Creating an Outdoor Living Space

Author: Alecia Pirulis


Picture it: The soft morning sun is just beginning to chase off the slight night chill. A cool mist clings to the air and mingles with hints of honeysuckle, jasmine, hyacinth, or gardenia. A steaming mug of coffee warms your hands as you settle in to your outdoor lounge chair, complete with a throw blanket and a pillow. A soft breeze weaves through the wind chimes and the impromptu tune mixes with the rustling of the leaves and the morning calls of birds, creating a melodious morning concerto. Before you head off to work, or school, or begin daily chores, this is your time to relax, wake up, and greet the new day.

If instead of the above the reality is a cramped, seldom used patio or a sparse backyard with patches of brown grass or even a front porch with nothing on it but a dead plant and a couple of long-forgotten newspapers, perhaps it is time to create your outdoor living space. It is much easier and cheaper than you think, and you’ll be enjoying that peaceful morning before you know it.

The first step is to determine where you want your outdoor living space to be. It could be your front porch, a spot in the back or side yard, or your back patio or deck. Even if you only have a tiny balcony in a high-rise apartment, you can create an outdoor space. Once you’ve selected a location, determine your needs: Will noise from neighbors or traffic be an issue? What about privacy? Is the location level? How easy will it be to perform upkeep, such as watering, weeding, and cleaning? Is the location full-sun, and if so, will you need some sort of shelter from it? Where will you store items in inclement weather?

To create a patio, start with a clean slate. Remove all of the debris, plants, tree stumps, roots, etc. from the area. You’ll want to dig about six inches down to make space for the pavers. Once you have your area cleared, level it out and tamp it down. Block weeds by covering the area with landscape fabric, then cover the fabric with gravel and tamp that down. You want a solid surface so your pavers don’t shift. Cover the gravel with a layer of sand. Install the pavers, tapping them down with a rubber mallet. Once all of the pavers are in place, add more sand and use a broom to sweep the sand into the crevices of the pavers. Hose off the excess sand – this will also help set the pavers. You may notice a few gaps after cleaning off the patio. If so, fill them in with more sand.

Now that the patio is done, it’s time to add furniture. Decide what you would use most: Adirondack chairs? An outdoor couch and coffee table? A free-standing hammock? Lounge chairs? A dining set or bistro table? Don’t head for the expensive furniture stores just yet – first, shop around at flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores. Look for shape, size, and basic condition – everything else can be updated or fixed. That old cast-iron bistro set, for example, is beautiful as-is, or it can be spray-painted. The old wicker couch and chairs can also be painted, and the cushions can be covered or replaced. By just replacing a few slats, that old porch swing is ideal. You can save a lot of money by looking for second-hand furniture, then fixing it up to make it your own. Since this is an outdoor room, you can get as creative as you want so feel free to experiment with color and fabric.

Consider adding unique or unusual containers for outdoor plants, such as old washtubs, birdbaths, a rusty wheelbarrow, even an old trough. You’ll be amazed at how beautiful these recycled items will be once you’ve filled them with petunias, mums, and begonias. For privacy, consider adding a trellis with a climbing vine, fencing, or planting some bamboo.

Choose plants based on the amount of sun you have, but also consider the types of wildlife you’d like to invite into your space. Hummingbirds, for example, are attracted to plants such as azaleas, honeysuckle, lantana, morning glory, bee balm, columbine, foxglove, hosta, impatiens, and petunias. To attract butterflies, plant snapdragon, verbena, violets, goldenrod, hollyhock, sunflowers, and nasturtium. You can also attract butterflies with some items you may find useful yourself: dill, tarragon, mint, parsley, anise, sage, and oregano.

A porch, patio, or deck is easily transformed with just a few changes. Hang an outdoor swing or add a couple of chairs, some tables, containers with flowers, candle lanterns, a few hanging planters, a throw, some pillows, and an outdoor rug. You may also want to hang chimes and add outdoor lighting. Decorate the exterior walls just as you would a wall inside your home, only with a slightly more rustic touch. Be sure to include plants in cheerful containers and add some outdoor artwork.

If your patio is in the direct sun, you might want to consider a pergola for growing grape vines or wisteria, which will add some shade, color, and beauty. A gazebo is another great option, and these are readily available at many home improvement stores. If neither of these solutions will work for you, consider a sun umbrella or canopy.

The sound of a fountain can instill a sense of tranquility to your space. A water feature is a great addition to any outdoor space, and these can range from small, free-standing fountains to rock waterfalls. Another element you may want to include in your outdoor design is fire – through a fire pit, an outdoor fireplace, or chiminea.

Stop here and you’ll have an amazing, peaceful space to enjoy. If you enjoy entertaining, however, you may want to consider adding an outdoor kitchen. The outdoor kitchen’s key (and most important) feature is the grill. Set up your grill in an open area, away from structures such as gazebos, arbors, overhangs, and awnings. You can build around the grill by adding counter space, storage space, and even an outdoor sink. If you add an outdoor kitchen, don’t forget to include several seating areas for all of your guests – a bistro set, a picnic bench, an outdoor table and chairs, and possibly a counter space with bar stools.