Monthly Archives: February 2015

How to host the perfect child-friendly backyard party

Whether it's time to celebrate a graduation party, a summer holiday party or a good old-fashioned birthday party, having the entire extended family over for a backyard barbecue can not only be a rip-roaring good time, but it can also bring distant relatives together. Where once you might have been the shy child patiently waiting for your hot dog or the wild child waiting for the right moment to launch your water balloon, now it's your turn to be the adult and host the annual family gathering. Inevitably, there will be children present. Probably lots of them. Whole herds of children ready to chug gallons of pop and stuff their faces with cupcakes. And, despite all the planning and cooking, it's trying to keep so many children safely occupied in your backyard that could be the trickiest part of all.

Childproofing your backyard
Childproofing your backyard is the first step in hosting a gathering where children will be in attendance. Start by combing the area to ensure that any potentially troublesome objects will not interfere with anyone's good time. A quick pre-party clean-up can remedy serious problems before they even happen. Objects such as bottle caps, leftover building or construction materials like nails or screws or just some items waiting for recycling or reclamation can wreak much more damage than their tiny size suggests.

Securely lock cabinets, sheds or any other doors to dangerous places (a cellar, garage, etc.), while also keeping all garden tools stashed away in safe places, such as the garage or tool shed, so that no curious hands end up trying to play with them.

The grill should be kept at a safe distance from the other partygoers, not only to stop the smoke from irritating people but also so that no children unexpectedly burn their hands on the flaming hot metal. Stacks of firewood are also potential danger zones, not only because children like to play on anything that looks fun (and wood stacks are prime targets for climbing), but also because wood stacks are excellent hiding spots for raccoons, mice and other small wildlife.

If the children are exceptionally young, it wouldn't hurt to put up some protective fencing around other potential danger areas, like a firepit or a pond.

Creative uses for outdoor furniture
Thankfully, family-oriented gatherings are not all safety checks and finger-waggling, since you are hosting a party, after all. Even once the kids have lost all the lawn darts, ripped through all the kites and have gotten their water guns taken away, there are still plenty of ways to keep the rambunctious and riled-up kids occupied with everyday backyard equipment. Whereas some things like jungle gyms and swimming pools can keep children busy for the duration of the party, not everyone has the means to purchase and install such extravagant features. There are easier and more affordable ways to make use of everyday backyard furniture, especially durable patio furniture that can take the kind of punishment children tend to dish out.

Outdoor rocking chairs can provide countless hours of entertainment for children who long to be playing in the park instead of at a grown-up party. And what kid doesn't marvel at the easy-breezy lifestyle afforded by spending some time lazing around in a hammock? At the same time, the more pieces in a sectional couch, the more time children can spend rearranging the furniture. A standard four-piece couch can hold their attention for a little bit, while a bigger ten-piece sectional can occupy energetic kids for hours, almost like a game of Tetris mixed with a jigsaw puzzle.

From naptime to pillow fights, kids use cushions and pillows for all sorts of reasons, so it never hurts to have a couple extra on hand for when it comes time for the children to crash or get back at someone for an earlier water gun loss.

3 backyard amenities to inspire your design

Planning to completely overhaul your backyard design? With such a blank canvas, you may not know what to include in your dream plan. You have tons of options for transforming a boring backyard into the ultimate relaxation and entertainment space, so knowing where to begin can be hard. The way we see it, seeking inspiration is a good start. Watch out for ideas you love and consider copying them in your space. With that in mind, here are some amenities you may want to add to your design:

1. A lounge

Sitting outside with a drink in your hand, a friend at your side and comfortable furniture underneath you is certainly a fun and relaxing way to spend your night. That's why clubs create cushy lounges for their patrons to enjoy. However, you don't have to go to a loud bar to enjoy a posh lounge setting – make one in your yard! 

To do so, you'll need outdoor furniture sets that promote a relaxed and conversational atmosphere. Outdoor sectionals, sofas and coffee tables all support a lounge space. The furniture arrangement you choose should create an intimate area where guests can sit and chat comfortably – you won't be as chatty if your space feels too open and exposed.

