15 Tips for Outdoor Living Spaces
Establish Traffic Patterns
No matter the size of your yard, your outdoor living spaces will work better together if you establish traffic patterns. You can do this in a variety of ways, including laying formal walkways, creating shifts in hardscape materials, or planting shrubs or trees to establish corners and borders.
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 living 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.
Include a Variety of Seating Options
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. One tip: Don't include so many that traffic patterns become cluttered.
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 living spaces. Here, an extensive pond becomes the central gathering point, providing a spot to arrange furniture and orient views.
Boost Visual Appeal
Small accents, such as sculpture or water features, can do wonders to make outdoor living spaces feel dynamic and interesting. Scour flea markets or architectural salvage shops for castoffs that lend visual appeal without being too expensive. In place of a built-in fountain consider a tabletop version; use a tall column as a plant stand, too.
Establish a Sense of Discovery
Paths are great tools in outdoor living spaces for more than just finding your way. Include a gentle curve in the design and a path is instantly transformed into a walkway that encourages discovery and exploration in the garden. Here, this brick-lined version leads to a secluded sitting spot.
Rely on Containers for Color
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.
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 easy places to hang inexpensive hooks to keep tools, a small broom, even a towel out in the open and within reach, such as this wood trim under a potting bench's countertop.
Make Furnishings Work Twice as Hard
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.
Zone Your Space
Clever furniture arrangement is all it takes to establish a variety of uses in one outdoor living 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.
Strategically Shield the View
You may want part of your outdoor living space to be more private than another area. 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.
Try Affordable Updates
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 it's easy and relatively inexpensive to swap out outdoor living accents. Go for new accent pillows, refreshed slipcovers, even a pair of complementary umbrella shades, for a reinvigorated outdoor living space. For exposed spaces, select options made from outdoor fabrics that withstand the sun's rays and dry quickly.
Incorporate Tabletop Texture and Color
Small vases and containers are a good way to 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 gathered in a larger vessel for impact.
Connect to the Indoors
Outdoor living spaces that are easily accessible to indoor rooms are the most likely to get used. So when you're designing your deck or patio, try to locate it in a spot that's in a traffic pattern or in a place that offers refuge, such as off the master bedroom or living room.
Add Accents to Walls
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.