Backyard Planning for Beginners: 5 Outdoor Living Space Tips
For so many people, backyard spaces seem almost an afterthought.
With so much potential in backyards, here at BuildDirect we’ve written a lot on outdoor design, and here’s where to look for our great list of articles about outdoor living spaces.
If you’re starting from nothing, it can be a little overwhelming to come up with exactly what you should do. For some, it’s simple: Get a generic umbrella and chair set, throw it out back with the bought-on-sale BBQ, and it’s Margaritaville Madness.
But if you’re looking for more — maybe a homey, fun spot, you’ll need to put a little more thought into it. And, boy, can that get intimidating. When you’re designing indoors, at least there are walls and windows to give you some direction.
Outdoors, you need to follow your instinct on what works for you.
When you consider how much of your monthly mortgage or rent pays for your yard, it’s foolish to not make it an extension of your home.
When you’re just getting started on creating an outdoor haven, it might be good to keep your goals simple — maybe part lounge, part cooking/dining area, and all awesome. Start with the basics and grow from there.
This year, your yard deserves a little more thought, because you deserve to enjoy the rewards all year long.
Whether you buy a lavish outdoor furniture set or cobble a space together with yard sale finds, backyard bliss is yours to be had with a little planning and some sweating.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind.
1. Provide shade
Shade is tricky, because the sun’s horizon changes not only throughout the day, but throughout the year. You definitely don’t want to be trapped in the shade all day long, but going without it isn’t the answer either.
If you’re not blessed with trees to give you a little reprieve from heat, then you’ll need to make that a priority to really enjoy your space.
An umbrella is an easy solution. A covered deck is a dream to have but not everyone gets that dream. Then, a lean-to or awning can do the trick. You can buy these ready-made, in kits, get them installed by pros, or pick up plans for any number of DIY projects.
Make sure whatever you install is appropriate for your area’s weather and wind, or storm season might pack more surprises than you bargain for.
2. Use color
Whether by using colorful furniture, bringing in knick-knacks and art pieces, or choosing bold fabrics, colors can be adventurous and fun in the backyard. From the Caribbean to the Far East, big colors look at home in the outdoors. Reds, blues, pinks, yellows, and more all look fantastic against a natural backdrop, but they might also be a shadow of their former self by the end of summer, if you choose poorly.
With sun exposure, choose fade-resistant fabrics. If they’re hard to reupholster for the future, and consider choosing color before patterns, as it’s easier to change up solid bold colors (or warm neutral colors) with accessories year to year than it is to make a long-term commitment to the zany parrot-patterned chair fabric you found online.
For all these reasons, many choose to stick to natural tans and other muted tones when dressing up their outdoor spaces. I’m a fan of color, but neutral’s fine too, because that’s why the design gods invented accessorizing.
3. Think portability
It might be your backyard, but you’re just borrowing it from Mother Nature. If you’re in a wind or storm-prone area, having furniture that’s easy to move, or to secure, is a safety plan worth thinking about in advance.
Portable furniture is more than just safe, it’s good for parties! Especially when you’ve got limited yard space. Rearranging to accommodate for a crowd — or for a little bocce challenge, a Twister throw-down, or some Frisbee-throwing — makes barbecue night a lot more fun and fit for mingling into the wee hours.
Wheels, hinges, or simply removable cushions are all a part of having a flexible backyard built for entertaining variety and storm season savvy.
4. Consider food and grills
An outdoor kitchen is a thing many foodies dream of. Now, not everyone’s crazy about barbecuing and other outdoor cookery, but most folks with a great backyard tend to have a grill there someplace.
If you’re an outdoor cooking enthusiast, you know all the grease and condiments and messy food that come with. If you’ve ever tried to clean dried ketchup out of a woven wicker, you’ll understand the pain of having furniture ill-prepared for such dining adventures. I’m looking at you, rattan.
While outdoor fabrics are always best when machine washable or wipeable for cleaning, it’s critical when you’re an outdoor chef. Table surfaces that aren’t smooth, like wicker, bamboo, rattan, or woven grasses, are easily solved with a cut-to-size sheet of tempered glass on top for easy cleaning.
Naturally, if your grill has a carnivore at the grate, cooking with meats and fish will require a separate surface for grilling ingredients, so your outdoor space stays food-safe for guests. After all, even a mayo-spreading station becomes a health hazard on a sunny day.
And if you do plan to feast it up outdoors, having your cooking area near to where you’re growing herbs might inspire additional cooking greatness. Here’s a backgrounder on some herbs to consider planting.
5. Plan for day and night
Who says backyards are just for daytime use? An evening beverage under the stars, some conversation, a quiet night, and your yard becomes the haven it should be.
Lighting makes your investment dollar go even further outdoors, so you’ll need a power source nearby, or a creative solution for it.
We covered some ideas for lighting outdoor spaces another BuildDirect post, and you can read that lighting and outdoor space post here.
From furniture to accessories, think outside the box when designing your outdoors. It’s a space for you. Want to play board games, read books, drink martinis, encourage friends to drop by? Then plan with that, with you, in mind.
Consider the space, what you want, and go for it.