To help enclose your lounge, you could build a pergola for your patio and hang lights or drape fabric from the eaves. You can even add curtains to divide your lounge from other areas of your deck or patio.

2. A kitchen
Imagine hosting an outdoor dinner party in which you're able to mingle with your guests while preparing food. If you have an outdoor kitchen, doing both things at once will be possible. These spaces can be as simple or elaborate as you want, but they need several things: counter space, a cooking range (either an actual oven and range or a grill) and a fridge. With these components, you can store, prep and cook food outdoors. 

Additionally, once you build your kitchen workspace, you'll also need to set up a dining area – what's the point of making the food outside if you have nowhere to enjoy it? Purchase outdoor dining sets for your yard that accommodate the number of people you plan to serve. What's more, if the counter for your outdoor kitchen is high enough, you can even place bar stools in front of them for added seating. 

3. A garden
Reimagining your backyard space allows you to add whatever new features your budget allows, and a garden is pretty affordable. Whether you want to grow vegetables you can use in your new outdoor kitchen or flowers that bring color and life to your space, a garden lets you do so. 

If you want to add a garden, make sure it works with the other ideas you'd like to see in your yard. What with a lounge and outdoor kitchen, you might have to create a garden around the perimeter of your yard rather than add rows of beds in the middle.

Starting your backyard from scratch opens many options for your outdoor design. Hopefully these ideas will inspire you.

The psychology of color: Backyard edition

Oscar Wilde once said, "Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways." The psychology of color has long been utilized in interior and exterior design schemes just for that reason – it's a powerful way to make us feel the way we want to, and it gives us a certain degree of power over the connection we have to our environments. There are few places in a home that leave more opportunity for color than a backyard, from beds of blooming flowers and towering trees to a collection of outdoor furniture. Before you head out for new shrubbery and decor, you may want to check out the psychological pull these colors have – and which ones might be right for you. 

Blue

Blue is the most productive and energizing color, though in a calming and grounding sort of way. It instigates productivity, and it's a great color to add to your backyard if you do a lot of gardening or playing with the kids. Its serene feel makes it great for a garden-side seat – but it's maybe not so great for your outdoor dining area, thanks to its appetite-curbing properties. 

Green

This hue is the color of tranquility and health, and it's no wonder – it's the one that most closely mimics nature. You probably already have plenty of green in your yard thanks to Mother Nature, but adding a green outdoor sofa to the mix will create an even more lush and organic atmosphere. 

Red

Red is a passionate color that encourages appetite, making it the perfect choice if you do a lot of outdoor cooking or eating. This color is unabashedly bold – if you want your backyard to make a statement, this color is for you. 

Orange 

Orange, on the other hand, is the color of excitement and enthusiasm. It's playful and exotic at the same time, a warm hue that instigates action and conversation. If you do a lot of outdoor entertaining, orange might be your best bet.

Yellow

This ultra-cheery color is one that's bound to brighten your spirits – unless you have a baby. For some reason, infants tend to cry more when they're exposed to the color yellow. The same doesn't hold true for adults, though. In fact, this color has been known to encourage communication. To incorporate this hue in a more subtle way, choose yellow accents instead of outdoor furniture. 

Purple

Purple is the color of creativity and imagination. It's similar to blue in the sense that it's serene and has the boldness of red. Purple is an especially popular color for flowers due to its richness.

The psychology of color is nothing to scoff at – between mood, comprehension and engagement, it affects far more of our lives than we think it does. It makes decorating that much more fun, doesn't it? 

Don’t have time to garden? Try these yard enhancements instead

Let's face it: Homeowners are busy people. They don't have hours to spend trimming bushes, plucking weeds and watering delicate plants, even if they want a backyard that looks like the Secret Garden. So what's a person to do? Let the landscaping remain barren and dull? Fortunately, the answer is no. If you don't have enough hours in the day to plant and maintain a full-out garden (we're picturing blooming flowers, little paths and plenty of seating), you can try alternatives that will also transform your yard into a beautiful retreat. Here are a few options to get you started:

Incorporate hard space
The less lawn space you have, the less maintenance you'll have to do – even grass needs watering and care. Many homeowners do away with some of their lawn and install paving of some kind, which is also called hard space. This could be a patio, deck, pathway, sculpture, etc. Either way, it reduces green space while still making your yard usable.

