What do you see when you look out at your backyard? Is it a fully-functioning space where you can entertain guests, relax after a long day, and spend time creating memories with your family?
Or do you see only potential?
If your outdoor space leaves much to be desired, and you’re looking to updating its design and functionality, then you’ve come to the right place! We asked several outdoor and patio design experts for their insights into making the most of your backyard–no matter what shape it’s in right now, or how big or small.
Instead of giving you a complete step-by-step guide, we’ve arranged our insights alphabetically, in addition to a short introduction on getting started. This is because every outdoor space is unique, and your approach will likely be different from anyone else’s.
Now let’s get started!
Browse a specific category by clicking on any of the quick links below:
Getting Started – First Steps
1. Decide how you will use the space
Figuring out what you want to do with your backyard space is no easy task, and it’s not to be taken lightly. To really create the ideal outdoor design, you need vision. The following tips from Accessorize to Zen will help, but here are some insights from design pros on choosing the perfect path.
Your #1 priority is deciding how you want to use the space. If you don’t design for how you want to use it, you won’t use it. Do you have kids or dogs that need space to run around? Do you want to be outside at night? Do you want a vegetable garden? Design a section for each activity you want. Make it yours!
When designing outdoor spaces for clients I first ask them what the space will be used for and then lay out the space accordingly. If the client is planning to use their garden areas for large gatherings I try to incorporate more built in seating with seating walls, seating boulders and other architectural design elements with lots of open space for movement. For more intimate outdoor living areas we may incorporate cozy chairs near a fire feature and a smaller dining area set amongst more densely planted gardens.
It all comes down to how do you want to feel in the space– indoor or out–and what image do you want it to convey.
2. Remove the clutter
The simple act of removing excess items that have naturally accumulated in your backyard will give it new life, and give you a fresh palette to work off of.
One of the easiest ways to get a fresh look is to ensure that your outdoor area is neat and orderly. Tidy up pool toys and floats by getting attractive outdoor storage that won’t attract pests.
3. Clean up
Your backyard may already have a lot going for it, and giving everything a thorough cleaning will help you see that. You don’t have to start from scratch, according to the following expert insight:
Hose off all the frames of your patio furniture and vacuum the cushions if you have a shop vac. Inspect to see what condition everything is in! If the furniture frames aren’t quite perfect, there are many ways to repair these from re-painting, waxing, or by calling a professional – depending on the amount of wear or damage, and the quality of the furniture.
Keep your outdoor furniture looking its best with these tips and tricks.
“A” for Accessorize
To make your deck and backyard space as unique as you, you’ve got to accessorize!
Just like indoor rooms, outdoor “rooms” need some jewelry, too!! Candles, placemats, and plants are the obvious choices. For the more ambitious, you can upgrade to a cool new ceiling fan, add outdoor rugs and wall art – there are even outdoor table lamps available!! Almost anything we have indoors is now made for outdoors!
My favorite outdoor space accessory is pots painted in glow in the dark paint! They’re an easy and inexpensive DIY project.
“B” for Base
When incorporating patio design into your outdoor decor, you’ve got to think about it from the base up.
All great outdoor areas start with a good base, whether it’s a deck or patio flooring. Today there are so many choices that it can be overwhelming. If you don’t have an existing deck, concrete is an affordable and design-worthy choice. Concrete can be made into any pattern and color, plus you can score, stamp, and stain it.
Learn how to make your outdoor space more cozy and create a space you enjoy relaxing in.
“C” for Color
Alice Chiu, of Miss Alice Designs, recommends using color to make your backyard come to life:
Use a mixture of warm & cool colors in your outdoor space-2-3 color combinations is the perfect amount. Examples of warm & cool color combinations: purple (cool), orange (warm), and white, or blue, yellow, and gray. Include accents in vibrant colors and bold prints such as cushions, stools, sculptures, or throw pillows. Adding layers of colorful flowers, foliage, planters, and bright vines at different levels creates depth and texture to your outdoor space. Another way to add a splash of color to your outdoor design is to paint landscape structures such as fences, garden sheds, & pergolas. You can select a paint color that goes with your outdoor color palette or one that highlights your garden colors.
Make boring patio furniture pop with these tips:
Most patio furniture comes in neutrals and lacks color and personality. Give your patio furniture’s cushions and pillows a pop of color with vibrant fabrics. Think bright greens and bold oranges.
