Monthly Archives: October 2014

Choosing a patio door

Many people want their backyard aesthetic to serve as an extension of their indoor design, spurring them to purchase beautiful outdoor furniture, patio dining sets and other outdoor entertaining decor. A great way to make this transition even more seamless is through strategic patio door design. When chosen correctly, patio doors can make the divide between the inside and outside of a home almost invisible, and best of all, their customizability means that there is an almost unlimited volume of options. 

Choose a style
The three major patio door styles are sliding, swinging and folding. The style best for your patio is determined by how much space you have and how you have your outdoor furniture situated, though you will want to choose a design that has a wide doorway to more fully connect your indoor space to your patio. 

Sliding doors are best for balconies and smaller patios, as they don't interfere with furniture placement and don't require any opening room. They are also almost completely made of glass, so they let in the most light of the three options and can save quite a bit of money on electricity. 

French doors, an incredibly popular patio selection, are classified under the swinging category, though they offer a much different look than their standard exterior door counterparts. These doors need adequate room to open but offer the widest variety of options, as you can customize a multitude of door style accessories. 

Folding doors open and close accordion style in a system of two to eight leaves. They are easily left open, making the barrier between your backyard and your home the most transparent. 

Select a material
The optimal material for your patio door will predominantly depend on your durability needs and your home's decorative appeal. While wood is a popular option, it requires the most upkeep of any option – we recommend you choose vinyl, aluminum, steel or fiberglass instead.

Fiberglass closely mimics the look of wood, but is much more likely to withstand the elements and requires virtually no upkeep. Aluminum is resistant to corrosion, making it ideal in more humid or wet climates. Steel, on the other hand, is the most economical option and is the most rust-resistant. If energy efficiency is your greatest concern, consider choosing vinyl. As a bonus, this supremely durable material will never fade or peel. If you absolutely must have a wooden patio door, then consider clad-wood; the metal armor around it will mean much less maintenance for you.  

Think about the door's surroundings when picking your material; what color is your patio stone or balcony? What color are your patio dining chairs? How about the walls in the connecting kitchen or living room? Keeping the feel of your indoor and outdoor decor similar will be a crucial when creating a seamless transition.

Factor in energy efficiency
Glass is a major component of patio doors, particularly if you've opted for sliding glass. Selecting Low-E glass can help you lower energy bills and protect your home from UV fading, while decorative tempered glass will give you a bit more privacy. If you need additional view control, install blinds or grills on the interior of your door. 

Picking out the perfect patio door will go far beyond making your backyard a beautiful extension of your home. It saves electricity, provides insulation, facilitates outdoor entertaining and compliments both your indoor and outdoor furniture.   

Your backyard vineyard: a guide to outdoor wine tastings

It might be a bit too early in the month to throw a Halloween party, but that doesn't mean celebrating fall is out of the question. Nothing pairs better with the crisp October weather than a glass of cabernet and a little outdoor entertaining.

It's all about the temperature
The temperature of the wine is possibly the most critical element of a great tasting. White wines should be chilled to roughly 55 degrees Fahrenheit, while reds are best kept at 60 degrees. Chilling a bottle for 15 minutes will suffice in a pinch, but hosting the party at this temperature is an even better approach. This is why wine tastings traditionally take place in the vineyard wine caves of cool climates like Northern California and Italy.

We can't all have our own personal wine cave, though. Never fear – the refreshing October temperatures mean your back patio will work just fine as an alternative.

Starting with the right materials
First and foremost, you'll need to make sure you have enough glassware on hand. Giving each guest two glasses – one for red and one for white – is optimal, but not totally necessary. As long as everyone has his or her own glass, you'll be ready to go. A great way to help people distinguish glass ownership is by attaching small wine charms to each stem. 

Dumping vessels are a polite option to have on hand in case someone doesn't like whatever wine is being tasted. These frequently go unused, however, as most people are averse to wasting a single drop of the good stuff.

The wine guide
There are several ways to select to choose your wine selection. Tasting by vertical means choosing wines from the same winery from different years, while a horizontal tasting means tasting the same wine from the same year and different wineries. Some people choose to select wines by region (like Sonoma) or varietal (like merlot), while others will encourage their guests to bring their favorite bottles to share.

