“Summertime, and the living is easy …”
George Gershwin penned these lyrics over 80 years ago, but the sentiment still holds true today. Nothing beats outdoor living when the weather is perfection, and entertaining reaches whole new heights under the sun or moon and stars. You don’t have to break the bank in order to create a lovely staycation spot in your backyard, and even the smallest of spaces can be transformed into a “home away from home” with careful thought and attention to detail. Several questions asked up front will help you determine your preferences for a fabulous backyard oasis, which in turn helps you prioritize your purchases and investments. Consider the following:
- How is my space primarily used … for personal relaxation or for entertaining?
- If entertaining, do I prefer small, intimate gatherings or large parties?
- If I desire to utilize my space differently, what changes could I realistically make?
- Could some of those changes become a reality if I begin to budget for them now?
Once you’ve settled these questions in your mind, it’s time to get busy nailing down the details. Not all changes have to be made at once. Consider small investments you could make now and add to in the future. When it comes to outdoor entertaining, here are some things to ponder while you plan. Some of these can pull double-duty, depending on your available space, but let yourself begin to dream of the possibilities while you plan your strategy.
LOUNGE/EATING AREA: If you are fortunate enough to have the space, you can designate separate areas for eating and lounging; if not, one spot can serve both purposes. It’s preferable to include at least one backyard area that provides shaded seating. If a pergola or gazebo are not in the budget, consider a retractable canopy over your patio or deck. Comfort is a must, and it’s nice to vary your seating options. A wicker sectional, a patio chaise lounge, and a suspended swing chair offer different options for those who care to read, sip iced tea, or converse with others. A patio retaining wall can be structured to offer additional seating for larger groups. Flexible seating, on the other hand, allows your guests to pick up their chairs and follow the action. Above all, your seating should invite guests to linger. Color is in, so even if your original purchases boast a neutral tan or gray, jazz up your lounge area with colorful throw pillows or flowering plants. Choose low maintenance furniture and stain or fade resistant accessories. A standard picnic table is always inviting, but maintenance free materials and detached benches have made these an even more attractive option. A patio set typically includes an umbrella and comfortable, cushioned seats for those long, leisurely nights outside. Whether it’s just you unwinding solo at the end of the day or a graduation party for 100 people, this is the most important area for a backyard oasis and the first space you should begin to create.
OUTDOOR KITCHEN: Gone are the days of repeat trips between the kitchen and the deck! Outdoor kitchens have simplified the cooking and hosting process, and grilling keeps rising as the preferred summer food preparation method. Your outdoor kitchen may start with just a stainless steel grill, but investing in additional items will make your outdoor parties even more enjoyable by increasing functionality and reducing stress. Stone countertops and wooden cabinets can be added to make room for a sink, a mini-fridge, a bar, and even a wine cabinet. A food prep space means all the mess can be kept outdoors. Start small with a beverage cart, a patio cooler, or a portable bar; reclaimed wood or pallets can be used to build a more economical kitchen until you can afford to upgrade. Above all else, keep your outdoor kitchen easy to clean and maintain with surfaces that are resistant to grease and high temperatures as well as able to withstand precipitation.
FIRE PIT: Fire pit options are as endless as the possibilities they bring for fun and connection. If you have multiple gathering places in your yard, you may want to invest in a smaller, portable fire pit which can be moved from spot to spot. If you have a small area for outdoor entertaining, tabletop fire pits are a great alternative. Consider the prime space for guests in your backyard … where do folks like to gather? This will help you determine if your fire pit should be part of a deck or patio attached to your home, or freestanding in a private corner of your yard. In rural settings, a rustic stone fire ring surrounded by benches or logs may serve your purposes just fine. A large stone or in-ground fire pit, surrounded by Adirondack chairs or a built-in wood or cement sectional, offer ample room for larger gatherings. Some homeowners like the option of attaching it to the pool for warm, well-lit night swimming. A customized concrete pit can be formed to fit your exact space and then hooked up to existing gas lines for greater ease.
LANDSCAPING/FENCING: Landscaping and fencing can serve multiple purposes. A well-landscaped yard adds color and beauty and softens the harsh surfaces of wood and concrete. Large potted plants or strategically placed flower beds can be used to create zones within your yard by sectioning off one area from another. Landscaping can also be used to add privacy, whether through tall shrubbery or trellises covered with vines. This is always a good investment because the benefits increase each year as the plants mature and bloom. Fencing can also be used for privacy, and while a classic wooden fence remains affordable and popular, many homeowners are investing in more sustainable fencing materials, which hold up well under the elements and require no maintenance. Clean, minimal lines are trending, rather than the busy wrought iron fences of yesterday.
POOL/POOL HOUSE: Nothing says “party over here” quite like a pool! Even small yards can house a pool for a refreshing dip at the end of a long day. Single depth pools with classic geometric shapes are popular these days. Darker pool finishes have replaced white or light blue and cast an ocean-vibe over your backyard. Sun shelves are making an appearance. These wide ledges are an extension of the pool, usually submerged in less than a foot of water, and can be made wide enough to accommodate lounge chairs for sunbathing or reading. A pool house is a great way to extend hospitality to guests and can even house your outdoor kitchen or lounge area, if space allows. Lighting is key for those nighttime parties, and even ceiling fans or a weatherproof sound system can be installed. A pool house offers space to store extra suits and towels, snacks and beverages, and even a bathroom, cutting down on traffic in and out of your house. If your home is a gathering spot for friends and family, this is a worthy investment.
Proactive planning is your best friend when it comes to outdoor projects. Stock up on end-of-the-season sales for outdoor seating, cushions, and candles. Gather estimates for larger projects so you can begin to accumulate the necessary funds. Begin landscaping with larger foliage and add smaller plants to the layout each year. With a little forethought and creativity, a backyard oasis can be yours no matter your location, property size, or budget.