Monthly Archives: January 2015

Accounting for the elements in backyard design

While you may want to surround yourself with a tropical paradise even if you live in the Midwest, planting palm trees won't go over so well. The climate you live in will influence the landscaping and design choices you make in your backyard, so you need to consider your environment when updating your space. Temperature isn't the only issue – wind, condensation and sunlight also impact your home. If you're about to revamp your backyard, take a look at these factors that should go into your decision making:

Sunlight
Observe your yard to see how much sunlight certain areas get each day. This will change throughout the year, so knowing the differences per season is good too. Some plants require quite a bit of direct sunlight while others can survive on less, which is why knowing your yard's exposure is key. Only plant greenery and flowers that will thrive with the light your yard gets. Most plants have a tag that indicates necessary sunlight to help make picking them easier. If you start with seeds, be sure to do your research.

Wind
Certain plants are also delicate when it comes to wind. If your yard seems to be breezy, but you want plants that generally don't fare well in a gale, consider adding trees and bushes. These additions help break the wind and make your yard a little more still. Reducing the breeze is also nice if you enjoy sitting outside. With trees and bushes blocking gusts, your outdoor furniture sets aren't as likely to tip over, which is a huge stress reliever if you have patio umbrellas – those things can become veritable sails. 

Location
Most of the time, your location won't be much different than your climate, but some homeowners do have unique concerns. For instance, if you have a beach-side property, you'll have to worry about whether the salt water spray will harm your plants. City dwellers may also face issues like noise and air pollution, and privacy concerns.

Condensation
Unless you live in the desert, rain and snow are factors when designing your backyard space. Most homeowners need outdoor seating that won't fall apart if it's caught in the rain. Your furniture should be water-resistant to help prevent damage – replacing outdoor furniture can get pricey, so buying a quality item upfront is a smart investment. Even if you purchase high-quality furniture designed to withstand life outdoors, make sure to bring it inside during winter. Snow can be vicious to even the heartiest of pieces. 

Design tips
With all those factors in mind, here are some more tips to make redesigning your backyard easier:

  • Choose native plants – they originate in the area, so they've evolved to handle sunlight, wind and condensation where you live.
  • Buy sturdy outdoor furniture – no matter how mild your climate, your outdoor furniture will experience some harsh conditions. High-quality furniture is meant to last in outside environments.
  • Enjoy your space – after considering your environment, pick plants and decor that suits your tastes and makes you feel at home. 

Should you build an outdoor kitchen?

One of the latest trends in home renovation is the coveted outdoor kitchen. Outfitted with unique outdoor cooking gear like wood-fired ovens, multi-tiered barbecue grills and fully stocked bars, they do more than provide a little extra kitchen space. We've even seen a few with frozen margarita machines. Despite how luxurious they may seem at first glance, outdoor kitchens can find a good home in almost any backyard. Before you embark on your outdoor kitchen quest, however, take a look at the pros and cons. 

The pros
There are undoubtedly many great reasons for building an outdoor kitchen. They're perfect for pool parties, baby showers, barbecues and everything in between. Here's why we recommend including one on your patio:

Entertaining: Outdoor kitchens are, of course, fabulous for throwing parties. They can include outdoor bars and bar tops, and they pair great with patio dining tables and outdoor sofas. The more frequently you find yourself cooking for friends and family, the more likely you are to appreciate having an extra kitchen right out back.

Odor: Another reason to build one? Food with lots of smoke or strong smells, such as brisket or fish, can be made without leaving a lingering stench in your home. 

Value: Your house will be all the more marketable when it comes time to sell it one day if you have an outdoor kitchen out back. Outdoor kitchens only become more and more popular as time goes by, meaning that potential buyers will often be on the lookout for one. 

Heat: Depending on where you live, the winters may be frigid, but you'll be glad you have an outdoor kitchen when the summer heat comes back around. Instead of firing up your indoor oven when temperatures are soaring (and making your home even hotter), head outside instead. 