Make a splash with pattern – Once everything is clean and in good shape, go get some fun outdoor pillows!!
Learn more about choosing accent colors for your backyard decor.
“D” for Dining
A backyard patio without dining isn’t much of a patio at all. To truly make the most of your outdoor space, incorporate a dining table, bar area, or other dining option. First, ask yourself if you want to put on full-blown meals outside, and how often you expect to eat outdoors. If the answer is yes and a lot, then consider investing in a nice, large outdoor dining table and comfortable seating options. Even if you don’t plan on eating outdoors that often, a small table, coffee table, or outdoor bar will definitely come in handy while entertaining friends.
Keep a simple storage bench on the patio for storing necessities for an impromptu patio party. When the mood strikes, you’ll have unbreakable wine and beer glasses, paper plates and plastic silverware at the ready. Add in an ice bucket, bug spray, sun screen, and wireless speakers for your iPod playlist.
“E” for Enclosures
Your backyard is your space, so you want to block out the distractions of the surrounding world. To do that, you need some enclosures. There are many ways to make your backyard space feel secluded and enclosed, even if you live in a city. Here are some ideas:
- Tall stone wall adorned with vines and shrubs
- Barriers that separate your patio, dining area, or secluded zen garden
- Use plants, trees, and shrubs to enclose the space
Learn more about creating a stylish, yet private backyard retreat.
“F” for Furniture & Fire Pit
Your outdoor furniture serves two purposes: function and aesthetics. Make sure they excel at both with these insights:
When you don’t have a lot of room to work with, which is typically the case with balconies, your choice of furniture is really important. Double duty furniture like a bench that also incorporates storage is helpful to give you a place to store cushions or gardening supplies.
A homey, comfortable seating area is a must-have for entertaining in your outdoor space. Whether you pick up a matching patio set with oversized chairs and big cushions at a home store or collect unique, unmatched pieces from flea markets and antique shops, as long as you feature great seating you’ll be set.” – Dina GibbonsA fire feature is a backyard staple, whether it’s a fire pit or a fire table.
Fire pits & chimineys are an ideal investment—there’s nothing quite like a summer night spent outside with friends or family in the backyard around the fire with cold drinks in hand, marshmallows roasting, and stories being told. Great memories are always made around a campfire. You can easily build your own with a simple DIY tutorial online or pick one up at your local garden center.
Stay safe this summer with these important outdoor fireplace safety tips.
“G” for Green
Plants absolutely must be integral to your outdoor space, and thankfully our design experts had many great insights on how to go “green” in the backyard.
Select plants based on your appetite or budget for maintenance. If the last thing you want to do is prune and fertilize your garden on a Saturday morning, select plants that are the right size at maturity for the space you’re planting them in, and choose low-maintenance plants or native plants that like your soil without amendments.
Outdoor patios call for a little green. Pick up some flowering perennials and small bushes or trees that can thrive for years in a single container. They add so life much to your outdoor space. You can also include herbs in containers placed around seating. Herbs such as lavender, basil, and lemongrass add a lovely scent to the summer air.
Contain yourself – or at least your plants. Use containers to add texture and height in the garden. Don’t be afraid of larger containers and big colors – make the container a feature. Containers also allow you to provide good soil for your plants. Just make sure that you keep them watered! Plants may need to be watered 2 or more times a day when it is really hot. A simple drip irrigation system can be a real plant saver.
One of the best ways to transform an ordinary yard into a true outdoor living space is by installing artificial grass. Not only will you save both water and money, you’ll have a lush, green lawn year-round that requires no mowing, no fertilizer, no pesticides and minimal maintenance.
“H” for Harmony
The ideal backyard harmonizes well with its surroundings. Here are a few key insights from design experts on how to make it all “come together.”
Come up with a simple, balanced and functional design that is sustainable, environmentally friendly, easy to maintain and if at all possible has a harmonious relationship with the natural surroundings and with your interior.
A great outdoor design is pleasant to look at, pleasant to experience and creates great views to be enjoyed from the interior.Good exterior design should look and feel as if it is not only part of the natural setting, but also part of the overall architecture of the your home or building.
