Sometimes the best seat in the house is outside the house.

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On lovely summer evenings, the best seat in the house is outside. That’s why I entertain al fresco every chance I get when the weather is nice.

For a spring open house at my old home in Atchison, Kansas, we set the back courtyard for a beautiful dinner party. The setting was as delicious as the dinner. I hope it will give you some ideas and inspiration for your own open-air event.

When I entertain, I like to set the mood the moment guests enter. Our guests entered the venue from my screened porch. Next to the steps was an iron garden urn. So we turned it into a drinks table, topping it with a silver stand. When you build dramatic stands like this, make sure you anchor the server well or you’ll have a cascade of broken dishes the first time a guest grabs a cup. But it’s worth the engineering because multi-level servers pack a lot of visual punch.

The awesome table design was inspired by the centerpiece. Sometimes, we do it the other way, come up with a place setting look we adore then create the centerpiece to complement it. We had a bevy of fresh plants we wanted to use, so we placed them in a mix of green pots that encircled an oversized ginger jar.

We let nature set our color scheme for this party, taking our cue from the fresh summer green in my courtyard. The base for each place setting is a summer placemat turned on its end, trailing over the side of the table. This is one of our favorite ways to use placemats, giving the look a little edge and allowing more space on the table for additional settings.

To make a place setting more interesting, use a variety of dish patterns, with different shapes and sizes adding to the fun. These leaf majolica plates, with their curled edges, add an interesting structural quality.

When you’re entertaining outdoors, lighting is a big part of the party. I didn’t have electric lights in my courtyard, so we harnessed the power of candles. We placed wire lanterns on top of iron pillars, filled with candles.

A beauty of entertaining in the garden is that most of the decorating is already done for you. We made the space more magical by hanging votive cups from the branches of the shrubs.

The winking lights suspended from the branches in the dining area made the outdoor room feel like a fairyland. Once the fireflies started up, and the cicadas began to hum, it was summer bliss.