The cons
Alas, there are few reasons these backyard kitchens aren't so great, too. Before you make the leap, take these cons into consideration:

Price: Outdoor kitchens may be wonderful investments, but investments they are. Installing an outdoor kitchen costs thousand of dollars and quite a bit of time. If there are more pressing issues in your home, you may want to direct your funds that way first.

Weather: Your kitchen's usability will be largely determined by the weather outside, unless your outdoor kitchen is entirely covered. Even then, thunderstorms, blizzards and heavy winds can render your outdoor cooking gear totally unusable. Make sure your appliances are weather resistant when you purchase them, and always cover them when they're not in use.

Theft: Anything you consistently leave outside is susceptible to theft, meaning your cooking tools are at higher risk. The more secure the area of your yard you build your kitchen in, the better!

Well, there you have it. Outdoor kitchens are certainly awesome backyard additions, and they make hosting at your home all the more fun. They're a big responsibility, though, and you have to be prepared to shoulder it. And might we make one last suggestion? If you decide to install one, make sure your guests have somewhere to sit

Bring Pantone’s spring 2015 collection to your backyard

The color masters at Pantone search far and wide each winter to predict the imminent "it" colors of spring, perusing designer sketches, staking out at fashion shows and scouring interior design trends. This year, they say their spring collection "takes its cue from nature rather than being reinvented or mechanically manipulated," meaning that your backyard is the perfect place to bring these colors to life. Spring ushers in fresh flowers and new opportunities for landscaping, while pavers, outdoor furniture and backyard accessories can be rendered in almost any color you can dream up. Why not incorporate these spectacular shades into your landscaping? After sifting through Pantone's colors ourselves, we rounded up a few of our favorites:

Lavender Herb
The list of ways to incorporate the color lavender into your backyard is nearly limitless: You can add potted plants of lavender, grow beds of soft purple blooms, or a add a lavender rug underneath your outdoor coffee table.

Treetop
Now here's a color you don't even have to try to incorporate into your yard – this plant-green color is probably already carpeting your backyard and sprouting from the branches of your trees. This color choice couldn't be more apt for spring. After all, it is the season that paints the landscape green again.

Glacier Grey
Borrowed from last year's list of spring shades, this light grey is icy without seeming overly cold. You incorporate it with stainless steel outdoor kitchen appliances, outdoor sofa cushions or even bright grey pool tiles. 

Toasted Almond
The most neutral of Pantone's spring collection is toasted almond, an almost-beige color that looks good when paired with almost any other hue. Though you probably won't choose this as your statement color, the natural, earthy shade makes a great base to build from. 

Lucite green
Not quite seafoam, this soft shade of green isn't as saturated as Treetop. It is, however, somewhat similar to mint. Its subdued nature means it will brighten up your backyard without totally overpowering it.

Aquamarine
While the name aquamarine might seem almost tropical, it's actually a soft shade that borders on pastel. Forget-me-nots are just one example of light blue flowers you can add to your landscaping come spring, but the color also makes a fabulous choice for outdoor furniture.

Woodbine
This hue, roughly the color of moss, is one of the few colors out there that manages to be both neutral and eye-popping at the same time. Choose outdoor sofas in this color to make your backyard earthy and calming, or make it an accent by pairing it with a deep purple. 

Classic blue
Almost nautical by nature, classic blue is shade that never goes out of vogue. It transitions well from season to season, meaning that it's a safe color to choose for your larger, more permanent backyard elements. One idea: Use it to color the floor and walls of your pool. It will make it look far deeper than it actually is.

Pantone had a few other colors on their list, like Strawberry Ice, Custard, and their color of the year, Marsala, all of which look equally gorgeous in the backyard. 