“When you’re designing the perfect outdoor space, it makes sense to choose furniture in the same style as the rest of your home and coordinate it throughout the area – the same way your formal living room and dining room would coordinate. So if your home is traditional, use traditional exterior furnishings in your favorite finish, such as iron, wood or metal. Place them in a way that allows for easy traffic flow within the space.
Learn more about bringing harmony to your backyard by incorporating elements into your design.
“I” for Illumination
Backyard lighting is a must for crafting the perfect ambiance–here are some tips for illuminating your outdoor space:
For lighting, I like to use lanterns and candles, but my personal favorite are smart LED outdoor lighting that can be changed to any color to suite the mood.
Great outdoor spaces need lighting. Adorn your backyard trees, fencing, and deck with indoor/outdoor string lighting. They also look great whether you’re simply hosting an outdoor meal or a more formal party. Toss in a few candles for additional lighting and to help keep the bugs away too.
Lighting doesn’t have to exactly match what you have inside. You can get a little creative here. There are always the traditional wall mount lights that go on the back or side of your house. But there are also lamp posts, hanging lanterns, and solar lights that stick into the ground.
Learn about additional tips for lighting your backyard patio.
“J” for Jacuzzi
OK, we had a little trouble coming up with a “J” word, but wouldn’t a jacuzzi for your backyard deck be an awesome idea? There are many cool ways to incorporate a hot tub or swim spa into your backyard deck design. Think about blending your jacuzzi setup with plenty of seating options, so you can enjoy company with guests in and out of the water.
“K” for Keep it Simple
In the midst of planning your new backyard space, you may be tempted to go overboard and incorporate too much stuff. Instead, go for minimalism and a “keep it simple” attitude.
Keep it simple. Limit your plant pallet to avoid a haphazard look. Use color, but be careful when using really loud colors. That bright orange planter will make a big enough impact; you don’t need to paint the fence the same color. Keep furniture in scale with the space. That huge 6 piece sectional looks great on the website, but make sure you have enough room to walk past your garden.
“L” for Local
When accessorizing your space, the best way to make it truly unique is to go local:
Depending on the style that the client is looking for I try to find accent pieces and furniture at local import shops or work with contractors or local furniture designers to design pieces that are unique and compliment the overall garden themes. Import and antique shops have a great selection of items that can make wonderful accent items or focal points and aren’t widely available. For a recent modern ranch style garden we used reclaimed chicken feeders in a vertical herb garden and planted wooden feeding troughs with lavender, both items found at a local import shop.
“M” for Music, Movies, and More
A movie night under the stars, backyard dance party, karaoke night on the deck—these can all become a reality if you so desire! There are many options for installing outdoor speakers or even a complete movie projection setup. These elements help enhance the ambiance of your backyard, complementing lighting and decor, as Julia Falk-Mann of Toparius explains:
Find audio or visual aids . Whether you’re using ambient lighting, safety (directional) lighting or entertaining lighting, the ambiance of your space is important. Lighting can be hard-wired and incorporated into the whole design or accomplished through usage.
“N” for Netting
Depending on your location, bugs and pests can be a big deterrent from spending time enjoying your backyard. Thankfully, netting can be an effective, and even attractive, solution to keeping mosquitoes at bay. Nets can hang down from an awning over your deck, or you can have netting incorporated into an umbrella or gazebo that is detached from your house.
“O” for Oasis
Your backyard doesn’t have to be seamlessly connected with your house—there are benefits to creating an oasis that is secluded and separate from your main living space.
Create a destination. Your deck should be a place you enjoy spending time with friends and family, so it’s important that it’s a relaxing, inviting space—not a half-finished project that’s too cluttered or too stark.”
“P” for Privacy
If your outdoor space is fully visible to neighbors and passersby, you and your guests will never be able to fully relax and enjoy it to its fullest potential. Here are a few ideas for giving your backyard the privacy you deserve:
Plan for privacy. Privacy is at your fingertips,you just have to be creative. Plants and containers provide a lush, gaFrden feel, while also enclosing the deck.
Another key component I always like to include in my designs is sense of privacy and custom lattice panels are a great way to achieve that. They make any outdoor space feel more cozy and they are also great at hiding unsightly views.
“Q” for Quiet
If you live in a neighborhood with a significant amount of noise from traffic or nearby industry, there are plenty of ways to reduce sound levels. For example, trees, shrubs, and all kinds of plants have a dampening effect, since all those leaves, twigs, and bark absorbs sound like a sponge. Additionally, textured barriers and tall walls can effectively lower the noise level, creating a quiet and secluded backyard space for you to enjoy with friends and family. Already have your quiet backyard space?