So what do you do with all this pavement? Turn it into functional areas. You can add outdoor furniture sets to create a living room-like spot, a dining area (complete with outdoor dining sets) or a lounge section. You can also set up firepits and grills to provide more utilization in your yard. 

In addition to having patios where you place furniture, you can install pavement for pathways. They can wind lazily around your yard, follow a more linear path, whatever suits your taste and your overall design concept for your outdoor spaces.

Pick native plants
It's more difficult to keep a palm tree alive in a cold climate than it is in a tropical or subtropical one. Instead of struggling to grow plants that would not naturally appear in your yard, pick native plants to fill your space. This way, the weather does most of the work maintaining your plants. Research which plants are native to your area for starters, and then pay attention when you purchase them.

Most plants you buy at a nursery come with a handy information tag. It says how much direct daylight and water the plant needs. Pick the plants that fit with your yard. For instance, if you get six hours of sunlight in your backyard, find plants that require six hours a day. 

Additionally, note that grasses, shrubs and other greenery are often easier to maintain then, say, roses. Know which plants are notoriously time consuming and avoid them like the plague.

Edge your gardens
Sometimes, grass can grow into the areas where you're trying to have beautiful flowers, choking them out. Instead of keeping plants alive by plucking grass, simply edge your beds. Basically, place a row of rocks or other decorative elements around your gardens. Whether you have a decorative tall grass area or a row of flowers, line the zone to prevent grass from invading – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (or, in this case, gardening time), after all. 

Don’t have time to garden? Try these yard enhancements instead

Let's face it: Homeowners are busy people. They don't have hours to spend trimming bushes, plucking weeds and watering delicate plants, even if they want a backyard that looks like the Secret Garden. So what's a person to do? Let the landscaping remain barren and dull? Fortunately, the answer is no. If you don't have enough hours in the day to plant and maintain a full-out garden (we're picturing blooming flowers, little paths and plenty of seating), you can try alternatives that will also transform your yard into a beautiful retreat. Here are a few options to get you started:

Incorporate hard space
The less lawn space you have, the less maintenance you'll have to do – even grass needs watering and care. Many homeowners do away with some of their lawn and install paving of some kind, which is also called hard space. This could be a patio, deck, pathway, sculpture, etc. Either way, it reduces green space while still making your yard usable.

So what do you do with all this pavement? Turn it into functional areas. You can add outdoor furniture sets to create a living room-like spot, a dining area (complete with outdoor dining sets) or a lounge section. You can also set up firepits and grills to provide more utilization in your yard. 

In addition to having patios where you place furniture, you can install pavement for pathways. They can wind lazily around your yard, follow a more linear path, whatever suits your taste and your overall design concept for your outdoor spaces.

Pick native plants
It's more difficult to keep a palm tree alive in a cold climate than it is in a tropical or subtropical one. Instead of struggling to grow plants that would not naturally appear in your yard, pick native plants to fill your space. This way, the weather does most of the work maintaining your plants. Research which plants are native to your area for starters, and then pay attention when you purchase them.

Most plants you buy at a nursery come with a handy information tag. It says how much direct daylight and water the plant needs. Pick the plants that fit with your yard. For instance, if you get six hours of sunlight in your backyard, find plants that require six hours a day. 

Additionally, note that grasses, shrubs and other greenery are often easier to maintain then, say, roses. Know which plants are notoriously time consuming and avoid them like the plague.

Edge your gardens
Sometimes, grass can grow into the areas where you're trying to have beautiful flowers, choking them out. Instead of keeping plants alive by plucking grass, simply edge your beds. Basically, place a row of rocks or other decorative elements around your gardens. Whether you have a decorative tall grass area or a row of flowers, line the zone to prevent grass from invading – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (or, in this case, gardening time), after all. 

