During the pandemic, many homeowners Marie Kondo’d their closets, packed their pantries, painted their walls and invested in home-improvement projects. Now it’s time to turn an eye toward outdoor living areas, which are hot commodities for social distancing this summer.
According to the U.S. Census Characteristics of New Housing survey, the number of new houses with patios rose 26% between 2010 and 2019, which was the last year data was available. Unfortunately, they need maintenance.
With these expert tips, transform a plain patio, dull deck, or tiny balcony into a relaxing retreat—without breaking the budget.
CLEAN IT UP
Power-washing decks and patios can “bring new life to the space,” says Kasia McDonald of Blue Diamond Staging & Design in Carthage, North Carolina. At the least, sweep away dead leaves and other debris, and weed between pavers, bricks, or stones.
PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY
Outdoor curtains are ideal for those whose balconies, patios, or decks are exposed to neighbors’ windows. Or consider an artificial ivy hedge. These products provide shade as well as privacy.
DELINEATE THE SPACE
A balcony, patio, or deck offers boundaries. If there is enough square footage, use furniture to create “rooms.”
“I love to use a sectional—flanked with several armchairs—to create a designated conversation area,” says Jenna Shaughnessy of Jenna Kate at Home in Boston, who stages homes for Realtors. “A coffee table or propane fire pit in the center serves as a center point.”
Outdoor rugs can also define an outdoor room, and they cushion your feet from hot concrete patios or balconies, she says.
In the yard, easy-to-assemble gazebos make instant outdoor rooms. Shaughnessy has also opened a large umbrella so kids can play on blankets. “They’re not too fussy about where they sit,” she says.
Pergolas have become ubiquitous at home-improvement stores. Some come with detachable roofs. Or use climbing plants to create live shelter, says Tim Bakke, director of publishing for The Plan Collection, which offers online home-design plans.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT MATERIALS
Most outdoor furniture can withstand the elements to a point. They require some form of care, according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Choose sun-resistant fabrics made with Sunbrella or another outdoor performance material, Shaughnessy says. “They will last for years as long as you clean them every so often and store them for winter.”
Her pro tip: Buy at the end of the season for steep discounts—and check out IKEA.
Strings of lights draped on a railing, umbrella spokes, or walls produce a romantic atmosphere when the sun sets. Candles create instant ambiance. If you use citronella candles, you can also keep mosquitos from joining the party, Shaughnessy says.
Fire pits add light and warmth. (Just make sure they’re not a safety hazard.) If you have the money and space, outdoor fireplaces are still trending, Bakke says (Heat lamps are also popular, he adds).
Shaughnessy likes to drape cozy blankets over chairs for when the weather drops. As with indoor décor, the little touches count.
DON’T FORGET DECOR
A unique piece can take your outdoor space to the next level, says Sarah Chao from Viridian Bay, which sells home and garden décor. Think ceramic garden stools and statutes that are conversation-starters.
Dress up a dining room table with a plant, lantern, or platter of candles, McDonald says. “Don’t feel the need to keep dinnerware on the table,” she adds, “it will look too cluttered.”
Fountains foster relaxation, but if the water gets stagnant, it can attract mosquitoes, Shaughnessy warns. Potted plants, meanwhile, are a must.
STICK TO BASICS IN SMALL SPACES
Too many garden gnomes, fountains, and pillows are rarely a good thing. But that’s particularly true if you have a small space, such as a balcony.
“Limit the amount of furniture,” says McDonald of Blue Diamond Staging & Design. “Otherwise, the space could look smaller. Less is more.”
A small café table and two chairs might be enough. Use multifunctional furniture when possible. “Metal garden stools can double as a side table,” notes Jenna Shaughnessy of Jenna Kate at Home, who stages homes for Realtors. For a pop of color, use bright pillows or painted chairs.
Decorative planters can also give a balcony personality, says Chao. “You can fill them with your favorite herbs, flowers, or plants and turn a basic balcony into a beautiful sitting area.”