7 Expert Secrets to a Welcoming Outdoor Living Room
Convert a plain patio into a relaxation station by carrying inside comforts, like lamps, linens, furnishings and hearth-like warmth, outside. It's alfresco living—from dawn until dark—at its very best.
More and more folks are expanding their unwinding and entertaining options by taking everyday living outdoors. Smart home owners view their patios as bonus rooms that allow them to enjoy out back with easy access to indoor conveniences. But how do you make the most of your exterior space?
We put that question to design experts Margie Archer of Portland, Oregon and Melissa Howes-Vitek of the Washington, D.C. area. Margie and Melissa, who have decorated many a patio and deck, share their ideas for turning a so-so space into a multipurpose sanctuary.
"First, determine your color scheme," says Melissa. "Take inspiration from your garden and carry its colors around the space with pillows, an umbrella and garden art pieces. Turn up the sizzle with bright-hued accessories and festive stripes. Or, opt for an all-white palette—nothing is more striking in evening light."
Following are seven other expert tips to keep in mind when designing your outdoor space:
Light up the night!
"When you don't want the party to end, outdoor lighting can keep the festivities going all night," says Margie, who recommends
setting the patio aglow with lots of candles, torches, hanging lanterns and twinkling strings of lights entwined in nearby trees and twisted around umbrella poles. Use solar lights to mark pathways. Brighten farther-afield gardens and landscape features by employing spotlights to showcase statuesque trees and shrubs.
Turn up the heat.
Even when temperatures dip, you'll be able to enjoy your outdoor space if you can generate some heat. Take the chill off with a portable patio or tabletop heater, a Southwestern-style chiminea or a budget-friendly fire pit. Choose a style that suits your outdoor decor and emits the appropriate amount of warmth.
Be sure to check out the latest introductions into the exterior heating market, too, such as patio tables equipped with a central fire pit that allow you to rest a drink or perch your feet near the flames.
To get a custom look without spending big bucks, Melissa suggests buying a home-center fire pit and dry-stacking fieldstone around the base to give it natural, built-in character. If your budget is large, however, consider building an outdoor fireplace that doubles as a wood-burning grill.
Fire pits bring that sitting-around-the-campfire spirit to patio settings, says Margie, who also notes that they're great for toasting marshmallows!
Let it flow.
"The sound of running water takes you away," says Margie. "Create a calming environment by adding a small waterfall or a koi-filled pond or by plugging in a fountain."
In addition to supplying a gentle background gurgle, fountains mask traffic noises and bring water-seeking wildlife to your yard. Check home centers for easy-to-install water features, simply assembled fountains and solar-powered fountains that don't require placement near an electric outlet. Or, choose a fountain that does double duty—look for birdbath fountains, tabletop versions or wall-hung types that are melodic works of art.
Bring the inside out with lamps.
Responding to the growing outdoor-living trend, manufacturers are producing a range of exterior-use lamps. Melissa recommends checking home centers, garden retailers and discount stores for outdoor chandeliers and floor and table lamps that shed light on the task at hand or establish a romantic mood. Place them near the grill to help you see what you're cooking, or by the buffet so guests see what's being served. Set a standing lamp behind a comfortable chair to create an after-dark reading corner—what's cozier than perusing a book as stars twinkle overhead?
Set a pretty table.
Give ho-hum patio tables a lift by topping them with fun and funky runners, place mats and glassware. Tote everyday dishes or special-occasion china out to the patio, or assemble a collection of tabletop accessories that you can haul out for fair-weather entertaining. You'll find good deals on summery linens, pitchers and vases in discount stores' seasonal aisles.
Round out the design with lushly planted container combinations and accent pillows, slipcovers and throws stitched from outdoor fabrics, suggests Melissa.
Throws brighten the view and come in handy when cool breezes blow. Define and shade seating areas by installing an umbrella or a canopy-style structure that boasts outdoor-fabric or mosquito-netting side panels that can be dropped or pulled shut. Top a birdbath or garden urn with cut-to-fit glass to fashion an eye-catching side table.
Get furniture on the cheap.
"Surf the Web," says Melissa. "There are loads of sites that offer amazing prices on outdoor furnishings. Many companies offer fully upholstered pieces, such as sectional sofas, as well as molded resin pieces that look and sit like your favorite living room chair."
By the beginning of April, home centers and discount stores begin stocking an array of moderately priced patio sets, conversation seating coordinates, and smaller bistro-style tables and chairs. Or, wait until the end of the summer, when retailers slash prices—you'll be sure to go home with a good deal or two. Also, check garage sales for bargain-priced furniture and garden pieces that can be upgraded to fit your decorating theme.
When shopping for furniture, make sure it's weather-resistant and heavy enough so it won't blow away in a strong wind, advises Margie, who also recommends adding dual-purpose pieces such as benches, deck boxes and ottomans that provide extra seating and storage.