven design.
BW: The cushions on all of the pieces, the dining and living collections and lounge chairs, the cushion is flowed through so it doesn’t need an extra cushion. That’s something I’m always looking for and clients have asked me for because they want to be able to leave their furniture outside in the rain. There are some incredible fabrics out there and some technology in cushions and outdoor furniture, but the water can still get into the cushion. So this collection is really designed to stand up to the harsh elements that you might have on an island or in certain destinations. My goal was really to design something that would look good, be comfortable to sit in, but that wouldn’t require a cushion!
BD: We’ve all here in the office read your book, A House by the Sea. How did your lifestyle there influence the collection you put together?
BW: Well, we live outside. When you have a beautiful climate and it’s 80 degrees and there’s a breeze, the last thing you want to do is go inside. So we eat in the garden or on a loggia, and we sit by the pool. But sometimes a shower sweeps in for a half an hour with no warning, so that’s another reason I wanted something that wouldn’t require me to run around grabbing cushions!
BD: How do you approach decorating an outdoor space versus an indoor one?
BW: I want my outdoor spaces to really feel like I’m outdoors, but it’s important to get the layout and seating arrangement just right. A comfortable outdoor space is all about comfortable seating and making sure you have a place for guests to gather and talk. So in an outdoor space, I always think first about how I’ll be living in it.
I made some thoughtful decisions about the coffee table because I wanted it to have a shelf below to hold magazines and shells we’ve collected while we’re beach combing. But then of course, the main surface is generous enough for a tray of hors d’oeuvres or sandwiches.
BD: The whole office was delighted by your Mughal Arched Umbrella. It’s an instant party!
BW: Especially in sunnier locales, it’s important to have an umbrella so you can still spend time outside while screening yourself from the sun. I’ve been to India several times and always loved their whimsical tents in bright colors and shapes, but I really drew on the shape of those tents and used some more timeless color palettes.
BD: You’re our go-to entertaining expert. How do you envision people entertaining a lot with your new pieces?
BW: Well the Balustrade Demilune console table was specifically designed to be used as a buffet when you’re entertaining. I like people to be able to help themselves when we’re entertaining outdoors, so I’ll put a stack of plates, a big salad, and a tray of sandwiches. I like to keep things fairly simple, especially when we’re at our house in Punta Cana. You don’t want to rely on carting too many things in and out, which is why I oftentimes make a huge salad with chicken, and for dessert, I’ll do a bowl of fruit and maybe some cookies.
You know the console table was actually inspired by a balustrade in a Swiss house. I’ve had this photo for years and always loved the unique shape. I love to take architectural details I’ve seen and adapt them to furniture pieces.
BD: In your book, you talk about how you approach setting a table like painting a picture. How do you see your dining pieces working with your china and table settings?
BW: Well it depends on what you have in your own collection, and what makes you happy! I love the way the browns and rust colors in my Melange collection work outside. They echo many of the colors you’d see outdoors. Just tie together the colors you’d see in your outdoor space to the pieces you’re using on your table.
I usually draw inspiration for my table from the plant matter in my surroundings, and I’ll often used potted plants as my centerpiece instead of a flower arrangement.
BD: You’re always outdoors, you’re a big gardener. It’s safe to assume you love being outside. How can people create their own paradise in their outdoor space?
BW: You know there are many ways of gardening. You can plant things in the ground or in containers, and for patios and terraces, I really like to bring in potted containers with annuals like geraniums or zinnias, and they become a garden right outside your door. And the best part is that you can move them around your space as you need. It gives you the sense of a garden without as much upkeep.
BD: Of course we can’t forget to talk about your new entry cabinet! It has a grand scale and formal details, but it’s meant to store all manners of sins.
BW: In our house in Connecticut, I recently remodeled the mudroom because everyone is always coming in and out of the backdoor, and it was so often a mess! There are boots, hats, tennis racquets, and gardening supplies, and a great cabinet for organization can’t be overlooked. This one was that we designed comes in three pieces, so you can just buy the center section or the two sides and put them together. It functions as a closet storage for all of those messy things that you have to have and that come into the mudroom. It’s actually based on an antique one that I have hear in my office.
BW: Shapes give a piece of furniture character, and whether your style is more modern or traditional, your eye needs to look at something with flair. For my chairs, both the upholstered ones and the outdoor ones, I really focus on gorgeous shapes. The carved finials on the cabinet are strong and act like a piece of jewelry to accentuate your outfit. It says, “here I am!”
BD: Tell us about the color of the entry cabinet, it’s a gray-blue.
BW: It’s a color I just love. It’s not too light or too dark. It’s a wonderful rubbed gray color that I think makes such a large piece of furniture recede into the room. Black or dark wood would be too heavy and sad, and this swedish gray paired with a mirror door help to keep the piece from taking over a space.
One of the pieces I’m most excited about is these beautiful bird prints. The detail is incredible, and they’re based on original watercolors I had painted by a watercolor artist and printed on a vellum paper. The scale is my favorite part because it’s not easy to find bird prints that are oversized. Often they’re so small, but I like using pieces that are large to keep it clean.
BD: You’re always collecting, whether it’s table linens or furniture pieces. When you’re out shopping, what about a piece makes you stop and take a second look?
BW: Character. Shape and character are definitely what draw me in. The most important thing is that a piece has an interesting shape, but then I love beautiful finishes too. Whether it’s a pitcher or a chair or an object, I’m always looking for an interesting shape. And of course the proportion should be right. It all comes down to personality. You can look across a sea of furniture and it all begins to look alike, but then there’s one that winks at you. That’s the one you want!
BD: Is there anything that you can never have enough of?
BW: Probably china which is terrible because I love setting the table. But I already have too much, so I have to stop. Today, you can be shopping in a thrift store, and there are so many incredible things because so many people don’t want lots of dinnerware. There are definitely bargains to be had if you’re out hunting. Of course, I like to mix old pieces with new. So if I have a basic white plate, I might use a salad or dessert plate with a pattern or in a fun color to make the table look different. I always have the most fun mixing it up!
BD: One of our big themes for this season is blending your indoor and outdoor spaces. How do you do that in your own home?
BW: I like to blend the indoors with the outdoors by using similar shapes in both areas but in different materials. For example, I have a pair of klismos chairs in my living room, but they’re gilded wood. So it’s fun for me to then repeat that shape on my patio, but anything outside needs first and foremost to stand up to the elements. So rather than putting the same pieces both indoors and outdoors, instead of focus on adding the same level of comfort to both spaces. Change the mood from one to the other.
Did you like this post and find it helpful? Rate it below and share your thoughts in the comments.