Patios are commonly used an an outdoor extension of a home's indoor living room -- complete with lounge furniture, a dining table and chairs and mood lighting. Depending on your style, your patio can be decorated to function as a place for cookouts and fancy soirees or a tranquil space to relax. Whatever your preference may be, we've compiled a list of decorating ideas that will inspire you to live al fresco throughout the year.
Over the next few pages, you'll find ideas for adding practical touches, pure comfort, culinary flair, privacy and panache to your patio. First up, let's explore patio furniture.
Patio furniture can help you relax comfortably in your outdoor space -- if you plan it right. When contemplating furnishings for your patio, keep these things in mind:
- Scale the Furnishings to the Space: One enormous couch in an area designed for a table and chairs will probably end up being a traffic hazard. Make sure that the furnishings you choose for your patio keep the space open and easy to move around in.
- Avoid Being an Eyesore: Even though you have a lot of latitude when designing your patio, if you can see it from the front of the house, make an effort to keep the style consistent with the prevailing architecture.
- Keep It All-weather: Keep your patio looking good for longer than a season or two by choosing furniture that's built to last outdoors. The fiber fillers in outdoor furniture cushions repel moisture and resist mildew, and the fabrics are UV-protected.
In the next section, we'll take a look at one of the newest designs in outdoor living: the open-air kitchen.
The Open Air Kitchen
Anyone who's eaten barbecue fresh off the grill knows the allure of outdoor cooking. Everything seems to taste better that way, too. Add the advantage of keeping all the heat, grease and humidity that comes with cooking outside your home, and the prospect of an open air kitchen seems downright mouthwatering.
Elaborate outdoor kitchens and entertainment areas can be big-ticket items, though. A comprehensive package including luxuries like a refrigerator, stereo, cooking island and ritzy grilling equipment can carry a price tag of more than $35,000, but you don't have to be rich to have all the tools to cook outdoors. A grill with a large prep counter setup can cost as little as $3,000, and you can pick up an all-weather stainless steel refrigerator for around $500.
Deck and Patio Lighting
Good lighting will make your patio safer and enhance your home's security. Embedded lights, like those in stepping stones and even stairways, help you watch your step -- literally. Landscape lights can illuminate walkways or mount to posts, fences or walls.
Regardless if you're looking to keep your electricity-related costs to a minimum or you'd like to do your part to help the planet, solar lighting is a great option.These fixtures come in a number of styles that'll work in different areas of your landscape. There are no wires to worry about, and solar lights will work almost anywhere the sun shines. A fully charged solar fixture can provide up to 15 hours of illumination.
Another good lighting option is low-voltage (12-volt) lighting. They're inexpensive and available in a number of brightness levels, plus they're energy-efficient.
Adding a few motion sensors around entrances is a good idea, too, as the sudden, surprising illumination will likely cause any would-be intruder to flee before entering your home.
Paying Attention to Privacy
If your patio is visible from the street or can be viewed easily by the neighbors, you might feel as though you're on stage every time you walk outside. But if you think it's rude to build a tall fence to protect your privacy, why not let nature do the work by planting a hedge or a few shrubs? Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), juniper (Juniperus) and arborvitaes will all help create a tasteful screen. If you need something taller, try planting hedges in raised beds or planting a few strategic trees, like a dwarf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum).
Of course, if you can't afford to wait for hedges and trees to grow, consider adding a trellis or prefabricated vinyl divider to your patio. These screens are available ready-made or in do-it-yourself kits that go together easily. You can also build one yourself from wood slats. If a trellis still allows too much visibility, incorporate it with climbing vines like clematis, ivy or wisteria. Vines offer thick coverage that will conceal your patio activities while adding some color and texture to the landscape.
Outdoor living should appeal to the senses and help relax and refresh you. To create a focal point and get a feng shui vibe going in your space, consider adding a water feature to the area around your patio. A stream with its own bridge or a pond, bird bath or fountain will supply you with the soothing sound and sparkle of water that'll put you in touch with nature. Just remember to keep your water-focused addition in scale with the rest of the landscape.
