Monthly Archives: June 2014

Planning the perfect backyard campout

One of the hardest things about owning a home is how difficult it can be to get away from. Between work, kids, life and upkeep of the house, it can be a hassle to find time to get away. Don't let that stop you from enjoying the outdoors, though. Even if you don't have time to head to a state park, you can still have a great night camping out without getting too far from the comforts of your own home. Use these tips to plan a great backyard campout for you and your family this summer:

Prepare for the best (and the worst)
Hopefully you'll take the time to check the weather prior to picking a date for your outdoor excursion. Either way, though, you're going to want to make sure that you're ready for the weather, whether it's ideal or inclement. In the case of the latter, you'll want to make sure that you've got a tent set up with a properly secured rain fly. Obviously, if things get really out of hand you can head inside, but it takes away some of the point. If the weather is pleasant, though, you've got an opportunity to add a whole new dimension to your campout by actually sleeping outside. Try setting up a few of our Cantina Hammock Beds for you and your family. If the night is clear, you'll be able to see the stars and feel the wind as you're gently rocked to sleep above the ground.

Lighting the night
It's not a campout without a campfire, plain and simple. Of course, there are quite a few ways to go about making sure your fire is memorable. Believe it or not, campfires provide hours worth of activity. Start your night out by building the fire up to a considerably strong burn, allowing for the creation of a coal bed over time. Let the whole family be involved in constructing the fire, and it can serve as a source of pride once lit. After a few hours, once the fire has burned down a bit and the sky has grown darker, it becomes the perfect venue for ghost stories. The lighter of heart might opt for a sing-along or joke-telling session. Finally, once the fire has burnt down to a coal bed, it's perfect for a late night s'more roasting circle.

Make it authentic
One of the nice things about having a backyard camping trip is that you're very near your home if you need anything. Too frequently, though, this same dynamic can take away from the experience. If you want your campout to be authentic, then you'll want to try and stay outside the entire night if possible. Make it clear to your children early on that the house is going to be an "off-limits" zone for the rest of the evening. Plan outdoor activities that you know they'll like – before long, they'll get lost in the fun of it. Try setting up a game of capture the flag or ghost in the graveyard to really set the tone for an evening spent outside. 

Using a garden to accent summer events

One of the most underused opportunities that summer provides is the potential to cultivate a garden. It certainly requires a fair amount of effort and planning to begin, but the undertaking can be well worth it. Having a garden at home provides a hobby that is both relaxing and productive. In addition, it's a nice piece of scenery for you and your family to enjoy and take pride in. A well constructed garden can help take any events you'll host this summer to new heights of success. So, whether you're a seasoned gardener with two green thumbs or you're just starting down this path, check out these tips to make sure you get the most out of your garden this summer:

Fruits of your labors
Obviously, one of the most remembered aspects of any event that you host is going to be what you served. Whether it's appetizers or entrees, the food at an event is always a conversation piece in the days that follow, so you'll want to make sure yours is remembered for the right reasons. Beyond simply preparing things that your guests will enjoy, you'll curry extra favor by fixing seasonal dishes. Having a garden presents the perfect opportunity to do this. Plant several kinds of fruit at the beginning of the summer. It need not be anything fancy; planting watermelons and a few different types of berries should serve you fine. Watermelons tend to have a slightly longer growth cycle than most berries, so plant these first. Harvest a day or two before your event and prepare a dish for dessert using your harvest. Anything from a fruit salad to ice cream garnished with your homegrown fruit will please your guest and leave a great taste in their mouths.

Scene and scenery
As long as you're thinking about food, it can't hurt to consider the other ways in which having a garden can benefit you while hosting guests. Nearly as important as the meal that you'll actually be serving at an event is the way in which it's served. As we mentioned, it's good to incorporate anything homegrown into the dishes you'll prepare, but take that a step further by using the garden as scenery, in addition to a source of food. Try setting places somewhere in your garden using our Astoria Cafe Five Piece Dining Set. Placing an outdoor dining set in your garden can put your guests at ease and provide the illusion of solitude and removal from daily life, even when you're only a stone's throw from the house.

