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Feature Article - January 2004

Pull Up a Chair

How site furnishings transform a space into a place

By Kelli Anderson


One sure way to make patrons get up from their seats in a hurry is to place a trash receptacle too close to the seating area, which, although probably well-intentioned, tends to draw unwanted bees and waft unpleasant smells. A generally recommended 10 feet to 20 feet away from seating should do the trick.

For areas in a more natural setting, trash receptacles are best treated to blend in with their surroundings in muted greens and browns and should be placed in areas where they won't detract from the view. Choosing animal-proof varieties is also a good idea.


Lighting fixtures can add a lot to a site, offering not only a decorative element but also adding a sense of security. Metal halide, mercury vapor or sodium vapor are gases typically used in lighting, which have their own pros, cons and colors ranging from yellow to blue. But there can be too much of a good thing.

"Lighting is a huge issue," Plunkett says, "The most challenging thing is to do lighting well. Placement, intensity, off-site glare are real concerns."

Fixtures should blend in, Plunkett advises, and be placed on poles with appropriate height. Too much lighting or lighting that remains on longer than necessary is not only bad for the pocketbook but can even have a negative impact on wildlife.

Kopf agrees, adding that not only do you want to avoid over-lighting an area, but you also want to avoid dark pools. Whether to light or not to light is also a question best determined by knowing if after-dusk park use is welcome or whether a trail will be monitored at night for safety. Lighting areas that will not be monitored can give an illusion of safety and invite trouble.

When it comes to outdoor furnishings, benches, trash receptacles, planters, lighting fixtures and water fountains all remain the core elements. But it's ultimately knowing how to choose and use these main elements that can transform an ordinary outdoor space into a comfortable gathering place.

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