There isn’t a morning that Cecil Hayes, the founder of Cecil’s Designers Unlimited, doesn’t look out at her patio and find peace. Her roster of red-carpet clientele and list of projects published in Architectural Digest aside, the interior designer remains humble and knows exactly where she stands. “Before I tackle my day, I take in the patio’s quiet setting, the massive ficus tree and orchids, and know that nothing I create is as beautiful as nature,” said Hayes, whose guests feel the same. “Everyone makes a beeline for the patio.” They couldn’t miss it either. Every room in the home, from the foyer to the master bedroom, faces the extended living area, which is designed with equal panache. The woods behind her property provide privacy, in place of window treatments. Creating seamless indoor and outdoor spaces is an important trend that Hayes, who’s been operating her firm for 38 years, said she’s noticed recently. “I used to focus on interiors only and tell clients where to buy patio furniture on their own,” she said, “but today, the interior and exterior must complement each other.” To make these outdoor rooms more comfortable and inviting, she doesn’t recommend recreating showrooms either. Other than her patio set of rustic, bentwood seating, she purchased most of its furnishings and accents piecemeal—a carved Indonesian love seat, a copper birdbath converted for floating flowers, and a side table made entirely of skillfully crafted driftwood, which she plucked from a gallery. “I thought if that wood survived in the ocean all this time, it could take Florida’s sun and humidity,” said Hayes, who seeks practicality as much as pieces with character. Case in point: a 300-pound ox cart from India that she uses as a makeshift coffee table. “Now I know why they say, ‘strong as an ox.’ That thing is going nowhere in a storm.” Inspired by a cultural tour of Ghana she took years ago, she chose upholstery and throw pillows in ethnic prints based on the country’s traditional Kente cloth and filled a bowl with African weaver sticks whose vibrant paint has faded over time. Weather-resistant sculptures and natural objects like large shells finish the patio, but Hayes wanted one more extra special touch. So she commissioned an artist to paint clouds on the ceiling, which was wired for twinkly stars. “People love the surprise when we turn it on,” she said, “even with the real deal steps away.”
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