Be a trailblazer
When incorporating your garden into an event that you're hosting, the approach is almost as important as the destination. Try providing a guided walkway from the entrance of your backyard to the garden. Go for a minimalist look, something as simple as placing flat rocks in a broken line leading to the garden itself can offer a unique distinction between the garden and the backyard. In doing so, the garden becomes not simply a piece of the property, but rather a destination all its own, perfect for building slight anticipation as your guests wait for a dinner party or evening soiree to begin.

3 ways to relax outdoors

Despite all of its beauty and the fantastic weather, summer can be a time of great stress for some people. It's understandable – between taking the kids to and from summer camp, planning for the multiple holidays of the season, hosting friends and preparing for the upcoming school year, there's a lot to keep track of. It's important, though, to ensure that you surround yourself with the capacity to relax easily when you get the chance. While some people might go to a spa to relax, you can create your own calming environment in the comfort of your own backyard. Use these tips to make sure you're never more than a moment away from tranquility:

Just breathe
It may be a deeply overused sentiment, but there's a good deal of truth in the old expression "just breathe." It can be so easy to get caught up in the tensions of our lives and look past this simple trick for restoring mental clarity and peacefulness. Find an area in your backyard where you can be left alone for at least 20 minutes. Sit or stand and attempt to clear your mind of all things barring the rhythm of your breath. There need not be a specific cause or catalyst for this sort of meditative thought, but the benefits are considerable. In fact, researchers at Harvard Medical School have suggested that "relaxation practitioners" may have a higher capacity to fight disease and illness. What's not to like?

Prepare
New mothers are often told to "sleep when the baby sleeps." This same mentality of capitalizing on an opportunity as it presents itself can be applied to outdoor relaxation. Take some time at the beginning of the summer to set up an area where you can relax when the time is right. Place one of our Sol Sling Loungers somewhere in the yard or near the pool where you can be uninterrupted in your leisure, and surround it with a few things that put you at ease. Music adds a nice touch if you have a sound system with outdoor speakers. By having this dedicated space at the ready, you're set to steal away for a few moments of peaceful reflection whenever the opportunity presents itself. Try to set up your space in an area where you're unlikely to be interrupted; it need not be isolated as long as the area is understood as your relaxation venue.

Stretch
Try setting aside some space in your yard to perform yoga while the weather is nice. All you'll need is a mat to set on the ground, and it provides the perfect opportunity to take in the view from your yard while doing something for your own benefit. A recent study indicated  that women who perform yoga at least once weekly begin to release considerably less cytokine, a protein that causes stress and moodiness. Start a yoga routine outdoors this summer and carry it through the rest of the year. You'll be surprised at the difference it makes.

7 ways to cool off on your patio this summer

Patios are the perfect place to soak up the sun and enjoy the summer months. But there are some days during the season that are just too hot and humid for comfort. However, that doesn't mean that you can't still hang out on the patio! We've got more than a few ways you can keep your cool, even on summer's hottest days:

1. A pool
Go for a dip right in your own backyard with an in-ground pool. Not only will this backyard accessory keep you cool, it will add to the value of your home and come in handy when you entertain. You'll have to decide what shape of pool works best for the design of your patio and style of your home.

2. Patio umbrellas
Whether you're reading by the pool or having dinner outside with family and friends, patio umbrellas are lifesavers. They keep the ultraviolet rays off of you so you can enjoy your time outdoors. Purchase a freestanding patio umbrella that you can move around as you please, or buy one that fits in the middle of your patio table while you dine or entertain.

3. Misting system
Instantly enhance the comfort level on your patio with a misting system. When it feels like 100 degrees outside, a mister can reduce that temperature by about 20 degrees, which makes a huge difference. This system is perfect for hosting backyard barbecues, pool parties or cocktail parties. There's nothing more refreshing than feeling a light mist on your skin when there's no summer breeze to give you relief from the heat and humidity.

4. Pergola
Give some much-needed shade to your patio with a pergola. Not only are these structures functional, they can contribute to the style of the space as well. You can hang potted plants, colorful flowers or bright stringed lights for nighttime entertaining. A pergola still allows you to feel the warm breeze of summer without all of the heat that can often come with it. You can even equip your pergola with curtains to keep the bugs out.

5. Retractable screen
Retractable screens can offer UV protection to keep you cool and comfortable, and is great for keeping pests out when you're trying to eat dinner or chat with your guests. And the best part is, you can still enjoy the fresh air of the outdoors. The screen has the ability to go up and down when you're ready to soak up the sun.