How to choose the perfect outdoor rug

Outdoor rugs: They're eye-catching, elaborate and sold nearly everywhere – but buying one can be truly terrifying. Are they difficult to maintain? What if it rains? Is it really, truly necessary to have a rug outside, of all places? They can seem pretty risky at first glance, but committing to an outdoor rug doesn't have to be so scary. In fact, when you pick the right one, it can make all the difference between a pretty patio and a true outdoor room. Here's how to do it:

Measure it
First things first: Figure out exactly how big of an outdoor rug you're going to need, taking your outdoor furniture into account. To best unify a space with sofas, you'll want the rug to disappear beneath the front edges without coming out the back. Contrary to popular belief, rugs that are completely visible in the middle of a seating area will make your patio look smaller, not larger. This rule is different with patio dining tables, of course – you'll simply want the rug to be large enough that the chairs can be pushed back without falling off the back. 

Choose the right material
The second thing to consider? The material. While natural materials like bamboo, hemp and jute are super durable, they are prone to mold and mildew. If you live in a particularly wet climate, opt for a synthetic material like polyester or nylon instead. Not only are they quick to dry, they're incredibly easy to clean. Two additional qualities to look for in your dream rug: UV resistance and a non-slip back.

Keep it covered
Ideally, your outdoor rug should go under an area of your porch or patio, but we know that's not always possible. If it's going to be exposed to the elements, the best solution is to watch the weather. If you know a big thunderstorm or blizzard is coming, be sure to roll up your rug and bring it inside. Actually, it's a good idea to bring it indoors during the winter regardless of precipitation – most outdoor rugs simply weren't made to withstand freezing temps. 

Play with color
One of the best things about outdoor rugs is how much color they can add to an outdoor space, so have some fun! Take into consideration the color of your outdoor furniture as well as the design scheme of your home's interior – a well-chosen rug will often pull together both, creating an outdoor room that seamlessly integrates with the rest of the house. 

Make sure it lies flat
The last thing you want is to lay your rug down on your patio and then constantly trip over the edges. The best way to mitigate the risk? Check out how flush the rug is to the ground when you're in the store or check with the retailer first if you're purchasing online. 

See? Outdoor rugs really aren't that high-maintenance. The most important thing to keep in mind is durability, when it comes down to it – and not spilling your happy hour martini, of course.

How to remove pesky oil stains from your garage and driveway

Stains on your driveway or garage floor aren't all that different from stains on your clothing: They're like holes in a tuxedo or marinara stains on a crisp white button up. When you've already invested so much thought and time into your curb appeal, it can be truly disheartening to pull into your driveway only to find a massive, unsightly oil smear smack dab in the middle of your driveway.

Never fear – those slick stains can (and will) come out if you coax them just the right way. We're here to help.

Method 1: cat litter
This strategy is particularly convenient if you happen to own a cat and already have litter on your garage shelves, but it remains an inexpensive option even if you don't. Pour litter liberally over any offending stains, allowing it to sit overnight. Sweep up the litter the next day and throw it out. Next, mix powdered laundry detergent and water into a paste, covering what's left of the stain and allowing it to sit for the rest of the day. Wipe up the paste, and you're good to go!

Method 2: hot water, dish detergent and a steel brush
Smaller stains, on the other hand, might not need quite as much effort to eradicate. All you need to do is rub soap and water into the spot, then scrub away with a steel brush. It sometimes helps to repeat this process twice, but it isn't always necessary.

Method 3: engine degreaser
These super-powerful, ultra-concentrated concoctions were made to absorb oil, making them the perfect weapon against garage and driveway stains. Each brand has its own specific directions to follow printed on the bottle, but they will likely instruct you to to apply the degreaser directly to the stain and let it sit for a few minutes.

Method 4: a little of everything
If none of these methods work to remove your oil stains on their own, try combining a few of them. Take the kitty litter method, for example – you can use it to draw as much oil out of the concrete as possible and then spend some time scrubbing what's left with a strong brush and a good detergent. More often than not, oil stains will eventually come out of the pavement with a little TLC.

Unfortunately, some of these slick spots are here to stay. When this happens, you're left with two options: re-pave or repaint. Painting your garage floor is a pretty simple process that covers oil stains remarkably well, but re-paving your driveway is a more lengthy and expensive project. One final word of advice? If you find that your driveway is frequently littered with oil stains, you might try coating yours with a grease-resistant sealing.  After all, you know what they say: Prevention is the best medicine.