Making a focal point in your backyard design

Design focal points create an interesting area in your home. They draw attention and define the space. But focal points don't have to be reserved for an indoor space – you can also put one in your yard! From adding a pop of color in your garden to constructing a stunning sculpture, focal points come in all shapes and sizes. Here are some ways you can add a point of interest to your landscaping and how to make it part of the overall look of your yard:

Pick something that pleases you
The design of your backyard should appeal to you – it's your space, so you should like it. That logic can be applied to your focal point. Simply choose an object that makes you happy. Do you like the look of a certain tree or shrub? Would an outdoor fireplace make you smile? Does a certain sculpture appeal to your sensibilities? Any design element that makes you happy can become your yard's focal point. Other than that, choosing an object doesn't have many other guidelines. Here's some inspiration:

  • A gazebo filled with an outdoor dining set – it's a great place to eat and it draws attention
  • A fountain or water feature
  • A fruit tree 
  • A sundial
  • A pool

Make sure it's large enough
Don't think like an interior designer when picking your outdoor focal point. Many objects that would make a statement in your living room are too small for your yard. Even small gardens are vast – there's no roof or walls, so your view extends far beyond your property line. Make sure that whatever the focal point ends up being, it's large enough to catch attention in your backyard. The examples we gave above are on the large side, so they'll grab your gaze.

Downplay other features
To really make your focal point stand out, fill your garden with more subtle features. For instance, if you have a big tree in your yard, pick shorter plants. If you have a colorful statue, fill your yard with earth tones rather than a rainbow of flowers. That way, your focal point won't be lost in a cacophony of other uninteresting design choices.

Aim eyeline 
The way you design your yard can draw your eyes to your focal point, or distract you from it. For instance, downplaying other features is one way to draw attention to your focal point. The way you arrange your outdoor furniture sets can also help. You can face your outdoor sofas and chairs toward a fireplace or arrange benches to face a fountain. The angle of your furniture will cause you to look toward whatever the chairs face.

Can I have two?
In most cases, you should stick to just one focal point for your yard. However, sometimes having two is acceptable. For instance, if you have two sculptures by the same artist, keeping them together only makes sense. Additionally, you can place focal points in different areas of your yard, like on the side of the house and in the back. 

5 budget-friendly backyard upgrades

Spring is almost here, which means warm patio weather is on its way! If you love the outdoors, you likely spend a lot of time in your backyard during spring and summer. Now's the time to give it a quick and inexpensive upgrade that will make you love relaxing on your patio that much more. Here are five ideas for budget-friendly patio and backyard upgrades you can accomplish in a day:

1. Add a trellis
Adding a trellis is a lovely way to make a style statement in your garden. Place a standing one over your garden path or attach sheets of latticed wood to the side of your house. Then, buy clematis vines or other climbing plants to give the trellis or wall a romantic "Secret Garden" vibe that you and your guests will love. 

2. Relax with a hammock
A patio hammock can turn your backyard into a relaxing oasis you love spending time in. Tuck the hammock into a corner of the patio, garden or yard, and surround it with potted plants and trees to make an isolated spot perfect for resting with a book or soaking in the spring weather.

3. Use a fire bowl
Fire bowls are a great way to make your outdoor space entertainment-ready for the warm months, and they don't have to break the budget. Install one in your yard or on your patio and surround it with outdoor seating. As the weather starts to clear up, invite guests over for backyard potlucks or outdoor game nights!

4. Use unique lights
Lights are a practical addition to any patio, but they can also add some flair to the area. Try stringing strands of colorful round bulbs across your patio cover or hanging a rustic chandelier above your outdoor dining set. Or, use vintage lanterns sporadically across your garden and patio to add picturesque charm to the entire yard. 

5. Accessorize
Even small changes, like adding patio planters, terra cotta pots, wrought iron artwork and other accessories, can quickly and frugally upgrade your patio's appearance. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to use your imagination and let some creativity out. Hang shadow boxes on your patio wall and display small flower pots and vintage bud vases in them. Group planters full of succulents in one corner of your patio for a cool desert-like vibe, and paint all of your flower pots to add vibrant colors to your deck. 