Check out how to create a reading nook in your garden.
“R” for Rugs
An outdoor rug for your patio or deck can provide a nice splash of color or a pattern that really makes your backyard shine. Search for a rug that complements your patio furniture, and that is designed to withstand a wide variety of weather conditions.
“S” is for Sustainability
Sustainability is continuing to grow as a theme in garden design as education grows on the impacts our gardens have on the wider environment. When designing patio areas we try to make sure to use permeable or semipermeable surfaces to allow water to soak into the ground and reduce runoff. Poured concrete pads or large flagstone pavers with pebble between, interlocking pavers set into sand, and decomposed granite are all examples of permeable or semipermeable surfaces that can help reduce runoff pollution and incorporate well into almost any design style.
Light Pathways with LED Solar Lights – These energy-efficient lamps, such as these brown solar pathway Lights, add a warm hue to lawns at night and range from disposable (so you don’t need to fret about accidentally hitting it with your mower) to high-end. These lights provide a perfect amount of light… not too overpowering but enough to find your way around the garden at night.
Learn how to make a compost pile with these excellent tips from Earth Easy.
“T” is for Trees
A big shade tree can cool down your backyard space and make it much more inviting.
Consider where your yard has sun and shade throughout the year. Do you need shade in the summer? Plant a tree or build a pergola to create it.. Choose the right plants for sun and shade preferences for those areas and remember that plants that fruit or flower generally require full sun (there are always exceptions).
Here are some extra tips for adding instant shade, without having to plant a tree (and wait for it to grow):
Find shade/shelter. By placing something overhead, like pergolas or an umbrella, you can enjoy the outdoor space rain or shine.
“U” is for Up
If your backyard isn’t what you’d call “expansive,” then think about taking advantage of vertical space.
Go vertical. Build up, not out, to make the most use of you’re the space you have.
Choose plants that do not grow too wide as they will eat up a lot of space. Work with your landscaper or local garden center to choose varieties that have a narrow growing habit. Using lattice and climbing vines is another way to create a lush garden without taking up a lot of horizontal space.
“V” is for Views
Ask yourself, what are the best views from my backyard? Arrange seating so guests get to enjoy them the most. Also consider the view from inside your home—the one looking out into the backyard. This is the view you’ll see more often than any other, and it’s likely the first impression you’ll give your guests when they see your outdoor space.
“W” is for Water Features
While you want your backyard space to be quiet, a little background noise can actually enhance the ambiance and make it much more peaceful. Water features are ideal for this, because they create white noise from the flowing water, and lend your backyard a more natural feel. Go big with a pool incorporating a fountain, or something smaller like a bird bath. Check out these additional tips on choosing the right water feature for your backyard.
“X” is for eXterior lighting
Consider adding exterior lighting–or lighting that accentuates your home’s exterior as well as walls, trees, and other structures.
Light Up the Night—Exterior lighting is an easy and cost-effective way to add beauty and security to your home, plus it highlights your beautiful landscaping. Think about adding lighting to the landscaping and walkway, a hanging pendant light to the front doorway, and additional lighting near the garage.
“Y” is for Yellow-hued Light Bulbs
Here’s a handy tip you might not have considered:
Use Yellow-Hued Light Bulbs – Do away with bug spray! For lighting outdoor entertaining areas, choose yellow bulbs—they do not attract bugs like white lights. These are ideal for outdoor barbeques!
“Z” is for Zen Garden
Adding a zen garden to your outdoor space helps it feel more harmonious with nature as well as secluded. When designing your zen garden, make sure it maintains a feeling of separation from your main living space, as well as the outside world. You can achieve this by surrounding the area with plenty of plants, trees, and shrubs, or by building a dedicated gazebo separate from your home where you can go and meditate for extended periods of time! Dream of taking a more minimalist approach with your backyard design? Check out our article: How To Bring Minimalism To Your Outdoor Design.
Make Your Outdoor Space Your Own!
Don’t get overwhelmed by the infinite number of possibilities available to your for designing the perfect backyard space. Simply choose 3 or 4 ideas from this guide, consult with a professional designer or landscaper, and get started creating the space that is as unique as you are! If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to share!