Fun ways to spend time in the backyard this winter

Cold and snowy winter weather is as good excuse as any to huddle up indoors this season. However, it can actually be beneficial for your health to spend some time outdoors each day, no matter the weather. Take a look at why getting outside is good for you, and at some fun ideas for outdoor winter activities:

Why go outside?
Spending time outside has many health benefits, not the least of which is that sunlight can promote the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D is an amazing health-booster, affecting everything from your emotional well-being to your bone and joint health, according to Harvard Health. In fact, studies have shown vitamin D can even decrease a person's risk for developing some cancers and other serious health conditions. Simply being in nature has its own advantages. Research has found that spending time outside can increase concentration and other cognitive functions, decrease stress and lead to an overall better sense of well-being.

Fun outdoor activities to get you outside this winter
Make a snowman 
Grab the kids (or even some friends of your own) and head outside to get your creative juices flowing. Build a classic snowman, a fort or some snowballs you can discreetly toss at someone when they least expect it.

Play catch with Fido
You probably aren't the only one feeling cooped up this winter. Take your dog out for a walk or a friendly game of catch in the backyard. The excitement on little Fido's face alone will make the activity worth it.

Relax on an outdoor rocker
If you have outdoor seating in your backyard, take advantage of it no matter the season! Even if you're always on-the-go, just taking some time to sit and relax in nature can be very calming and cathartic. Bundle up, grab a steaming cup of coffee or a warm cider and whatever book you've been meaning to read, and curl up outside. The fresh crisp air will feel great, and you'll be able to take a much-needed break for a few minutes.

Gather around the firepit
Firepits make spending time in the great outdoors a lot of fun, but they feel especially decadent when it's cold out. Gather friends or family members around yours and roast hot dogs and marshmallows for lunch. Enjoy spending time in each others' company, and stick close to the heat so you don't get too cold.

Feed the birds
Bird-watching isn't just a summer sport! Keep the birds happy during the winter by building a feeder for them. Build and paint it outside, fill it with seed, hang it up, and you'll be able to watch the birds come and go every time you're outside.

Remember that it's important to know your limits. Spending time outdoors is great for your health, but if the temperature falls far enough, it can be dangerous to be outside. Take advantage of the less extreme winter weather days, and always remember to bundle up in the proper cold-weather outerwear. Don't forget to wear sunscreen whenever you're spending a lot of time outside, even when it's cold!

How to style an outdoor coffee table

Coffee table styling has been incredibly popular this year. It's been so popular, in fact, that it's been covered by major home design gurus like Pottery Barn, Houzz, HGTV and the Everygirl. The outdoor coffee table, however, has been a bit neglected. For many of us, our patios are merely exterior extensions of our homes, and we think they should be designed to look like it. Mother Nature can make creating a space that's most beautiful and durable a bit difficult, however, and we think it gives backyard decorating a bit of a bad rap. To take your outdoor living room to the next level, the coffee table is the perfect place to start – and we might just know how to style it. 

Layer 1: Trays and books
In reality, styling your outdoor coffee table isn't so different from styling your indoor one. Using several layers of decor, you effectively make your coffee table a visually interesting centerpiece. The key? Choosing items that are a bit more weatherproof. If your patio is covered, then few tweaks will need to be made. If your coffee table is exposed, however, then you'll need to be a little more careful. 

Every well-decorated coffee table begins with some sort of flat piece. Trays work wonderfully, and many are waterproof. Large, hardcover books make a great base too, but these should be reserved for coffee tables that are sheltered from the elements. Whatever you choose, make sure it contrasts well with the color of your outdoor furniture; you want your patio to be just as cohesive as your living room. 

Layer 2: Plants
Nothing anchors a coffee table quite like a little shrubbery does. While you can opt for a traditional vase of flowers (they are great for adding a pop of color), you can also opt for more durable and unexpected succulents. If your table isn't covered, feel free to opt for a fake plant that won't die during the next rainstorm. 