Time of year plays a large role in the type of wine served at the tasting, and October is the perfect time for any red selections. Regardless of what varietals you choose for your tasting, you'll want to serve your selection in order from light to robust; whites are served first, followed by syrah, merlot, and cabernet. It's a good idea to purchase two of each bottle, as most people will drink full glasses after the initial tasting is over.

It's not a party without food
Food and wine pairings are a particularly popular and delicious way to make a tasting more festive, but should be sequenced well to provide guests with the optimal vino experience. When guests are trying the wines for the first time, food should be limited to palate-cleansing crackers, as they won't interfere with the natural flavors of the wine. Once the 2 oz. tasting pours transition into full-sized party pours, however, it's time to bust out the food!

The best culinary selections for wine tastings are foods that have distinctive flavors instead of complete dishes, as they pair better with the distinctive flavors of the varietals – think goat cheese, fig spread, dark chocolate, smoked salmon and prosciutto. 

At the end of the day, it's pretty difficult to mess up drinking great wine in the beautiful October weather. Set up a patio dining table, a few outdoor sectionals (and maybe even a couple firepits), and you'll be on your way to celebrating the season.

Planning a treehouse

Sprucing up your patio with outdoor furniture like hammocks, outdoor sectionals and chaise lounges is a no-brainer, but a great way to make your backyard even more family friendly is by adding a backyard treehouse. Whether you decide to build it yourself or contract someone to make one for you, there are a few initial planning steps you'll need to take to take to ensure that your treehouse is safe and fun.

Picking a tree
The best place to start when planning a treehouse is with the tree itself. Important things to look for when making your selection are health, structural integrity and growth rate, some of which are difficult for the average eye to observe. If you're feeling overwhelmed, you might consider having an arborist check out your tree before getting started, just to make sure that it will hold up whatever structure you design. If you'll be working with a contractor later on, they may request a written tree analysis – this is a great time to have one done.

Each tree is so unique that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all design, so try making a cardboard mock-up if you are building your house yourself, as it will help you identify problems before they even occur.

Practical constraints
After you've selected a tree, you'll need to give yourself a budget and time scale to work with. The less time and money you'd like to spend on your treehouse, the more simple a design you will need. A square house with a flat roof, for example, will require the least amount of extra wood and cutting.

Sketch out your desired shape, and use it to add to your cardboard mock-up. Does it work with the height and width of your tree? Don't forget to consider how far up you want the structure to sit – building parts on the ground will make assembling the house much easier, but will take quite a bit more manpower to lift up high.

Even if you've selected the sturdiest of trees, you'll need to select an additional support method. There are typically three ways to do so: support posts, the bolt method or the suspension method. Support posts go deep in the ground near the tree, while bolts hold up beams that go directly into the tree. Suspension, on the other hand, holds the structure up from higher branches using ropes, cables or chains.

Legal constraints
There are unfortunately a few restrictive regulations when it comes to building anything, even when it's on private property. Your city or neighborhood may prohibit treehouses entirely, though this is unlikely as long as it isn't visible from the road.

Regardless of local regulations, no part of the treehouse should reach within a 10-foot boundary of your property and it shouldn't overlook your neighbors or the road as a privacy precaution. The key to avoid needing a building permit is to keep it within the boundaries of a "temporary structure." Usually this means that it will need to stay within a certain height and can't be fitted for electricity or plumbing, as this implies that someone is going to live there.

After planning out the skeleton of your treehouse comes the fun part – don't forget about interior decor, paint colors and fun additions like slides and swings. You can even choose a fun theme, such as a pirate ship or a castle if you have young kids who will be playing in it frequently. Not only is this a great way to add to the beauty of your backyard, but it's also a wonderful way to spend time with the family.

Make your backyard conducive to bird-watching

No matter where you live, your location is probably home to a variety of native bird species. These animals produce cheerful sounds and are certainly fun to look at, whether you're an expert ornithologist or simply like the look of robins. Of course, you'll get to spy more aviary critters if your yard is set up to attract them. With a few easy upgrades (both for you and the birds), your outdoor living space will be ready for bird-watching.