When dealing with outdoor spaces, texture is your friend. Lattice work, pots made of unusual materials like hypertufa, bamboo curtains and wrought iron all help create an interesting mood. Even ferns when juxtaposed with sturdier broad leaf plants will offer a filigree of green that's eye-catching and memorable.
Lavish color is also always an enhancement to outdoor spaces, too. If you're dealing with a plain concrete slab, brighten it up with painted benches and some colorful throw pillows.
Build a Fire Pit
Yes, you could buy an inexpensive fire pit consisting of a simple metal bowl on a pedestal, but by spending as little as $500 to $1,000, you can build a sturdy stone or brick fire pit right on top of your patio floor. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Do Your Homework: Before you start building your fire pit, it's important to research your area's building codes regarding permits and outdoor fires. When choosing an area in your yard, be sure to build away from any shrubs, flammable materials, structures or low hanging trees.
- Select Your Materials: Make sure you choose a stone for your fire pit that's uniform in shape, size and quality -- it might be a little more expensive than other materials, but the consistency of these stones will save you time during the project.
- Protect the Interior: You can protect the interior of your stone fire pit by covering the walls with black stove spray paint. This paint is fast-drying, durable, can withstand heat up to 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit and will not blister, flake or peel.
Spruce up your patio by adding flowers, potted plants and other foliage to your outdoor space. A simple herb garden can double as patio greenery, and it'll be easy to maintain, too. Visit your local garden center and ask which varieties of plants thrive in your area. Cacti and succulents do well in warm, dry conditions, and other popular patio flowers, like pansies, are best potted in rich soil and kept outside during warmer months.
Be creative with the plants you choose, and combine various colors and textures in a single pot to make a unique arrangement. Use pots in various shapes and sizes, and recycle unused household items, like wooden crates and metal washtubs to serve as new homes for your arrangements. Instead of displaying plants on a traditional plant stand, place them on the steps of an old wooden ladder or inside an antique high chair to create height. Your patio space will be green, lively and have a personality all its own.
A potting bench is a patio must-have for anyone who enjoys gardening. Not only is a bench a convenience to gardeners, but it can serve as a handy storage space for gardening tools as well.
Once you find a place for your potting bench on your patio, begin stocking the drawers and shelves with necessary gardening tools. Drawers can serve as a place to organize seeds, and large cabinets can hold heavy bags of potting soil, mulch and clay pots. Shears, pruners, a watering pail and a garden rake are common tools that every gardener should own -- hang them in a place where they are all readily available and easily accessed. Finally, leave plenty of counter space to serve as a prepping area for arranging assortments of flowers and plants.
We've already discussed adding a possible outdoor kitchen and furniture to your patio, but why not include a fully stocked bar cabinet to the list? Shop for a cabinet with a finish that will weather with the seasons. You could even hunt for a discarded piece at your local thrift store, and give it a new life with a fresh coat of paint. No matter what kind of furniture you choose to use, just make sure it has plenty of shelves to store all the items you need to throw a fantastic, impromptu backyard soiree.
Of course, to be prepared for any party, you're going to need a fully stocked bar. Wines like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, shiraz and pinot grigio are sure to be crowd-pleasers, but remember that you should also have other spirits handy, like rum, vodka, gin, whisky and brandy to give guests a wide variety of choices at your next get together. And when the cabinet isn't being used, be sure to secure the doors with a padlock to keep contents clean, safe and out of the hands of minors.
While patios serve as a relaxing living space for homeowners, Mother Nature can often sweep in as an uninvited guest, ruining a day or evening outdoors with high temperatures or rain. To shield yourself from storms and the sun's harmful rays, consider adding a retractable awning or umbrella to your patio space. The shade that these coverings offer will allow you and your family to enjoy your patio comfortably regardless if it's hotter than blazes or raining cats and dogs. You'll have several options depending on your budget and the size of your patio. Such as:
- Retractable awning: This modern shelter allows you to shade your porch and keep it dry during a storm, but you can also retract it to enjoy the sun's rays.
- Sail shades: They're flexible enough that you can attach them to anything from the side of a house to a tree, and they come in many sizes, shapes and colors to fit any budget and style.
- Umbrella: This back-porch classic is both decorative and functional and will give diners a shady respite during mealtimes. For nighttime parties, drape garden lights inside an umbrella for added ambiance.
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