With summer unfolding, it’s time to up your picnic game. Whether it’s finding tufted floor cushions to lounge on, stylish unbreakable dishes or a game to keep the kids occupied while you savor the moment, we’re on it. “Picnics take a bit of planning and preparation, but once you lay out the blanket and everyone climbs on board, you know you will create memories,” says Christen Bensten, an Arlington design blogger and furniture painter. We asked four tastemakers to come up with accessories for an Instagram-worthy meal alfresco. There’s something for everyone: a chic post-work gathering in a city park, a hunt-country repast, a laid-back beach picnic and a kid-centric Fourth of July party. Check out our delicious buffet of unexpected picnic gear, including boho cotton sari rugs, festive glasses with silicone sleeves and tops, jute totes with waterproof linings and more. Add a vase of fresh flowers, lanterns, mosquito repellent and some straw fans, and you’ll be ready to picnic until the stars come out.
On a warm summer evening, you might find Amanda McClements spreading out a colorful Indian kantha quilt and picnicking on Logan Circle.
The owner of the District’s Salt & Sundry stores, two stylish home boutiques in Union Market and off 14th Street NW, says cities are among the best places to toss out a blanket. “With all these large expanses of grassy spots and parks, they are wonderful for enjoying the outdoors,” says McClements, who lives a few blocks away from the circle.
We asked her to imagine an after-work gathering for a group of friends at Yards Park, the riverfront expanse in Southeast Washington with cooling fountains and green terraces.
McClements chose a black-and-white palette, taking a cue from a round Australian-designed terry-cloth blanket. She added black-and-white vintage-inspired enamelware and melamine plates. Her favorite tip: Enlist friends to carry a lot of things to make you more comfortable at your picnic. “The more pillows, the better,” she says. “Imagine you are creating a living room outside.”
Instead of a traditional basket, she used a jute “District of Columbia”-inscribed market bag by Apolis she picked up at Redeem on 14th Street NW. Apolis also makes totes celebrating other locations, including Detroit, Austin and the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn.
McClements says, “You can show off your city pride.”
From left to right: 1. Lumily pillow ($68, Salt & Sundry, 1309 Fifth St. NE, shopsaltandsundry.com); 2. Acacia wood triangle serving bowl ($37.50, Hill’s Kitchen, 713 D St. SE, hillskitchen.com); 3. Bamboo flatware (three-piece set $5, Home Rule, 1807 14th St. NW, homerule.com); 4. District of Columbia jute tote with waterproof lining by Apolis ($68, Redeem, 1810 14th St. NW, redeemus.com); 5. 12-inch, white-dipped acacia wood servers ($15, Home Rule); 6. Block print napkins ($38 for a set of four, Proper Topper, 1350 Connecticut Ave. NW); 7. Enamelware cups and bowls (bowl $10, tumblers $8-$10, Salt & Sundry); 8. Melamine plates (set of four dinner plates $46, set of four appetizer plates $38, Salt & Sundry); 9. Naked Botanicals Lavender bug spray ($18, Salt & Sundry); 10. Tiny tin lanterns ($18, Proper Topper); 11. Tulum Roundie towel by The Beach People ($110, Salt & Sundry).
Dana Gibson, a product designer and artist based in Richmond, grew up in the 1970s enjoying rural picnics by the James River on wool tartan blankets. “We would catch the fish, and my parents, who looked like preppy hippies around the Volkswagen van, would grill them up,” she says.
Gibson, whose line of boldly patterned ginger jar lamps and tole trays tends toward the traditional, still likes a little boho style in her country picnics. “I like to think of country today as more modern, not campy. I lean toward mixing a little preppy with a little bohemian.”
We asked Gibson to style a picnic with a hunt-country polo match in mind — Great Meadow’s summer Saturday Twilight Polo matches in The Plains, Va., perhaps. She said she’d start with some vibrant rugs made of upcycled saris that she’d spread out Moroccan-style. A rustic wood tray would hold a vase of flowers and a plate of deviled eggs.
She’d make fried chicken to enjoy on Kate Spade candy-colored striped plates. And to give the whole thing a true hunt-country vibe, she’d top it off with a silver-plated candelabra.