Set up bird feeders
If you feed them, they will come … the birds that is! Start attracting the animals by investing in feeders and seeds. Both come in varieties that have their pros and cons, so do your research. Here are some of the most common types of feeders:

Tray or platform: These feeders are very simple in design and feature a tray mounted to a pole. You pour seeds on the tray, and birds come to eat. While these feeders are easy to use, they are an easy target for squirrels looking to poach an easy meal.

House or hopper: House feeders are shaped like, you guessed it, houses. The seed sits inside the hopper and is accessible near the base. This design protects against other animals, but is conducive to bacteria growth if moisture gets into the hopper.

Tube: These long cylindrical feeders often have several openings or one near the bottom. The tube part (or hopper) carries the seeds. They have similar pros and cons to house-style feeders.

Landscape your yard
Birds also like plants and water, so consider spending time working on your garden. Whether you have flowers, trees, shrubs, grasses or bushes, your yard will be perfect for aviary animals. They like to hide in the foliage, so watch carefully to see them. As for water, birds do enjoy bathing. You may want to add a water feature to your yard, such as a bird bath or fountain. In either case, make sure the container has enough water for birds to clean themselves, but not so much they can't stand in it. 

Get comfortable
As more birds visit your yard, you'll be spending additional time outdoors. For this reason, you want to make sure your space is set up for sitting. Make sure your outdoor furniture sets face your bird baths and feeders so you'll have a spot to lounge as you look. You can create a whole living room-like area by decorating with outdoor sectionals, or use lounge chairs to make your viewing a little more solo.

Keep your bird-watching tools near your seating area, that way you can grab your binoculars and field guides at a moment's notice. Furthermore, you may consider keeping a journal in which you jot down notes on the animals you see. Some amateur ornithologists sketch the animals too, though you can always print a photo to paste in your journal if you aren't confident in your drawing skills. Certain birds come out more in different seasons, and keeping a running list of what you spot will get you accustomed to the cycles.

Durable winter plants to keep your backyard looking beautiful

From bonfires to building snowmen, the fall and winter seasons are filled with activities that will have you out in your backyard more often than you might think. Why leave the landscape barren? With the right amount of knowledge and preparation, winter shrubbery can take your backyard from boring to beautiful. The tulips of spring may be in hibernation, but there are plenty of durable blooms that can withstand the coldest of winters. Here are a few popular plants for the chillier seasons:

  • Camellias: have a striking resemblance to roses in both shape and color
  • Japanese Maples: best known for their ruby-red leaves
  • Evergreen holly: the most famous of winter plants
  • Winter vegetables: such as cabbage, carrots and cauliflower
  • Snowdrops: These white, drooping flowers flourish best in the colder states 
  • Bergenias: characterized by tiny purple blooms
  • Hellebores: also known as Christmas roses
  • Winter jasmine: grows small, delicate white and yellow flowers
  • Witch hazel: has red and yellow flowers
  • Winterberry: a leafless cousin of holly
  • Red Twig Dogwood: best known for bright red stems
  • Pansies: in a multitude of colors, from blue to yellow to red
  • Wintercreeper: a colorful ivy 
  • Heather: produces bright pink blooms all year round

Impending snow might mean the end of outdoor dining for the year, but that's not to say your backyard can't still be beautiful. Winter plants come in a surprising array of colors and textures and can look just as striking as your spring and summer flowers. Don't hesitate to try your hand at landscaping this late in the year and keep your yard looking top notch. Trust us – your outdoor furniture will thank you. 

Incorporating the elements into outdoor design

Feng shui is the concept of creating harmony in a space by incorporating certain design pieces. From colors to placement, feng shui outlines ways you can balance your home. You can even bring the concepts outside to your backyard by adding the five feng shui elements: wood, water, fire, earth and metal. As you put together your backyard, consider adopting these ideas for using the elements:

1. Wood

Represents: Creativity, growth, strength and flexibility

Colors: Blue and green

Materials: Wood, plants and natural fibers

Your backyard is naturally conducive to incorporating the wood element, as you likely already have plants. Consider adding a garden if you don't currently have one, or update your landscaping. You can also look for outdoor seating that has blue or green cushions. If your furniture doesn't match the colors used to express wood, you can always get replacement cushion covers.

