Around the House – Creating a Comfortable Outdoor Living Space

A comfortable seat with plump pillows makes this shady spot the perfect place to unwind on a warm evening.  A few well-placed citronella candles help keep the bugs at bay.I am not an outdoors person.  In fact, I am most definitely a very indoors sort of gal.   I’m allergic to basically everything in our yard, my pale skin sunburns almost instantly, and at least once a summer I somehow end up with poison ivy. 

At right, A comfortable seat with plump pillows makes this shady spot the perfect place to unwind on a warm evening. A few well-placed citronella candles help keep the bugs at bay.

(The latter actually even occurred while I was living on 38th and 1st and hadn’t left Manhattan in three months.  If I can catch poison ivy on the subway, heaven help me in the woods.)   When summer rolls around, rather than head out for nature walks and bike rides, my natural instinct is to just move
my chair a bit closer to an open window.

But after a winter like this one, even I am ready to take advantage of the recent warm breezes and soft air of a summer night.   That said, I fully embrace the concept of bringing the indoors out and having all the comforts of my living room in my outdoor space.   Even if you don’t have an actual porch or patio, it’s surprisingly easy to transform a front step, tiny yard, or even a small patch of grass at a nearby park into an inviting “room” that even an outdoor-a-phobe like myself would find comfortable.

When creating your outdoor space, the most important thing to include is shade.  If you have a covered porch, lucky you!  For the rest of us, a sturdy, well-placed umbrella is a must, for skin safety as well as the comfort factor.  Think about when you’ll be most likely to use your new “room,” and be sure to arrange it in an area that is at least partially shaded naturally at that time of day.   Your eyes, skin, and guests will thank you!

There is nothing relaxing about slapping away at mosquitos munching on your ankles. To discourage these pests naturally, try growing mosquito repelling plants in pots or gardens lining your porch or patio. Citronella is the most widely known of these, but lemon thyme, marigolds, and catnip (yes, catnip!) all either mask scents that attract mosquitos or give off a scent they find offensive.  For a quick fix, place citronella candles around the perimeter of your space and keep a bottle of good bug spray nearby.

Comfortable seating is essential when it comes to relaxing outdoors.  If you have permanent chairs, add a few colorful outdoor pillows for extra comfort.  If you don’t have space for permanent comfortable chairs, I love the old fashioned fold-up aluminum chairs.  They’re easy to move around your own yard, small enough to enjoy on the tiniest of balconies, and lightweight enough to carry along to the park. Using a nearby park or preserve as your outdoor living room?  LL Bean’s Waterproof Outdoor Blanket has a plush fleece top and a waterproof bottom to protect against wet grass.  Since I’m allergic to grass, I like to use this blanket as a rug and place my beach chairs on top of it.  It’s almost like I’m sitting inside, just breezier.

Whenever I design a room, I make sure that every seat has a place to set down a drink, and an outdoor room should be no different.   Be it a sturdy porch railing, a level garden stool, or even a picnic basket lid, one shouldn’t have to worry about where to rest a drink or snack.  You needn’t invest in
expensive outdoor furniture; keep an eye out at garage and rummage sales for lightweight side tables, stools, or trays you can freshen up with a coat of paint. If you’re creating a space on grass, Red Envelope has a fabulous steady stick table and wine glass holders that simply twist down into the ground – great for picnicking in your own back yard!

While it’s nice to look out over a lush, green lawn or to people-watch if you live on a bustling street, not every home comes with a built-in view.  Create your own view, regardless of where you live, by simply establishing a focal point.   A pretty bird bath surrounded by flowers, a brightly painted bench nestled under a tree, or a trellis covered by a creeping vine all lend a sense of architecture to your garden, big or small, and provide a “view” for your seating area. If you’re confined to a balcony or small patio, try displaying a collection of potted plants and flowers on a shelving unit placed against a sturdy wall.  Depending on how protected your space is, hang a mirror or pretty sign over your shelving unit for a living-room-worthy focal point.

Be ready at a moment’s notice to settle into your outdoor living space by keeping a tote bag full of supplies near the back door.  Stock your tote with sunscreen, bug spray, a few bottles of water, and your favorite magazines or crossword puzzles.  The next time you have a few free minutes on a sunny afternoon, you’ll have everything you need to relax in your new favorite “room.”

[blockquote class=blue]Kitty Burruss is a wife, mother, and interior designer who dreams of having a big screened-in porch.  Until that day comes, she’s determined to make the most of her allergy-ridden backyard.  For more ideas on how to maximize your outdoor space, visit www.WestchesterDecorator.blogspot.com.[/blockquote]

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About the Author: Kitty Burruss