The 4 rules of furniture arrangement

Furniture arrangement can be an art – a good arrangement makes the space feel inviting and comfortable and allows for smooth traffic flow. While you might think that the way you place your furniture only matters inside, it makes a huge difference in your outdoor living space. If you have or plan to get outdoor furniture sets, use these golden rules of arrangement to create a functional space:

1. Note traffic
Your backyard probably has a lot of movement – kids and pets run through the grass, friends and family walk around your patio as you grill, etc. Your furniture arrangement should not interrupt this flow, but rather allow for people to continue moving about the space. Pay attention to how you use your patio or deck and implement those traffic patterns into your design. 

For instance, if your back door opens to your deck and the stairs to your lawn are on the left, make sure no furniture is in that path – place pieces on the right instead.

2. Think of usage
If your coffee table is too far from your outdoor sectional, no one will want to use it. They'd have to get up just to set down a drink. When planning your arrangement, think of how you'll use your space and your pieces. From end tables and coffee tables to dining sets, every bit of furniture has a purpose. 

Once you set up all of your furniture, try using the space. Make sure you can reach things, put up your feet up, etc., and adjust as needed.

3. Place the large pieces first
Your outdoor sofa is much larger than an end table, so it should have priority when you place your pieces. Put it in a prime location, then set the rest of your furniture around it. 

4. Facilitate conversation
A dining or sectional set is meant to allow for conversation. People want to chat when they're sitting together, so make sure your furniture arrangement allows them to do so. For instance, make sure chairs face the sofa, working in a square shape. Triangle-like arrangements work as well – in fact, they're great if you have a focal point in your yard, like a fireplace. Have a sofa act as one side of the triangle, two chairs and an end table act as another side, and your coffee table and focal point act as the third. 

The triangle arrangement allows people to talk and view the visually interesting point in your backyard.

Outdoor oasis inspiration

For those of you living in a chilly climate, you may be sick of winter. Between cold and snow, all you want is sunshine and warmth. If you can't jet off to the Maldives (or another tropical locale), start brainstorming ways to improve your backyard come spring. Thinking of outdoor furniture sets, gardening and yard parties might help you escape the realities of winter, if only for a moment. Besides, this way you'll know exactly what projects you wish to tackle when the weather does warm up. Here is some inspiration for your outdoor living space:

Plant lemongrass
When the weather is nice, you might spend long hours lounging on your outdoor sectional, reading a book or gardening. However, mosquitos could make otherwise relaxing outdoor time a bit of a nuisance. Those bugs leave itchy bite marks and can invade your food, which isn't good if you're having a dinner party on your deck. While lighting candles and spraying your yard can keep the bugs away, mosquito repellent doesn't have the nicest scent. Instead, consider planting lemongrass. This aromatic plant is thought to keep mosquitos (and their bites) away from your yard.

Consider privacy
When you're having a nice outdoor dinner party with friends, the last thing you want is for unwelcome eyes to rove about the space. You don't need a tall fence to prevent passersby from seeing your party, just plant the right greenery. Tall grasses, bushes and trees help keep the area separate. You can even install standing lattice planters. 

Greenery doesn't just have to keep out prying eyes, it can also help you create zones in your yard. Make a small cafe garden by placing outdoor dining sets near bushes, or have a quiet seating area by closing off a few chairs with a wall of hanging plants. 

Establish spaces
You don't always need shrubbery to establish zones in your yard – furniture placement helps too. For example, if you want a lounge-style seating area, you can arrange outdoor sectional sets to promote group relaxation. The sofa can face arm chairs with a coffee table in the middle. Outdoor dining zones are nice too. Pick a patio spot where you'll set your grill and a dining table with chairs. Just because your backyard doesn't have any walls doesn't mean it can't follow the same setup as a room. 

When you think ahead to summer, how do you imagine you'll spend time outside? As snow falls, plan ways to make your backyard dreams come true.