15 Tips for Welcoming and Charming Outdoor Spaces

Step into a beautiful outdoor space whether you have a small balcony or an expansive backyard.

Screen porch-blue walls, green seat

It doesn't matter if you have a small balcony or a large backyard with grass and a patio. These 15 tips will help you make whatever outdoor space you have the most comfortable and livable without any remodeling or a significant investment in furnishings or other outdoor accessories. We have ideas for everyone's tastes and needs, from practical to playful.

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Establish Traffic Patterns

Establish Traffic Patterns

Your outdoor space will work better if you establish traffic patterns. You can do this in various ways, including laying formal walkways, creating shifts in hardscape materials, or planting shrubs or trees to establish corners and borders.

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Add a Fire Source

Add a Fire Source

If you have a fireplace inside your house, you know it's where you love to curl up with a good book on a quiet night or where larger groups gather on chilly days. The same is true in outdoor spaces: A source of fire draws people. If you have the space and budget, consider a full-size version; if not, investigate fire pits, which provide flexibility and affordability. Just check your local building codes to verify fire safety and placement rules regarding outdoor fireplaces and fire pits before you invest in one.

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Include a Variety of Seating Options

Cozy Courtyard

Benches, chairs, even pint-size stools: As many choices as you can include in an outdoor living space will help family and friends enjoy it. Scaled-down kid versions allow little ones to seat themselves, while chairs are a more flexible option—pull two together for a quiet chat or add extras around the table for a big dinner.

Editor's Tip

Don't include so many that traffic patterns become cluttered.

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Create an Outdoor Space Focal Point

Create a Focal Point

Well-designed indoor rooms typically build off one element—a sofa or piece of art, for example—which gives the eye something to land on; the rest of the furnishings and accents support that piece. That same principle applies to outdoor spaces. Here, an extensive pond becomes the central gathering point, providing a spot to arrange furniture and orient views.

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Boost Visual Appeal

Orange seating

Small accents like sculptures or water features can make an outdoor space feel dynamic and interesting. Scour flea markets or architectural salvage shops for castoffs that lend visual appeal without being too expensive. Consider a tabletop version in place of a built-in fountain; use a tall column as a plant stand, too.

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Establish a Sense of Discovery

Establish a Sense of Discovery

Paths are great tools in an outdoor space for more than just finding your way. Include a gentle curve in the design, and a path instantly transforms into a walkway that encourages discovery and exploration in the garden. Here, this brick-lined version leads to a secluded sitting spot.

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Rely on Containers for Color

Walk This Way

Pots of all shapes and sizes are great options to add dashes of color and texture to outdoor living spaces. Go for lightweight versions or put yours on movable bases to make shifting them around easier. Place a few at corners of a deck or patio to establish borders, or use a rotating series of seasonal plants—pansies in spring, daisies in summer, mums in autumn—for an ever-changing color palette.

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Fashion a Go-to Spot for Tools

Fashion a Go-to Spot for Tools

As much relaxing as we may want to do in outdoor living spaces, we also need practicalities close at hand. Install shelves on a wall or railing, or look for accessible places to hang inexpensive hooks to keep tools, a small broom, or even a towel out in the open and within reach, such as this wood trim under a potting bench's countertop.

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Make Furnishings Work Twice as Hard

plant table

Because space is often at a premium in outdoor living areas, furniture and accessories have to do double duty. Benches may have storage space underneath; tables may also be containers. Here, this pretty side table features a stunning container planted with low-maintenance succulents that add color and texture under a raised tempered-glass top resting on copper supports.

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Zone Your Space

Zone Your Space

Clever furniture arrangement is all it takes to establish a variety of uses in one outdoor space. For example, in a smaller space, place a bench and dining table closer to a corner; in a larger one, use different textures or rugs to break up dining and relaxing areas.

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Strategically Shield the View

Strategically Shield the View

You may want part of your outdoor space to be more private than another area. Give a pergola or covered patio a sense of seclusion with outdoor fabric draperies. Shrubs or dwarf trees are a softly textured way to accomplish that goal; containers planted with vines scrambling up a trellis are another good screening option.

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Try Affordable Updates

outdoor room

Orange may be your favorite shade one year and stripes the next. But what about when a new color scheme strikes your interest—or when pillows or umbrellas wear out? Fortunately, swapping out outdoor living accents is easy and relatively inexpensive. Go for new accent pillows, refreshed slipcovers, or complementary umbrella shades for a new outdoor living space.

Select outdoor fabrics that withstand the sun's rays and dry quickly for exposed spaces.

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Incorporate Tabletop Texture and Color

Incorporate Tabletop Texture and Color

Small vases and containers can add artful accents to outdoor living spaces, either on side tables or dining areas. Here, the mini pots can be set at individual places for a more formal outdoor gathering or arranged in a larger vessel for impact.

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Connect to the Indoors

Connect to the Indoors

Outdoor spaces that are easily accessible to indoor rooms are the most likely to get used. So when designing your deck or patio, try to locate it in a lived-in spot, such as off the primary bedroom or living room.

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Add Accents to Walls

Screen porch-blue walls, green seat

When used as borders for outdoor living spaces, walls can quickly get boring. Wall containers, planted with trailing vines and blooms, or outdoor-suitable art, such as tin ceiling tiles or salvage outdoor signage letters found at flea markets, are good ways to dress up large stretches of siding or stone.

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