6. Outdoor bar
One of the simplest ways to stay cool during the summer is with chilled beverages. Install an outdoor bar on your patio to make entertaining a breeze and to have a cool place to store drinks. A fun way to keep drinks cool is to fill up colorful water balloons, freeze them, and add them to buckets or glass containers to keep beverages chilled.

7. Fans
Install fans in your backyard to keep the air circulating and offer a cool breeze during the heat of summer. Fans can also help keep bugs away for a pest-free environment.

3 ways to celebrate the summer solstice

Our planet will hit one of its four apexes in its annual trip around the sun in a few days. On Saturday, June 21, the northern hemisphere will experience the longest day of the year. This occurrence, caused by the sun reaching it's northernmost point in our orbit around it, marks the official beginning of summer. The solstice marks the perfect opportunity to usher in summer alongside friends and family, and the extended daylight means you'll have more than enough time to celebrate. Check out our suggestions for how to ensure you start this summer off on the right note with a solstice to remember.

Beach day
Extra daylight means extra sunshine, and that sounds like the perfect excuse to hit the beach to us. Take the kids, friends or whomever down to the water and enjoy the extra hours of leisure time. One of the best things about this year's solstice is that it falls on a Saturday, so you won't have to worry about balancing time between work and play. And, with all that extra daylight, going to the beach doesn't necessarily have to occupy your whole day. Odds are, by the time you get back, you'll still have time for a host of evening activities.

Eat outside
Use the extended daylight as an excuse to eat outside. If you get back from the beach in the early evening, then odds are you'll have plenty of daylight to prepare dinner. In the spirit of a summer Saturday, you need not make the meal anything terribly involved. Given the occasion of the solstice, however, try to make the presentation reflect the nature of the season. Our Astoria dining set comes in a vibrant Tikka finish that captures the orange and golds of summer perfectly. Try matching or contrasting its orange hue with a lightly colored or pastel tablecloth to take the theme even a bit further. In keeping with the summery theme being conveyed through presentation, consider serving  inherently summery foods: watermelon, corn on the cob, etc.

Entertainment, naturally
It's far too easy in the winter to get caught up in the notion that all entertainment has to be from some sort of inorganic source: television, movies, etc. Celebrate the arrival of the beautiful season by spending your evening enjoying natural entertainment. Relax on the lawn or near the pool on one of our Portofino chaise lounges and take in the stars after the sunset, or, if the insect population allows for it, teach the kids how to catch fireflies. No matter what you ultimately decide to do, just make sure that you welcome in the season by taking advantage of the beautiful weather.

Choosing the right lounger

Not enough people realize that relaxation can be a lot of work. Of course, it's not the actual act of relaxation, but rather, the preparation to do so that can be so trying. Setting up your space, in particular, can present a great deal of difficulty to even the most experienced relaxer. You want the atmosphere to be casual and yet at the same time convey an air of class and taste. Ensuring that you have the ideal setting in which to go about your leisure time can be somewhat daunting, but the reward of settling into a carefully constructed environment of tranquility is well worth it. In the summer, relaxation starts outside; whether that's by the pool, the patio or just in the backyard, consider the following factors to ensure you're choosing the right lounger for your at-home getaway.

Color and contrast
Part of constructing a relaxing environment is ensuring continuity; clashing color schemes or design styles can draw the mind away from the ultimate goal of finding rest and repose. With this in mind, it's important to ensure that any lounger you select  integrates well into the preestablished color scheme you've created. The odds are that if you're selecting loungers for the poolside, you'll want to select a color on the lighter end of the spectrum. Consider, then, the Portofino Chaise Set in Newport Blue. The light hue of the cushions will complement any aquatic setting well, and the white wicker base of the chair offers an elegant look which distinguishes your poolside retreat.

Construction and shape
Not all loungers convey the same message. While the general aim of any of these chairs is to present a relaxing setting, consider what the differences in construction and shape say about the scene in which they're placed. While a lounger with a flat, more horizontal shape may be inviting for those looking for a nap or a place to read, those with a slightly more upright design can be better for those looking to tan, enjoy a drink or just talk. Our orbital loungers offer a unique reclining experience which pairs perfectly with the company of others. They come in a light pastel green, offering an active vibe while still providing a comfortable place to unwind.