From left to right: 1. 5-light candelabra 16 ($99, godinger.com); 2. Linen decorative pillow ($28, linenfeast.com); 3. 4-by-6-foot repurposed sari area rug ($65, linenfeast.com); 4. Navy striped pen cup ($40, danagibson.com); 5. Daytrip large lidded basket ($79, potterybarn.com); 6. Shabby Chic decorative tray ($60, etsy.com/shop/MtnMetalWorks); 7. Premium straw hand fan ($2.50, personalizedfanstore.com); 8. Coral kantha patchwork pouf ($130,worldmarket.com); 9. Melamine dinner plate, multi-stripe ($16, bloomingdales.com).
Designer Erin Paige Pitts , whose specialty is coastal homes, likes to host beach picnics in the late afternoon, when temperatures are cooler and the light is more gentle. We asked her to imagine a gathering by the ocean somewhere in Delmarva.
Pitts, who has offices on Gibson Island, Md., and Delray Beach, Fla., always provides lots of soft Turkish beach blankets, plus floor cushions for lounging. She likes to create ambiance by lighting a path to the picnic location with lanterns and then having candles around the spread as evening descends.
She says picnics are meant to be relaxed gatherings that are easy and laid-back, not too contrived. “We keep the menu simple: cheese and crackers, some nuts and wine and other drinks. Maybe some pre-sliced salami.” She says melamine is better than paper plates in a beach setting. (Think wind and dampness.) And because picnic baskets can let in sand, a roomy tote is a better option for a picnic by the shore.
“There is something about the light at this time of day that gives everything a warm glow,” Pitts says. “It’s a great time to take photos of family, kids and the dog.”
From left to right: 1. Fouta beach towel in aqua ($48, serenaandlily.com); 2. Filigree sphere lanterns in turquoise ($28-$68, shopterrain.com); 3. Turquoise ombre teal plate ($25, zazzle.com); 4. Yeti leakproof Hopper 20 cooler ($300, yeticoolers.com); 5. Women’s chevron structured tote ($35, target.com); 6. Seafoam XL beach blanket ($59, sandcloudtowels.com); 7. Tufted corduroy floor pillow in dark gray ($39 each, two for $70, urbanoutfitters.com); 8. Roly Poly glass ($100 for set of four, tfc-nyc.com/collections).
“When my husband and I were first dating, we went on picnics all the time,” says Christen Bensten, who writes the design blog Blue Egg Brown Nest. “It’s a simple gesture but so meaningful when you sit under a big blue sky and unpack the goodies in the picnic basket with someone you care about.” Now that she has three kids, she still loves picnics, but they are a little different.
“When it comes to picnics, kids care about food and fun,” she says. “Don’t forget either.”
We asked her to consider a picnic on the Mall for the Fourth of July. She recommends using paper takeout containers so there is no “smelly Tupperware to bring home in a hot car.” And she always brings along fans for when kids complain it’s too hot. She also suggests packing a bag of fun stuff, including a Twister picnic blanket that’s also a game, a portable radio and a joke book. And don’t forget the red, white and blue pinwheels to festively mark the perimeter of your blanket.
From left to right: 1. Red diagonal striped 5-by-7-inch treat bags ($10 for set of 100, save-on-crafts.com); 2. Disposable star take out containers (A set of 12 for $6, papermart.com); 3. Beach Sounds portable water-resistant speaker and radio ($49, shop.nordstrom.com); 4. Outdoor Tic Tac Toe ($60, crateandbarrel.com); 5. Portable wine glass in red ($24, goverre.com); 6. Pencil-shaped stainless steel thermos ($30, amazon.com); 7. Picnic at Ascot Bold Deluxe picnic cooler and accessories for a family of four ($154, hayneedle.com); 8. Stars & Stripes pinwheels ($10 for 36 pinwheels, orientaltrading.com); 9. Ice cream cone fan ($14, sunnylife.com); 10. “Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids” by Rob Elliott ($3, amazon.com); 11. Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 instant camera ($70, urbanoutfitters.com); 12. Twister game blanket ($37, papersource.com).
More from Lifestyle:
Chat Thursday at 11 a.m.: Amanda McClements, owner of the Salt & Sundry home boutiques in the District, joins staff writer Jura Koncius for our weekly online Q&A on decorating and household advice.