I recently moderated a panel discussion at the Merchandise Mart about “exterior design.” The audience was filled with interior designers and the panel consisted of: Judi Cunningham, an interior designer whose business is called Chez Jolie (see photo of terrace decked out in white); John West, an exterior designer with an expertise in urban landscaping and the owner of JW Landscapes (see photo of rooftop deck in Old Town); and Stephen Prassas, a landscape architect and owner of Prassas Landscape Studio (see photo of Japanese-inspired Roscoe Village yard). It was all very informative for a condo-dwelling city girl whose last contact with soil was a tomato plant proudly harvested in the fifth grade. Here’s what people said:

Cunningham reminded us of the importance of maintaining continuity between the interior and the exterior design of a home so that you don’t look out the window and see something completely incongruous.

West warned us about the kind of havoc Mother Nature can wreak on your rooftop deck if your furniture isn’t well secured or heavy enough. During last year’s storms, one of his clients had a brand new set of tables and chairs fly straight off his roof onto more than one neighbors’ car. Motto of the story: If you can, seek advice from a professional before plopping a bunch of stuff on your rooftop. (But remember—even the pros can’t make guarantees; did you know that landscape architects lay awake on stormy nights worrying about their clients’ yards? This I learned today. Poor things!) West also reminded us that when decorating outdoor spaces, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to sets—with so much furniture to choose from, we should mix it up, just like we do in our living rooms.

Prassas reminded us of how the elements of an outdoor space compare with those of an indoor space. Outside, he said, our walls are buildings, shrubs, trees, fences, and views; our floors are stone, gravel, lawn, and plants; our ceilings are sky, tree canopies, and pergola tops; and our lighting is the sun, moon, stars, and reflections, along with landscape lighting. Kind of makes you think about your outside space in a whole different way, huh?

OK, I’m ready to move beyond that tomato plant now.

Photos: Roscoe Village, courtesy Prassas; Old Town, courtesy West; Terrace, courtesy Cunningham