2. Water

Represents: Wisdom, insightfulness and inspiration

Colors: Black, blue or any very deep shade

Materials: Reflective surfaces, wavy lines and water

You can take a very literal approach to the water element by installing a pool or fountain, or you can be more subtle. For example, you can hang a mirror on your outside wall near your deck. Also, stay away from straight lines and seek twisting surfaces in your furniture instead. Orbital loungers curve to fit the shape of the body and have a circular base, making them a great reflection of the movement of water.

3. Fire

Represents: Expression and boldness

Colors: Warm tones like red, pink or purple

Materials: Fire and light

Fire is a strong element that can make a statement in your backyard design. Get creative by incorporating numerous light sources in your space, such as chandeliers that hang from your covered deck, candles that sit on your outdoor coffee table or even a firepit. The idea is to keep your space bright both literally and in color. Decorate with brilliant shades of red, which you can apply in the form of outdoor seating cushions, throw pillows and decorations. 

4. Earth

Represents: Stability and balance

Colors: Earth tones like brown, yellow and green

Materials: Geometric shapes, stoneware and crystals

Not to be confused with wood, the earth element represents the ground. As such, the items you use to decorate your yard should resemble stones, dirt, etc. You can also use shape to harken to earth. You can get outdoor dining sets that feature both rock and a rectangular shape. For instance, a table with a stone top is the perfect nod to the earth element. 

5. Metal

Represents: Focus, organization and analysis

Color: Metallics such as gold, silver and bronze

Materials: Metal, round and oval shapes, chimes and other sound-producing objects

Having a touch of metal in your decor will add a unique dimension to your space. Consider mixing metal and fire by using metallic candle stands. You can also have round bistro tables and oval serving trays to speak to the shape representation of this element. Hang chimes made of metal pipes to add a pleasant melody to your yard and denote metal. 

You can incorporate any number of these elemental features in your outdoor design. For balance, try using all five!

Start your own backyard vegetable garden

Incorporating a vegetable garden into your backyard is not only a great way to make your home more beautiful, but it's also an eco-friendly method for saving money on produce and eating more seasonally. The produce you grow yourself will taste better than almost anything you can buy in stores and when planned well, can look just as gorgeous as your landscaping and outdoor furniture

Planning
A backyard garden will grow fruit and vegetables eight months out of the year in most locations, though the cultivation period can be longer in warmer climates. Begin by determining how much time you'll be able to dedicate to maintenance and how much your family with eat throughout the season. It's easy to be a bit overzealous at first, especially when faced with so many overwhelming and exciting options, but it's better to start small and expand your garden with time. 

Diagram: A good first step is making a paper diagram of the area. You don't necessarily need a large space to grow an adequate amount of produce, as even small 10-by-10 foot plots will yield plenty of produce to munch on throughout each season. If your backyard space is limited, you can even grow plants in containers on your deck or patio. It's much better to take great care of a little garden than poor care of a large one. 

Consider lighting: Most vegetables need direct sunlight, so choose a spot in your backyard that isn't shaded. The closer to a water source your garden is, the better, so you should also consider planting in an area close to a hose. Make sure your plots are clear of any root systems, as plants can lose water to nearby trees

Find level ground: While you can choose in-ground or raised plant beds, the ground must be level, so plan your garden to be on a flat span of your backyard or terrace. In-ground planting is cheaper and easier than setting up raised platforms, but is much more prone to weed growth and soil compaction. For this reason, raised beds are suggested for those just beginning their gardening careers. 

Arrange your seeds: Produce can be arranged in rows or can be planted in compact bands. While row cropping is favored in more agricultural settings, it is difficult to maintain and takes up way more space, so we'd recommend the latter. Just make sure to plan a space where you'll be able to reach weeds all the way in the middle, as this option has no walkways!

Consider edible landscaping: Vegetables mix with ornamental plants well and can take a garden from competent to compelling. You can intersperse edible flowers and chives with traditional crops to add to the visual appeal of your backyard. Whatever arrangement you decide on, be sure to leave some areas unplanted so you can stagger your crops and create a continuous harvest all season long.