Layer 3: Candles
Lit or unlit, candles make a beautiful addition to all coffee tables. The key to protecting yours outdoors? Candles that come in decorative, protective cases, like small lanterns. Regardless of your candle choice, you'll want to make sure you have a waterproof box of matchbooks nearby. One cool idea we've seen: a clear glass jar filled with matchbooks the couple had picked up on their vacations.

Layer 4: Personal items
Next up: Small trinkets like magnifying glasses, statuettes, patterned bowls or crystal goblets. These personal items can be mixed and matched for the most unique look, and most are weather proof by nature. One thing to keep in mind when placing these decorations on your coffee table outside: weight. Super lightweight items can quickly blow away in the wind, so you'll want to save those for your decorating indoors. 

Bonus layer: An outdoor rug and blankets
To anchor the whole look together, you can also throw an outdoor rug directly underneath your coffee table. Not only is a great way to tie together you coffee table decor and your outdoor furniture, but it's also a great place to incorporate fun patterns. During the cooler months, keep a basket of blankets underneath your coffee table so friends and family can keep warm – and keep the conversation flowing. 

We're just saying – there's no reason indoor coffee tables should have all the fun. A few minor tweaks mean your outdoor living room can look just as breathtaking as your indoor one. We guarantee it.

Perfect pergolas: Mixing design and architecture

Enclosed spaces can make you feel cozy and secure, so they are a nice addition to your backyard. Though lawns are typically open and sprawling, you can create a more private nook by installing a pergola. These architectural structures are defined by posts that hold an open lattice ceiling. As such, the top of a pergola does allow light in, but the beams give the illusion of a closed space. If your yard is in need of an intimate dining spot or living space, consider adding a beautiful and rather simple pergola. 

Pergolas throughout history
Pergolas are not a new structure – far from it, actually. In fact, ancient Egyptian estates featured pergolas at the entryway of gardens and sometimes on the second story of homes. However, the enclosure became even more popular during the Renaissance, and the word is actually derived from the Latin "pergula" or "projecting eave." Some structures were made solely of wood while others incorporated stone. Renaissance pergolas were used to cover spaces, such as walkways, in gardens.

Design features
You can choose from numerous pergola styles. Traditionally, the structures have flat beams, but you can also find roofs that are gabled, arched or pitched. Where you place the pergola in your yard may determine the look you choose.

Against the house: A flat or pitched top fits in best with your home. The pitched roof's highest point will be against your home while the lower part juts out. 

Over a walkway: Arched, gabled or traditional tops look great covering a path in your garden or yard. For a more earthy feel, consider covering your pergola in vines or hanging potted plants on the beams. That way, you'll not only walk through your garden, you'll also stroll under it. Some climbing plants include scarlet morning glory, passion flower, wisteria and black-eyed Susan vine. 

Adding decor
Draping your pergola in plants is one way to add character to your space, but you can choose other decorative elements as well. Some people hang fabric between the beams to provide more shade. You may also place your outdoor furniture sets beneath your structure. Create a covered dining room by placing a pergola on your patio and adding outdoor dining sets. Or make a living space by building a shaded pergola and decorating with outdoor sectionals. Really, pergolas work with any kind of space you can imagine for your yard – now that's a versatile structure. 

Materials
In modern times, we have the option of choosing wood or vinyl pergolas, and both are nice choices. Wood and vinyl don't rot and are resistant to weather (that's good, considering the structure is outside). Vinyl is typically white or ivory while wood can be stained or painted, giving you options – variety is the spice of life! As far as wear, both materials are long-lasting and durable, but wood degrades over time and requires restaining. 

Whatever material and color you choose, make sure it complements your outdoor furniture and highlights any added elements, like hanging plants or draped string lighting. 

2015 design forecast

With the new year just around the corner, design gurus have laid out what they think will be hot in 2015. From colors to themes, new looks will be just what the doctor ordered, and you can get a head start. Make your New Year's resolution all about updating your outdoor spaces to reflect the year's biggest trends. Here's a look for what's ahead in design for 2015:

Meet Marsala
​Pantone determines the popular color every year, and it's chosen the shade for 2015. Marsala is a red hue that has a brownish undertone, much like brick or red wine. As such, it's rich, warm and inviting, perfect for a space you want to redo. Pantone suggests adding it to a cooking space to promote appetite, though Marsala could be the perfect color for your outdoor areas as well. Your outdoor furniture sets could feature a similar red to enhance the atmosphere in your yard – it certainly can warm up your covered deck during the cold months. 

