Top 10 Ideas for Outdoor Living Spaces

Making a few creative adjustments can enhance your outdoor living space. See more pictures of patio and deck decor.
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Many of us take pride in our homes, investing countless hours rearranging and remodeling the interior. But it can also be refreshing to step out of the confines of the inside and spend some time outside. It's especially enjoyable during the spring, summer and fall months. When the weather is favorable, it's difficult to miss out on a nice day outside.

But spending time outside doesn't mean you have to forfeit your creature comforts. With a few small adjustments you can make your outdoor space comfortable and inviting. Turning a yard, patio, porch or other outdoor area into a functional living space can be a rewarding task, and will expand your living space to the outdoors. With the right setup, you can spend more time in the sunshine and fresh air, and host events al fresco for friends, family and neighbors. Read on to learn 10 ideas for outdoor living spaces, whether it's for the front yard, the back yard or both.


10: Be Bold with Color

Colorful Adirondack chairs will add a pop of personality to an outdoor space.

Earth tones might look nice in your living room, but in the outdoors they'll shrink and blend in with the surroundings. And although black tends to be chic and stylish inside the home, black furniture will become very hot in direct sunlight. To complement the greens and browns of the outdoors, you can add a splash of whimsy by choosing bold, brightly colored accessories. For a touch of excitement, you might consider swapping out those faded cushions on your outdoor furniture for bold and colorful ones. Bright blue, red and yellow Adirondackchairs or a pink picnic table might not sound like everyone's cup of tea -- and indeed those colors might be a bit overwhelming inside the home -- but outside they'll add an element of playfulness and fun. Some other options for colorful accessories could include a brightly patterned hammock or Chinese paper lanterns.

For some ideas for how to brighten your outdoor space after dark, read on.


9: Create Drama with Lighting

The right lighting can add drama and romance, and create a soft glow outdoors.
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The holidays aren't the only time to string up some lights in your outdoor spaces. In the warmer months, spending time outdoors isn't limited to the daylight hours, so you'll want to set the mood with some tasteful and dramatic outdoor lighting. Effective lighting can make your outdoor living space safer, because it'll help to prevent people from tripping in the dark, but it can also help to transform your yard or deck into an inviting place to spend time after the sun goes down.

Good landscape and deck lighting can accent the assets of your outdoor space, while allowing the less attractive elements to fade into the shadows. These days, most outdoor lighting comes from electric bulbs, but for a softer glow, you might consider adding lanterns or torches into the mix. As a general rule, lighting around the outside of a house that is pointed upward can dramatically accent the architecture of the structure, while light pointed downward will create a softer, cozier glow.


8: Go Big with an Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor kitchens are the ultimate for those who like to entertain.

The kitchen is the heart of any home, so it should follow that an outdoor kitchen would be where the action is in any outdoor living space. Creating a second kitchen won't just save you from constantly making trips back and forth between the grill and the indoor stove or refrigerator, it'll also create a great space for entertaining. Whether it's in the back yard in the suburbs or on a rooftop in the city, outdoor kitchens have grown in popularity because cooking al fresco feels less like a chore and instead more of a pleasure.

The grill is typically at the center of any outdoor kitchen, but with the right setup you can do much more than cook steaks in your outdoor space. In addition to a grill, you can build your open-air kitchen around a refrigerator, sink, food prep areas, or even a wood-fired pizza oven. Another key ingredient to any outdoor kitchen is seating, which can range from standard picnic tables to a full bar complete with working beer taps [source: Patteson].


7: Add Warmth with a Fireplace or Fire Pit

Firepits are perfect for adding warmth and creating a spot for family and friends to gather.

Controlling fire is what helped define humans and separate us from other animal species, and fire still captivates us. Adding an element of fire can instantly transform an otherwise ordinary space into one that is inviting and warm. A backyard fire is just the thing to keep you outside on cool summer nights, and it can be a nice winter feature in more mild climates.

A backyard fire can be as cheap and basic as a hole in the ground, or it can be as elaborate as a marble gas-fueled fireplace -- it all depends on how much you want to spend. One practical solution for urban communities is a portable fire pit, which is an elevated fire bowl with a screen that can be used in a variety of spaces. DIYers can also make their own fire pits using anything from bricks to flagstones. Another popular and attractive option is the chiminea, which is an outdoor fireplace that has a short chimney. Whatever type of fire pit or fireplace you choose, it's a good idea to look up local fire codes and to make sure it's legal to have an open fire in your town before lighting one in your yard.


6: Bring Serenity with a Water Feature

Water features like this small fountain add a sense of sound and serenity.

You've got earth, fire and air. Now the only classical element that's missing from your outdoor living space is water. Whereas fire brings warmth to an outdoor space, water can provide a soothing sound and a dimension of cool tranquility. Water features can of course take all different forms, from small store-bought fountains to cascading waterfalls, it all depends how wet and wild you want to make it.