Planting
A successful garden begins with healthy, nutrient-rich soil. Regardless of the dilemma your soil is facing, you can fix it simply by adding more organic matter. While many people incorporate fertilizer into their gardening routines, you can instead add plenty of manure, shredded leaves or compost before you even begin planting. 

All crops should face south, and taller plants should be situated on the northernmost side of your garden to ensure they get adequate sunlight. Some plants, such as corn, will yield a crop only once per season, while others (like tomatoes) will produce continuously as you pick them. Depending on you and your family's needs, you may want to primarily focus on crops that grow continuously.

Documenting what you plant and how your vegetables responds will help you improve your garden with each new season, so don't worry too much if it doesn't turn out perfect the first time. It will be an asset to your backyard in no time!

Ethereal backyard lighting

It may take a bit of planning to make sure your outdoor decor can withstand Mother Nature, but there's no reason your backyard can't look just as good as your living room. Ethereal lighting is a great way to make your patio a little bit dreamier and a lot more conducive to nighttime hosting. Alternative options like solar bulbs and candles allow you to set up gorgeous outdoor lighting without needing to plug into electricity, and string lighting, in any form, will allow you to extend the ambiance all the way across your yard. Here are 10 of our favorite ways to light up the night:

Fairy lights 
Drape these small, colored lights around your outdoor furniture when you want your backyard to have a soft twinkle.

Chinese lanterns
Hang Chinese lanterns over a patio dining table can make backyards more festive.

Chandeliers
Install one from the roof of your patio or drape over a sturdy branch of a nearby tree. You can even fill it with candles to create an elegant yet rustic look.

Moroccan lanterns
Turn your patio into paradise almost instantly by placing these over your outdoor furniture. 

Moon lighting
Moon lighting is essentially regular lighting will a full glare guard and is ideal when you want to spend time relaxing in your chaise lounge at night. 

Jar lanterns
Fill them with colored candles and hang them in clusters from tree branches or iron fencing. 

Twinkle lights
These have a place other than your Christmas tree. Try twisting them around an outdoor trellis or patio hammock to make them a bit more whimsical.  

Wine bottle torches
Use wine bottles as torches to make an extra classy alternative to tiki torches.

Outdoor orbs
Place them on the ground to enhance garden space or walkways. 

Firepits 
Putting a firepit in the center of your backyard will work as both ethereal lighting and a source of warmth when the fall starts to get chillier.  

A beautiful backyard starts with great landscaping (and even better outdoor furniture), but it certainly shouldn't end there. Ethereal lighting is just one of the many ways that you can make your yard extra special.

Patio paver planning

The first step of planning a truly stunning patio is starting with – you guessed it – a great base. There are many different paving options when it comes to patio planning, but they all have their own unique pros and cons. 

Before you even begin taking a look at different stone and gravel options, it's important to think about what challenges you'll need your patio to meet. Do you have children? If so, finding a slip-proof surface may take priority, while constant exposure to sun and precipitation means finding fade-resistant and crack-free flooring options. Any outdoor furniture or patio dining sets will require a very flat, hard surface, and a stable, solid ground will create a barrier to block weed growth in most yards. Above all, you'll need to make sure that a professional concrete slab or do-it-yourself sand-and-gravel foundation is laid down before you do any paving. 

Concrete 
Concrete is the easiest, most affordable patio-paving option out there. It comes in an almost infinite variety of colors, and can be stamped, dyed or acid washed, though any coating applied over the concrete will likely need to be reapplied every two years or so. Concrete does tend to show surface cracks and color wear more quickly than other options, but you can choose specific varieties that will better withstand specific types of weathering. 

How flat and stable the surface will be is one major benefit to choosing concrete. For those who do a great deal of outdoor entertaining, this option is often one of your best bets because furniture will stay level and guests won't trip. You will have to cure the patio before concrete is poured, but the project requires little other preparation.

Brick
While bricks are particularly porous and may crack in freezing weather, they are the most resistant to color fading. They are smaller than other pavers and consequently take more time to install, and moss can grow on them, making them extra slick. 

