5 Ways to Create a Beautiful Outdoor Living Space

11175002_10204354166271278_4758310620820574253_nA friend posted a picture on Facebook the other day of a tiny patch of snow with the caption “Some people just don’t know when to leave.”  As of Saturday I had a teeny tiny patch left in a spot that doesn’t get much sun…but with all the rain we have had the past 24 hours (poor Boston marathoners) it is finally gone.  Finally.  For those of us in the Boston area, it has been a brutal winter that made up for its very late start by pounding us with snowstorm after snowstorm for about 5 weeks, then finished out the winter with record-setting low temperatures.  In New England you can never really count on winter being over until May, but I think we are pretty safe at this point.

So now that it seems like spring is here, that must mean summer is just around the corner, right?  Memorial Day, the “unofficial start to summer,” is a mere 34 days away.  My landscapers have already been by to do the spring clean-up and the other day I hauled some of my outdoor furniture onto my deck (a bit of wishful thinking at this point but I like seeing it there).  With that in mind I thought I would focus today on the outdoor living space, which is becoming more and more elaborate.   These spaces are becoming an extension of the house, often providing fire pits or fireplaces, outdoor cooking stations that go far beyond a simple grill, televisions, pools and more.  And while it would be nice to have a space that looks like this…

PCdqgK_C…I am instead going to focus on more practical things you can do to add spark to your outdoor space.

#1…Add a Covered Space

Having some covered outdoor space can be nice in order to keep out of the sun and the heat of the day.  Covered space can be achieved very simply with an umbrella, some of which are quite large and provide wonderful shading for your seating area.

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Then there is a canvas gazebo.  I love the transformation this woman did…she started out with a crappy looking cement pad.  She did a LOT of DIY…if you are crafty and have the time, go at it.  But you could easily mimic this look without breaking the bank even if you bought things instead of made them.  The gazebo is only $199 from Home Depot (currently on backorder until mid-June, still plenty of time for summer).  I think it really helps define the space and makes it feel like a cozy room.

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Having the covered space also allows you to add some lighting…I LOVE strung lights…

#2…Outdoor Lighting

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is driving around and seeing all the beautiful Christmas lights.  I always wonder why we don’t have outdoor lights like that year round (although admittedly, my lights are still outside although unplugged…time to bring them in until next December).  Just as it is inside your home, lighting can have a huge impact on how things look and the overall mood.  String lights are great and finding ones that are approved for outdoor use is easy (Home Depot has a whole selection of cool outdoor string lights at reasonable prices).  If you have covered space you can also use lamps and overhead fixtures…just make sure they are approved for outdoor use, like this overhead fixture from Ballard Designs that is UL Listed for damp locations.  Here are a few ideas for inspiration.  This looks positively magical…

9-string-lights-diy-ideasAnd this is relatively simple…even I can wrap lights around a tree trunk.

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#3…Fireplaces/Fire Pits

Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits seem to have really taken off lately.  Certainly if you are looking at taking on a big outdoor makeover, adding a custom fireplace would be terrific. These can be wood burning…

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or gas…

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depending on your preference (I am a huge lover of gas fireplaces…I have one of each inside my house and I used the gas one almost every day this winter and never, not once, used the wood burning one…but maybe I am just lazy).  Even if you aren’t doing a big outdoor makeover you can still get the fireplace effect with minimal (or at least a much lower) investment.   You can spend under $200 and buy what essentially amounts to a metal basin in which you build your fire.  Some models also have a mesh top and some are both a fire pit and a statement piece, like this model from Frontgate (for a mere $2300…and you still have to build your own fire).

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Or, if you are like me and don’t really enjoy the effort involved in building a fire (I was a Girl Scout, believe it or not), then there are fire pits that are fueled by propane.  I bought this version a few years ago from Frontgate…it has little rocks and fake logs and lights up at the flick of a switch (yes, I have the furniture too, sue me).  The propane tank is hidden underneath.  LOVE IT.

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I know Frontgate is pricey, but they do have some beautiful fire pits.  Adding a fireplace or fire pit gives everyone a place to gather round and it adds that level of ambiance that makes people want to stay. (Sidebar…looking at those sofa cushions reminded me of this tip to help spruce them up after the long winter…a little homemade cleaning solution.)

#4…Plants

You’re outside, plant some flowers and greenery.  Once again this can be elaborately done with lined beds and meticulous landscaping that requires a crew to maintain, or it can involve simply planting some flowers in a pot or hanging basket.  I thought this was  a cool idea…planting containers within the ground to keep things literally “contained” and neat looking.  I also love the low grassy plant used as edging.

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I also like the idea of growing some mosquito repelling plants…lemongrass is one and you can easily root it and grow it in containers (here in New England it will not survive the winter…I would suggest starting it indoors in the spring) ~ you can usually find lemongrass in the fresh herb section of the supermarket.  Here is a great “how-to”  on getting started.  Other plants that are reportedly mosquito repelling are lemon balm, catnip, marigold, basil, lavender, peppermint, rosemary and geranium.

Then of course there is the simple pot with flowers…make sure to add something taller in the back and something that spills over the edge.  Mine never look like this…

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Finally, here is a great how-to for hanging baskets that will help you achieve a full, lush look.

#5…Miscellaneous Outdoor Decor

There is so much you can do to add warmth and color to your outdoor space…it isn’t much different from decorating a room inside…you add outdoor rugs, decorative pillows, curtains, wall art, clocks, lanterns and wreaths…be creative.  Make it feel like a room that just happens to be outdoors…

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So…there you have it.  I think you have some work to do…better get going, summer will be here before you know it.  3049898_orig

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About Lisa Van Dore

I have lived in Sherborn, Dover and most recently North Walpole, for a total of 15 years (and counting). Having recently been through the process of selling a home and buying (and renovating) a new one, I understand the conflicting emotions of excitement and anxiety inherent in the process, whether you are a seller or buyer, whether this is your first home purchase or your tenth. I have a BA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Indiana University. My early career found me working as a CPA, and later as the controller of Crate & Barrel. More recently I spent seven years running my own personal training business. I understand the hard work and dedication necessary to build a business and a reputation...most of my personal training clients came to me by referral and my first client was still with me when I decided to leave personal training. This speaks to the level of effort I put forth for my clients, week after week. On a more personal note, I raced triathlon for seven years and more recently completed my first half marathon. In my free time I enjoy cooking, reading, Maine, hiking and, in the fall, following college football...my teams are the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and Texas Christian University (Go Frogs!).
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One Response to 5 Ways to Create a Beautiful Outdoor Living Space

  1. paige smith says:

    I love all of these great ideas for making the yard a haven. I definitely love my small gazebo. It makes summer nights all the much more worth it.

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