Koi ponds -- small garden ponds filled with colorful carp -- have become very popular in landscape design because the fish have the ability to transform almost any setting into an exotic, Eastern garden. Koi ponds are best kept in mild climates, because if the pond freezes over for more than a few days, the fish will suffocate. For a less expensive and labor-intensive water feature, many hardware stores and nurseries sell small and medium-size fountains that can be mounted on a wall or perched on a pedestal.


5: Don't Forget Your Living Room

Treating an outdoor porch or patio like a living room can create spaces better suited for socializing.
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Just because you're decorating for a space that's outside of your home's living room doesn't mean you have to forget the principles behind designing a social area. When most people set up a living room, they don't position all of the furniture against one wall -- they may place a sofa against one wall and a love seat against the opposite wall to create an area where people can sit and talk.

For porches and patios, it's easy to forget this concept and simply push all of the furniture up against the house, so that everyone is facing away from the house when sitting down. If you add an extra couch or set of chairs that face the house, suddenly all of your guests have a chance to talk to each other, play cards or enjoy dinner in an outdoor space that has the comfortable, intimate feeling of a living room.


4: Establish an Enclosure

Creating spaces that have definite borders gives an area a sense of functionality.
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To create an outdoor space that feels like it has purpose, sometimes it helps to establish a kind of enclosure -- a feeling of beginning and end. This lets people know that certain areas are for use, while others may be simply for show. For example, a seating area in your back yard can be given its own floor that sets it apart from the lawn's grass. Laying down a design of brick or gravel as a foundation will clearly separate the living space from the rest of the outdoors. Low walls around the area can also provide a good sense of enclosure without making people feel like they're in another room of your house.

Pergolas are also a popular choice for outdoor living spaces, since they provide a sense of enclosure that still feels wide open and lets in plenty of sunlight. Many people incorporate vines and other plants around posts and lattices to add a natural, outdoors feel to the area.


3: Use Outdoor Products

Finding furniture and other items designed for the outside will save you from having to replace goods damaged from bad weather.
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Of course, having an outdoor living space means keeping a lot of things out in the open air that normally need protection from a roof and four walls.

If you're serious about keeping an outdoor living space, invest in products that are meant for the outdoors. If you want seating, you can't just toss any old sofa out on the porch and expect it to stay clean. Every day can bring unpredictable weather, yet even pleasant weather can have an ill effect on furniture. If you're furnishing a deck or patio, look for weatherproof furniture that can withstand rain, wind and direct sunlight without fading, rotting or falling victim to any other type of weather damage. Properly waterproofed wood or metal benches can go for years in the rain without sustaining damage.


And if you want to lounge on the porch and catch up on your favorite TV programs, finding an outdoor television that provides good contrast and anti-glare against the outdoor light is the best way to go.

2: Winterize

Cold weather can cause damage to furniture and other outdoor items, so it helps to properly winterize everything.
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During the winter months, most of us want to spend our time either in the comfort of a heated room or curled up by the fireplace. Chances are, however, that many of the things that comprise our outdoor spaces will stay out in the cold. A bench bolted down to a brick foundation, for instance, obviously can't be moved inside very easily. Even so, taking good care of your outdoor living space during the cold, winter months will ensure protection and keep your property in top shape.

Wooden structures are especially vulnerable to bad weather, since they can rot, warp and crack in the cold. You should clean any wet spots on benches, decks and patios, as moisture and standing water in cold weather can promote mold, mildew and unappealing stains in wood. Sweeping up leaves and dirt and safely cleaning with bleach can keep everything clean and enjoyable for the next time you use your outdoor space in the spring.


1: Centralize

Creating a central point in your yard can bring people together and get them interested in remaining out of the house.
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The point of having an outdoor living space is, of course, to spend more time outdoors. However, most people also create one to attract friends and family over for social gatherings. If you set up a few deck chairs and look out at the back yard, sure, you might have a nice view, but a seating chart that involves everyone's backs against the wall makes it a little difficult to talk casually.

Creating a central point for your space can make outdoor gatherings that much more social. Well-placed seating, whether it's a bench, chairs or even a swinging chair, will help make any outdoor living space more inviting. Add a picnic table, and now you've got a place to eat meals, entertain guests or play games. Focal points don't have to include lawn furniture, though. As we've learned, you can organize your outdoor space around anything from a water feature to an outdoor kitchen. Or, if you have a green thumb, the central point could be a rose trellis or a flowering tree. The key is to effectively use the space you have in order to get the most out of it.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Garskoff, Josh. "Rooms with a view." This Old House Magazine.,,20199771,00.html
  • "Garden Lighting: Enjoy Your Landscape Day and Night." (Dec. 29, 2011)
  • Patteson, Jean. "Outdoor kitchen is the home's new social hub." Orlando Sentinel. May 28, 2010. (Dec. 29, 2011)
  • Savvy Landscaping. "Winter prep for your outdoor living space." Oct. 25, 2008.