Accessorize
The items around your lounger say almost as much about your area of relaxation as the chair itself. If the look that you're going for is one of rest and repose, then you might do well to place an umbrella over the seating area. The shade will make an outdoor nap even more inviting during the dog days of summer. For those looking to create a setting more conducive to conversation or socializing, try arranging your loungers around an accent table. Scatter a few beach reads across the top of the table as conversation starters. Consider putting a deck of cards or some small, simple game there as well to make the area more group-friendly.

Decorating for the pool

The summer solstice will arrive June 21, and following closely behind it will be seemingly endless opportunities to spend time near the pool. Whether you're entertaining guests, getting the kids out of the house or just relaxing yourself, being able to spend some time on the water is one of the most enjoyable traits of the warm season. Regardless of what you're occasion is for hosting, though, you want to make sure that your pool stands out. The increased time spent outdoors gives you a chance to showcase your creative decorative flair by outfitting your backyard getaway in your own style. Take a look at these tips and make sure you have the perfect setting for all the dog days of summer:

Foliage
Too often our impression of an otherwise lovely poolside setting is tainted by the fact that it appears entirely too manmade. The artificial nature of having a pool put in your yard can cause the overall image of the space to seem disjointed, but it need not be this way. Accenting your pool with foliage can help it blend seamlessly into your yard while still allowing it to maintain a distinct and memorable look. Building a garden of tall grasses along one side of your lap pool can make it feel like an exotic river. Similarly, a more traditional swimming pool would look marvelous with some rows of lilies set a few feet back from it on two or three sides. 

Furniture
While having a pool house is luxurious and offers the opportunity to design a space analogous to an open-air living room, some properties won't necessarily have enough room to accommodate one. Whether or not your pool has one, though, you'll still be able to create an image of class and taste through careful selection of poolside furniture. Having enough comfortable seating for all your guests turns a pool from a pretty sight to a perfect area to host. Our luxury Astoria patio outdoor furniture sets add a bit of simple elegance to your poolside while still maintaining a casual atmosphere. If you're looking for something a little bit more versatile, consider our loungers. They're perfect for the pool, the patio or even just the backyard.

Involve the other senses
Obviously, a pool is meant to be experienced on a physical level, but there's more to the presentation than what your guests can actually feel. Flowers can add to the sensory enjoyment of your poolside by providing color and olfactory pleasantries, but people rarely cater to the other senses when decorating. Finding ways to impact what your guests hear when they approach the water can be beneficial as well. Adding one or two fountains near the edges of the pool can create an atmosphere that conveys the enjoyment of water before anyone's even taken a dip. If you have a garden surrounding the pool and can partially conceal the fountains, all the better. The slight disorientation of not knowing where the sound is coming from will make your pool and your yard as a whole seem more vast.

Have a seat: Using seating to make your home more inviting

We've all got our favorite pieces of furniture or decor – those little details that really draw a room together. Perhaps it's a painting or a vase. It could be that old bookcase you inherited from your mother. We love these items because they lend a certain warmth to the room that the space might otherwise go without. Often, though, it's the objects that you and your guests actually come into contact with that have the greatest impact on the way a space is received.They make others feel welcome and at ease, and they give us a sense of ownership over the design and the energy of the spaces that they inhabit.  Here's how to use seating to make your home more inviting:

Make it a happier hour
More often than not, the secret to truly enjoying a drink with friends isn't so much what you're drinking but the environment in which you're gathered. You want it to be warm and intimate without being overbearing or feeling forced. RST Brands' Melrose Maple Bar Stools can help you turn any counter or table into an impromptu bar that your guests are sure to love. When the weather is nice, try using some of our outdoor line of bar stools. Place them near the pool, the picnic table or on the deck to bring added ambience to a beautiful day.

The more the merrier
Summer brings with it a heightened capacity to entertain outside. It's one of the pleasures of the season, but we all know what it's like to get stuck on a weathered and broken lawn chair. make sure you have comfortable seating for whomever you're hosting with our Cantina Sectional & Club Set. This nine-piece set sports beautiful, weatherproof foam cushions along its multiple sofas and chairs as well as two different sized tables. Your guests are sure to love this sets warm color scheme.