Pavers
Concrete pavers are cut into uniform pieces that fit together like a puzzle when installed. Besides being easily and quickly placed, pavers also come in the largest selection of shapes and colors and offer the most room for creative license when it comes to design. These are a great option if you'd like to DIY your patio flooring, but take heed – weeds can easily grow in between concrete pavers, so make sure to lay them as close together as possible. 

Spanish tiles
One of the most beautiful patio flooring options available, Spanish tiling is often seen in some of the most exotic, luxurious homes. The tiles require grouting, so the job is best done by a professional. These, along with most other options, may crack under heavy use or in below-freezing temperatures. 

Sand or gravel
Although this method requires consistent replenishment due to erosion, it is incredibly affordable and natural-looking.Sand's and gravel's extreme permeability makes them the most eco-friendly "paving" option, as the materials conserve and properly distribute ground water. Patio furniture can sink into this kind of flooring, however, so it is best executed in areas of your backyard with minimal outdoor seating.

Flagstone
Flagstone encompasses several kinds of patio stone, such as slate and limestone. While laying flagstone yourself is possible, it is best left to the pros, as uncut stone is incredibly difficult to piece together without special help. This is a more slip-resistant patio option but it also cracks more easily than other related options.

These patio-paving ideas cover mainstream options, but you can find many other lesser-used ideas, such as cobblestone, pebbles and rubber tiling. When it comes to outdoor design, don't be afraid to get creative, but remember to realistically consider your patio's limitations first!

The lowdown on replacement cushions and covers

Many of our outdoor furniture sets come outfitted with cushions, which are weatherproof, resisting fading caused by sunlight and dampness caused by rain. While the cushions are engineered to last, you may find you want or need replacements for a number of reasons. In fact, our cushions come in two parts: covers and inserts. You may need one or the other. Either way, here's a guide to buying new furniture cushions:

Reasons to replace
You'll know you should replace your outdoor furniture cushions when:

You want to update the color scheme: Say you bought a lovely outdoor sectional with red cushions a few years ago. While the cushions may still be in great shape, your tastes could have changed. If you plan on updating your outdoor living spaces and introducing new colors, then picking out cushion covers is a smart move. Doing so allows you to redecorate without having to spend money on new outdoor furniture or cushion inserts. Browse through the cushions designed for the furniture sets you currently own, and pick out a color that will fit with your new ideas. Don't get rid of the covers you already have in this case – you may want to go back to the old color scheme at some point.

They're in disrepair: Cushions are built to withstand the outdoors, so the chances of them falling apart due to the environment are slim. However, extreme weather can damage your cushions. You should avoid leaving them out during such conditions, including winter, and store them in a dry spot. If you forget to store them during a thunderstorm or cold months, you may find you need to pick out new cushions or covers. If just the fabric is worn, go for the covers. However, if the foam is out of shape, a new insert is the way to go. 

Tips for selecting cushions and covers
No matter why you need new cushions or covers for your outdoor furniture, you should follow a few guidelines when purchasing. Make sure you consider the following when you start your search:

Match collections: We offer numerous collections of outdoor furniture, and each piece has its own cushions. As you shop for replacement cushions, make sure you're looking by collection and piece. For example, if you own the Portofino Signature Six-Piece Deep Seating Set, you should get cushions that are designed for that furniture (the Portofino Six-Piece Replacement Set). That way, you know your new cushions will fit perfectly on your existing furniture.

Match colors: Consider the other furniture pieces you have in your yard. For example, what color is your hammock or patio umbrella? Ideally, your new cushion covers (and thus your furniture) will match the overall decor of your outdoor spaces. 

Consider accessories: Buying new cushions provides the perfect opportunity to also purchase accessories, such as throw pillows. Doing so allows you to add a complementary splash of color to your design and provide additional comfort. Remember, you can't purchase any old pillow – you need one designed for the outdoors. We carry lumbar and throw pillows in numerous colors sure to meet your lounging needs.

Play with pattern: If you do get pillows in addition to your replacement cushions and covers, you have the opportunity to get creative with patterns. For instance, you might buy solid sand-colored covers and accent your furniture with striped pillows.