Create Your Own Outdoor Living Space

via The Bulletin

A common summer goal in many households is to spend more time outside. More days chasing the sweet spot between the sunshine and the shade. More evenings in the open air, dining alfresco or entertaining family and friends. Less time spent inside and tied to technology.

Try moving your downtime and relaxation outside. After all, who said the patio can’t be as comfortable as the living room? Or that beds belong only indoors? That dining rooms can’t be under the canopy of a large tree? Or that porches and carports can’t be a seasonal family room or home office too?

To get the most out of outdoor living space, begin by analyzing the rooms inside your home. Then, explore the many ways to apply the same layout and design strategies to replicate the comfort and function for your outside “rooms,” swapping inside-only furnishings for more weather-ready replacements.

Since covered areas such as carports and porches are already, well, covered, they allow the biggest degree of flexibility when it comes to furnishings. Maximize the use of these areas first.

But with today’s high-tech weatherproof fabrics, furniture-protecting stains and latex paints, and cushions and mattresses made of quick-dry, open-cell foam, even uncovered areas can be set up permanently for the season, as ready for relaxing as they are for a rainstorm.

Outline your outdoor ‘room’

First, define the area for its new purpose. Separate it from the rest of the yard by adding a floor with an outdoor carpet or patio mat. Add a roof by hanging canvas or shade fabric. You could even frame the area by sinking sturdy posts to mark the corners, adding lanterns at the top or strings of lights between them.

Alternatively, you can simply use the exterior features of your home or yard to do this for you. Paver patios, decks and covered areas such as porches already define the usable space above or beneath them.

Weatherproof your wares

A few coats of waterproof stain or latex outdoor paint can turn inside-only wooden furniture into outside-worthy pieces in a snap. Give coffee, dining and end tables several coats and always be sure to pay careful attention to sealing the base or legs.

A futon frame makes for a great couch base and can double as a bed when folded out and topped with an outdoor mattress made of open-cell foam. Available in a variety of sizes and thicknesses, this weather-resistant foam can be custom cut to create cushions, mattresses or pillows for nearly any piece of furniture. Cover with textiles designed for outdoor use, many of which are anti-microbial and resist mold and mildew available in a wide range or colors, patterns and textures.

Beds for sleeping beneath the stars or napping in the shade can be as simple or as elegant as you want. Painting a couple of pallets and nailing them together can make for a simple outdoor bed base. Or try a brass or metal bed frame after protecting it from the elements with a rust-proof spray paint. Suspension beds hung from porch ceilings or sturdy tree limbs can marry the freedom of a hammock to the sturdy base of a bed, with the ease of a porch swing.

Light it all up

Thoughtful use of lighting can add visual effects while extending the use of outdoor areas until well after the sun goes down. Stylish fixtures that focus light down onto a chaise lounge for reading or uplighting used in dark corners and at the base of plants are just two examples.

A string of lights can “raise the ceiling” of an outdoor room by drawing the eye upward and taking advantage of vertical space just as well as solar lights can lead the eye from one area or “room” to another. Strips of lights enclosed in flexible cords can be useful too. Distinguish the perimeters of a room or draw attention to hazards such as stairs or elevation changes.

For a touch of vintage charm and romance, hang a chandelier with battery-powered lights from a tree limb above a dining table or from the porch above a bed beneath.

Get ready to cook

For outdoor kitchen and dining rooms, add counter space for prepping meals that can double as a buffet for serving. One inexpensive way to create both is to repurpose an old door; simply turn it on its side, add legs and apply a thick coat or two of clear lacquer.

For a longer, narrower counter, cut the door in half lengthwise and connect the pieces end to end, or for an L-shape, cut one end of each section at a 45-degree angle and join together to form a 90- degree corner bar top. Add more legs for stability whenever necessary.

Shorter tables and bars make finding inexpensive seating options easier. For a rustic look, cut logs into stools and top with fabric-covered cushions.

Another quick way to add a dining or drink-holding surface is to reinforce a deck railing and add a bar top, where daytime snacks and evening cocktails can be enjoyed from a barstool overlooking the garden. Use L brackets for added support.

Make it cozy (even secret)

Even if you don’t have nosy neighbors, adding features such as walls or curtains can help add shade as well as privacy, further defining the space of a room with style. Wooden fences and rock walls are standard, but using brightly colored paint or corrugated metal sheeting can give a bold or industrial look.

For a secret garden feeling, use living walls planted with succulents or salad greens or other vertical plants such as trellised vines, tall potted trees or flowering shrubs. Curtain rods hung from tree limbs, fence lines and other unexpected places are another way to add an inside touch to outdoor rooms. Add tiny weights to the bottom hem to keep from flapping in the wind.

Get the kids involved

Children in the home should get an outdoor room of their own. Provide a small covered area or waterproof tub with a lid for toy storage. Build a makeshift kitchen for making mud pies, or create a water table with a plastic basin to spray full with the hose. Complete the area with kid-sized furniture, a tiny picnic table or small chaise lounge for dining and relaxing.

Because I grew up with Hawaiian relatives, it seemed natural to me that outside living areas should be as useful as those inside. With sky-high Honolulu real estate prices, lanai and screened porch space was fully utilized for living, dining and sleeping. A necessity for them, it was a luxury for me — a mainlander from rainy Eugene — to sleep outside even at Christmas time, protected by the roofline from the tropical drizzles that fell just a few feet away.

Although our cold winters prevent the year-round outdoor living that islanders enjoy, we can still get the most of our warm seasons by creating outdoor rooms as comfortable and functional as those inside.

— Reporter: [email protected]

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