The Secrets to Comfortable Outdoor Spaces

When summer approaches, our thoughts instinctively turn to outdoor living. We yearn for the season of grilling, fireflies, casual cocktails among friends and patriotic holiday celebrations. Fortunately, readying your patio, deck or balcony for relaxing times with friends and family is easier than you might imagine. All it takes is some elbow grease, planning and the comforts of home to make your outdoor space the pride of the neighborhood.

Start with a Good Cleaning
Start by giving everything—including patio furniture—a good scrubbing and even a new paint color. Don’t worry if your deck is dingy or concrete slab is discolored. Rent a power washer and blast away the grime. Tack down loose deck planks and smooth splinters with a sander. Finish by applying a deck sealer. Fill patio cracks and update the surface with specialized concrete stain. Give new life to an old grill with a coat of heat-resistant spray enamel.

Identify Your Preferences
Next, determine what you want to accomplish with your outdoor space. A small balcony may only have room for a bistro set for two. Increase the functionality by adding a small electric grill to create an intimate outdoor cooking and dining area. Delineate larger outdoor spaces by function as you would inside your home. Say you want a quiet place for yoga and your partner wants to tend a small garden bed. Carve out these specific areas before planning the placement your social zones.

Create a View
While it would be marvelous to overlook the ocean or a sparkling pool, not every home is blessed with a fabulous view. Invent a view of your own by creating a focal point with functional plantings or well-placed accessories. Conceal an imposing block wall and add interest by installing trellis and covering it in fragrant, trailing jasmine. A bubbling water feature surrounded by river rock creates zen-like calm. A corner of your small patio will become the center of attention by including a sculpture or classic wall fountain.

Go Under Cover
One key ingredient to a comfortable outdoor space is a covered area to provide shade or protection from the elements. Not everything needs to be under cover, just primary entertaining areas. If you are not fortunate enough to have a covered patio, consider purchasing a large umbrella or two for much needed shade during the day. Consider installing a versatile retractable awning or a stationary canvas sail to block the sun and let you entertain outdoors even on rainy days.

Bring Indoors Out
If you are stumped when it comes to furnishing outdoor social spaces, simply apply the same design sense you would follow when decorating your home’s living areas. Start by pulling furniture away from walls and creating groupings that invite social interaction. Place two sofas or one sofa and two chairs directly across from each other to create a comfortable, intimate seating area. Use side tables and a coffee table as you would inside. Everyone needs a place to set a drink, book or small plate of hors d'oeuvres.

Overstuffed cushions and colorful throw pillows give outdoor furniture a luxurious feel. Enhance evening entertaining with a stylish, damp-rated pendant paired with table or floor lamps. Forego the electricity altogether, and let candles light up the evening’s festivities. Visually separate spaces by using textural, outdoor area rugs in colors that complement other furnishings. Envelope the space and add softness with weather-resistant curtains hung from the patio cover or pergola.

Cook and Dine al Fresco
Why heat up the kitchen on a warm summer day when you can cook and dine in comfort outside? Select a table and comfy seating that will accommodate all of your guests. A coordinating buffet will give you extra serving space and storage for larger gatherings. Place the barbeque grill nearby and locate outdoor dining adjacent to your kitchen entry. This will allow for easy access to indoor prep and cleanup. Dress the table with beautiful linens, dinnerware, candles and a floral arrangement.

Punctuate with Plants
Whether you are into drought-tolerant landscaping or lush tropicals, don't forget to add plenty of decorative plantings to your outdoor living space. Plant life of any type will soften hard edges and create a comfortable backdrop for your furnishings. Even if your little slice of outdoor heaven is in a mid-town highrise, you can get back to nature by using a variety of potted plants. Select plants of different heights and choose planters that reflect the aesthetic of your design. An assortment of dwarf trees, potted hedges, grasses and flowers create a verdant, yard-like setting.

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