1. Opt for circular tables over rectilinear shapes. If you’re in the market for an outdoor table and chair set, consider a circular or oval-shaped table over square or rectilinear. Rounded tables are easier to navigate around and can better accommodate another guest in a pinch. No one likes to sit at the corner during dinner.
2. Maximize your garden walls. Most gardens concentrate on the ground surface, but fences and walls also offer design opportunity. This homeowner repurposed what appears to be vintage mailboxes into planters. It’s a great use of space on a small patio.
Don’t forget about the top of your garden wall, either. This one sports a layer of wood planters. Consider this route if you have a less-than-desirable view you’d like to screen, want more privacy from neighbors or just want more planting space. Keep in mind that you’ll probably need some carpentry work to support the planters.
Here, architectural corbels create a lovely finish to the top of a wall. They’re secured to a wood cap on the wall and support a small trellis running along it.
3. Bring some noise.
Hopefully your backyard has the sound of chirping birds and buzzing bees; if it doesn’t, incorporating some nature sounds will be good for your mind and soul. The sound of water is not only relaxing but can help mask traffic and other unwanted noise.
Big-budget landscape projects often incorporate water features, but you can enjoy the same benefits with a smaller, free-standng fountain. Margie Gracefashioned this glazed pot into one. Many nurseries sell the components or full kits to create fountains and ponds.
If you don’t have space for a fountain or the sound of bubbling water sends you running to the bathroom, a wind chime could be a good alternative. This one, tied to a tree, has an added sculptural effect.
4. Add drapery for privacy, sun protection, softness and drama.
Drapery panels are effective at softening the harsh rays of the sun as well as making your patio a bit more private and cozy. They’re also more flexible than shades, allowing you to shift them left to right as needed.
Use an indoor-outdoor fabric, such as Sunbrella, particularly for areas that are exposed to the elements. Also look for panels with weighted bottoms so they don’t blow into your barbecue if it’s a breezy day. You’ll need to anchor them to an overhead structure, like the underside of this patio overhang.
Sheers are semi-private and soften the hard lines of pergolas and overhangs. While they don’t protect from sun and rain, they can help keep bugs out and add a sense of drama and romance to a backyard space.
5. String up lights for an inexpensive transformation. String lights can make the saddest of spaces look upbeat. Cost varies from about $10 to $175 per string, depending on the quantity of lights, material, bulb type and whether they’re heavy-duty-rated for commercial outdoor use. Most are in the $20 to $40 range. Design options abound, from small to large globes and with or without decorative shades.
My favorite is strung paper lanterns. While paper isn’t an ideal choice for outdoors, you can find these in nylon and in a rainbow of colors and patterns. For maximum longevity, install them in a covered area.
A string of flags is always a festive addition to a patio, whether it’s someone’s birthday or not.
6. Personalize your outdoor space. With some creative thinking, you’ll find ways to express yourself beyond your choice of flowers, plants and shrubs. Here, vintage glass marbles have been epoxied to the top of a wrought iron railing.
A Southern friend of mine introduced me to bottle trees, a favorite Southern garden ornament. Bottles are inserted on the branches of a dead tree or larger limbs tied together. According to folklore, the bottles capture bad spirits roaming in the night. Cobalt blue is the most sought-after bottle color, but green and other colors are popular too.
Author Felder Rushing wrote a book about bottle trees (Bottle Trees and the Whimsical Art of Garden Glass) and shares interesting historical backgroundabout the tradition.
In this backyard space, homeowner Carla Karsakis painted a mural to show off her affinity for Art Deco illustration.
If you plan on staying in your house for a while, take that jar of collected rocks, shells and mementos and make it part of your patio wall or floor.
7. Nix neutrals — weave in pattern and color. Decking material, pavers, fencing and home exteriors tend to be neutral, so without some pattern and a punch of vivid color, your space can look lackluster. These days, indoor-outdoor carpet and area rugs come in a bevy of patterns and colors, like the one shown here.
Throw pillows are another easy way to introduce pattern, color and texture without a lot of commitment. Here, the pillows are actually what you notice first. Pillows also make sometimes stiff outdoor lounge seating more comfy. Make sure the fabric and insert are appropriate for outdoor use if they’re not going to be covered.
8. Reuse what you already have. Check your attic, basement and garage for underused pieces that might find new life outdoors. This tiered plant stand spent a previous incarnation as a candle holder.
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