How to incorporate Marsala: You can go bold in your yard or deck, or add Marsala to a few smaller items. Either way, the brick-red shade is sure to enhance any space and keep it hip. You can reuse existing outdoor sectionals by updating them with new cushion covers. Cover your seats in neutral tones, then add Marsala throw pillows and blankets on top. You can also decorate with vases, candles, light fixtures that have the red hue. 

"Marsala is a subtly seductive shade, one that draws us in to its embracing warmth," Leatrice Eiseman, executive director for the Pantone Color Institute, said. 

Bringing in wall tapestries
More decorators will cover walls in tapestries come 2015, and so can you. These fabric sheets hang from the wall and are typically woven by hand. However, you can update the classic art by choosing more modern pieces. From abstract shapes to simple designs, contemporary tapestries can make a bold statement in your home.

How to incorporate tapestries: If you choose to decorate your outdoor spaces with a tapestry, be sure to purchase one that's made of waterproof material – classic art can't withstand moisture, so vinyl would be more suited to the yard. Of course, you could hang a non-waterproof tapestry in a three-season room or covered deck. 

Florals
Pops of florals will fill homes in 2015, but rather than the main focus, these flowery designs will act as accents. Blooms are calming and pretty to look at, which makes them perfect for a relaxing backyard space. Of course, you'll have your garden, but you can use florals in parts of your design as well.

How to incorporate floral accents: Floral candles, outdoor dinnerware and throw blankets are all perfect places to add a bit of floral elegance. You can even place an outdoor rug that features a print. If you want to be super on trend, pick a floral design that includes Marsala.

Decor and color trends aren't just for the inside of your home. Try these 2015 forecast items in your yard.

Eco-friendly backyard designs

"Form follows function." This famous anecdote about modern architecture can also apply to your backyard design. Basically, it means that the way something looks should always come second to what it does. When it comes to your yard, you can compile a design that's both aesthetically pleasing and good for the environment. Eco-friendly planning isn't too difficult to implement, either. Here are a few tips for making your yard both beautiful and functional:

Used recycled materials
Whether you're building a walkway or a deck, you can find ways to reuse materials. For instance, create a patio area using glass tiles constructed from recycled bottles. Or, build your deck out of reclaimed wood. Making use of materials that have been used in the past prevents you from wasting new wood, brick, etc. You can also visit construction sites or talk to your neighbors. Sometimes people don't use all the materials they ordered when completing a home project. The wood you used in your kitchen when you remodeled? The leftovers might make a nice pergola!

Check certification
Sometimes, buying used products isn't an option. In that case, pick eco-friendly certified materials instead. For instance, pick wood that has the Forest Stewardship Council seal of approval. Using that wood won't decrease the size of the rainforest or deforest the U.S. 

Make use of rainwater
You probably spend money to keep your lawn looking green even when you haven't seen rain in a while, and those costs add up. Not to mention, watering plants uses fresh water that could be conserved. Revamp your yard by turning it into a rain garden. These types of gardens distribute rainwater and runoff to irrigate plants naturally. Runoff can come from your house, garage roof, etc. The key is to redistribute it. You'll have to research how rain gardens work to plan a system that effectively distributes condensation throughout the yard. The plants you use matter as well, as some take to the system better than others.

Choose durable outdoor furniture sets
Buying products with poor construction can actually harm the environment. Cheaply made items fall apart sooner, and you end up throwing out and wasting the materials used to build them. Instead, purchase high-quality, long-lasting outdoor seating. That way, the furniture you buy now will last a lifetime, only using a small amount of raw materials. Also, if cushions or seat covers are worn out, don't replace your entire sectional or chair – just get new cushions and covers.