If you live for the summer months, don't spend this special time trapped inside four walls, make a break for the outdoors. Carve out a living space in your backyard. You'll save on your air conditioning bills, and all that outdoor grilling will keep the cooking smells out of your carpeting and upholstery. No one expects perfection in alfresco dining either, so you can forget about the napkin rings and embroidered tablecloths -- thank heavens. What could be better than fresh air, comfortable surroundings, family, friends and the glories of nature (well, at least a few potted plants and some curious robins)?
Before you relocate your favorite chair to the deck, patio or porch, let's take a look at a few ways you can make outdoor living more convenient and fun. If you want this venture to last until Labor Day, good planning is important.
Make the Space Accessible
Placing your outdoor living room next to a detached garage may seem like a good idea when the location is near a nice shade tree or pool, but there are definite advantages to placing your outdoor living room adjacent to (or at least close to) your house. Service friendly areas of your home are more accessible that way. Getting iced tea from the kitchen or toting kabobs to the grill will be easier, and if you don't have an outdoor entertainment center, accessing your sound system will be a volume adjustment and not a major relocation job. Schlepping back and forth to use the bathroom or get a sweater (or a towel, or the bug spray or the sun screen) can get old fast, so keep the distance to your usual winter haunts as short as possible.
Keep the Layout Cozy
We know they call it the great outdoors, but designing a super-sized space for your outdoor room may not be the best way to go. A large area and the absence of walls can be refreshing, but it can also make you feel exposed. The space can seem impersonal. Outdoor room plans that have at least one solid (or semi-solid) wall help anchor the space and make it feel more substantial. A room size that roughly mirrors the size of your indoor living room will be big enough for your family but small enough to feel intimate and inviting.
Make it Comfortable
Outdoor living may seem carefree and casual, but to add comfort to the mix takes plush textiles and comfortable furnishings. Sure, built-in concrete seating has a modern appearance and is maintenance-free, but it also looks like it belongs out in an amphitheater somewhere, not cuddling your backside on a warm evening.
Your outdoor room will feel as good as it looks when you choose loungers, chairs and sofas that include overstuffed cushions in UV resistant fabrics. We prefer wicker to metal or PVC pipe, but the idea here is to balance rough and hard surfaces like concrete, siding, brick and wood with soft, textured and tactile furnishings that people will actually want to spend time on.
Include Homey Touches
Look around your indoor living room. You'll probably see lots of mementos and decor items designed to stir memories and make your guests feel welcome. Try translating that level of detail to your outdoor spaces, too. To work outdoors, homey touches will have to be all weather and heavy enough to stand up to a stiff breeze. Consider installing a woven grass rug or mat to define the seating area, and then include tables and lamps. Throw in some pots and planters for color and interest. Including decorative, natural elements always works for an outdoor space.
- bamboo screens
- driftwood accents
- decorative glass globes
- carved wooden sculptures
- wind chimes
- birdhouse art
- vertical gardens
Choose a theme and get creative.
Provide Plenty of Light
One of the great things about an outdoor room is that the cool evening breeze wafting across your lounger will be so much more refreshing and natural (and inexpensive) than a blast from your air conditioning system. Make sure your family is tempted to stay outdoors after sunset by providing adequate lighting. Actually, installing outdoor lighting has never been easier. Go solar. Solar lights have come down a lot in price, and you can find them in post height, deck mounted and even tabletop models. You may still want to add some citronella candles (for obvious reasons), and maybe an outdoor electrical fixture as a safety precaution when going up and down stairs or around the pool.
Integrate the Space
Your outdoor living room may seem like a distant oasis of calm in a hectic world, but it's still situated on your property and may be visible to others from the street or from neighboring homes. To make your room look like it's more than just a warm weather afterthought, repeat elements of your decor and architecture to integrate the look of the space with its surroundings. If you have yellow siding, using yellow in your furnishings will help make them look like they belong. If your home has a Spanish tile roof and stucco exterior, consider adding a few wrought iron touches. Include lots of plants around the space, too. You get the idea. When you make the space look integrated, you increase your property's curb appeal and maybe even its value.
Keep it Landscape Friendly
As nice as it is to be outdoors during the summer, maintaining your landscape can still be a hassle. Don't make the job worse by installing an outdoor living room that will make maintaining your lawn and other landscape features more difficult. Check to be sure you can get your mower into all the grassy areas in your backyard without making a major chore out if it, and that you can water your plants and lawn without dousing your outdoor furnishings in the process. The more convenient your outdoor room is to play in -- and maneuver around -- the less you'll have to change or grumble about later.
Add a Roof
Sunny days are hot days, and the best antidote to the noon sun blazing overhead is a little sheltering shade. If your outdoor room has an awning or other type of full or partial roof, it will be more convenient to use during the hottest part of the day. When you can't install a permanent roof, try adding a retractable awning or even a large umbrella that can be opened and closed as needed. You might also want to consider enclosing your outdoor room in a steel frame gazebo complete with mosquito netting. It's a fast and relatively inexpensive ($500 or less) way to install a partially protected outdoor living space in a few hours.
Keep it Private
When you want to hang out in the backyard, adding a couple of strategically placed faux walls can give you all the comforts -- and privacy -- of home. There are a surprising number of options.
Curtains -- Adding curtains can look surprisingly attractive and just right. Choose indoor-outdoor fabrics in cotton/poly blends that dry quickly and resist mildew. Billowy curtains look gauzy, opaque and totally charming. You do need a framework on which to hang a rod, but if you have a roof or arbor, installing curtains will solve your privacy problems in a very stylish way.
Bamboo blinds -- Bamboo or woven grass blinds that roll up and down have been used as sun screens on patios and around pools for decades. They look natural and are also inexpensive and easy to install. Many can be purchased in standard widths and then cut to fit. Installing bamboo blinds also requires some sort if overhead support.
Screens -- Consider using portable room dividers or screens in your outdoor room. You can move them around as needed for privacy or to block bright morning or late afternoon sunlight. Some even have planter bases for added stability. Look for dividers made of wrought iron, bamboo or wood.
Landscape plants -- Shrubs can do more than increase your home's curb appeal. They can add privacy to an outdoor room, too. Adding shrubs or dwarf trees to the areas adjacent to a deck or patio is a permanent solution and may be the cheapest long-term choice. It's also eco-friendly.
Add An Interesting Focal Point
As nice as it is to stretch out on your lounge chair and listen to the radio, read a book or peruse the newspaper, eventually, you'll start looking around for other diversions. Birds and butterflies are nice, but you can't really rely on them to arrive on cue or stick around after sunset. What's the solution?
Barring moving the flatscreen outside, there are some outdoor amenities that can keep you amused and delighted until there's frost on the pumpkin. Some of the top favorites are fire pits, fireplaces, fish ponds and illuminated waterfalls. Even if you don't have a fortune to spend on, say, an outdoor pool table, just setting up the grill nearby and watching the grilling expert in the family perform his wizardry has entertainment value -- and at least you won't be the one doing the cooking.
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