On the water
Depending on where you call home, summer may be the only time of year that that the weather allows for enjoyment of the water.  Of course, you don't need to get soaked to benefit from it. Offer an option to those who enjoy the ambience but prefer to stay out of the splash zone with our Deco Cantina Chaise Lounges. A versatile look make them appropriate for any waterfront setting. Set them near the pool, the pond or the lake to instantly add a level of class and charm  to any and all guests.

Fun outdoor games for your summer party

It wouldn't be summer without a few get-togethers on your patio with friends and family. Part of hosting a party at your home, however, means keeping your guests entertained. When they're not dining or mingling with one another, they'll need something to do. This is when lawn games come in handy. Here are a few to have on hand that your guests will love:

Beanbag toss
Tailgaters are experts at this particular outdoor game. It's very simple and appeals to a large number of age groups. You team up with one other person and go head-to-head against another two-person team. You take turns tossing the beanbag, and the goal is to get it in the hole each time. Landing the bag in the hole gets you three points, and landing it anywhere else on the board gets you one point. The first team to 20 points wins. Make sure to pull up a few outdoor lounge chairs so that other party-goers catch watch the game and cheer on their favorite teams.

Ladder golf
You can buy a ladder golf set or make one yourself. Either way, the game is played with two or more players, and each player has three gold ball bolas, or golf balls, attached by a nylon rope. You have to toss the object so that it wraps around the steps of the ladder. The top step is worth three points, the middle worth two, and the bottom worth one. The first team or player to 21 points wins.

Volleyball
If you plan on throwing a big party, volleyball is a must-have for your backyard get-together. You can form two teams to go head-to-head against each other at the net. Set up the volleyball net before the party starts. If space allows, you might even want to have two nets set up so your guests can play multiple games.

Disc golf
You likely don't have enough space in your backyard to play nine holes of golf, but what you can do is set up a disc golf course. Instead of hitting a golf ball, you throw small discs with the goal of getting them into a net in the fewest number of throws. Strategically set up the nets throughout your backyard.

Water balloon toss
The kids will love playing this game on a hot summer day. Fill up a bucket of balloons and play water balloon toss. The kids (or adults) pair up and start off about a foot apart, facing each other. Then they throw the balloon, and each time it's caught, each team member takes a step back. The last team standing without dropping the water balloon wins.

Modern decor inspiration for your outdoor space

Your patio is an extension of your home, so ask yourself if your outdoor space currently coordinates with your modern interior. If not, you might want to consider revamping the space to fit the overall theme of your dwelling. Achieving a contemporary outdoor space is simple with these design tips:

Less is more
When decorating your patio according to a modern style, keep this general rule in mind: Less is more. Instead of filling the space with decorative trinkets, choose one or two striking pieces that you can use to draw the eye in. Consider a sleek fireplace as a contemporary focal point, or use bold-colored outdoor lounge chairs to make a statement. A space that isn't filled with clutter will feel more casual, light and airy.

Use subtle splashes of color
It's important to use color sparingly throughout modern spaces. Choose two or three vibrant hues that complement the color palette of your patio, and introduce the shades in various areas. For an easy DIY project, use old cinder blocks as planters and paint the blocks with colorful geometric shapes. Keep the rest of your patio simple in color – opt for a black-and-white color combination or use a palette of neutrals to stand out against the bright hues.

Consider modern materials
There are certain materials that are commonly used with rustic spaces, like weathered wood and brick. But when it comes to modern rooms, you'll want to go with other materials, such as concrete, glass, granite and stainless steel. Bare concrete floors, for instance, are perfect for a modern patio. The material can stand up to the elements and requires very little maintenance. You can use decorative area rugs to warm up the space. Another option would be to use large, square concrete slabs and pebbles to create a unique look for your patio's flooring.

Choose the right style light fixtures
The light fixtures for your patio should be just as sleek and simple as the rest of the architecture in your outdoor space. Hang stainless steel lanterns above your dinner table or use wall sconces to highlight any modern decor that may be on the walls.

Create a seamless transition
Help the exterior of your home easily blend with your interior by installing retractable screens that open up to your patio. This way, the inside of your home can get a cool breeze from the outside, and your patio will seem more like a part of your dwelling. This amenity also helps create an open layout for your patio, which is a critical element of modern style.