Category Archives: Entertaining

Make Your Outdoor Space More Cozy with These 5 Fun Tips

In the upcoming spring and summer days, enjoy peace and relaxation every time you head outside to your porch, deck, patio, or grassy yard. Whether you have only a few square feet or a large expanse of space, when you follow these 5 design ideas, your outdoor space will be welcoming, cozy, and a place your family will enjoy every day.

 

1. Lazy Lounging

Sometimes an afternoon of lazy lounging is just what is needed in today’s busy world. Take some time to recenter and enjoy life.

Pull up a chaise, a hammock, some floor cushions, or a big blanket and take some time for yourself to unwind. Optional and welcome additions include a little bit of shade, a cold drink, a good book, or some tunes.

Encourage yourself into deeper relaxation by listening to a running water fountain, a wind chime, or just the sounds of nature around you.

 

2. Comfortable Conversations

When you make your outdoor space comfortable, you give friends permission to linger a little longer and enjoy wonderful conversation. To achieve this, your space needs plenty of outdoor chairs, sofas, foot rests, and and accent table or two to place drinks. Make it a little more fun when you add a rocking chair or bench swing into the mix.

On chilly evenings, keep your guests warm with throw blankets, a wood-burning fire, or a propane-powered patio heater.

 

3. Delectable Dining

There are many ways to enjoy dining outside. It can be as uncomplicated as throwing a blanket down on the grass or as fancy as a formally dressed dining table with room enough for eight guests.

Other fun dining adventures include having a drink at an outdoor bar table, roasting marshmallows over a fire pit, grilling up steaks on a charcoal grill, or cooking up a pizza in an outdoor wood-fired oven.  

Make sure you provide a comfortable place to sit, sturdy plates and utensils, and plenty of drinks to go around. When you do that, you and your guests will enjoy a delectable dining experience in the comfort of your own backyard.

 

4. Accumulated Accents

Beautify your space when you place fun accents throughout your yard. Flowers lining walkways, in hanging pots, and tumbling out of window boxes add a wonderful scent. Houses, feeders, and baths bring birds. Throw rugs add softness underfoot. An unexpected color on your door brings fun.

Outdoor lighting is not only functional, but adds another layer of charm. Light candles for an intimate evening, turn on twinkle lights for a sweet effect, or hang lanterns in trees for a festive gathering. Don’t forget decorative uplights for trees, solar stair lights, and motion-sensor spotlights.

There are so many ways to show your personality and style through your garden’s accent pieces. Whether it be minimalist and modern or bold and eclectic, just go for it!   

 

5. Protected Privacy

Enjoying your space in peace and privacy is important. Here are a few ways to block undesirable views, traffic noise, and noisy neighbors:

  • Plant shrubs around your chain link fence or railings, trees around the periphery of your property, and vines over your pergolas.
  • Hang outdoor drapery around your porch or deck.
  • Open large umbrellas, hang shade sails, or install retractable awnings to block others’ view of you from above.
  • Build an outdoor privacy screen.
  • Add height to existing fences.
  • Enclose your porch with screens.
  • Employ water features or hang a windchime to block out noise.

 

When you use the above 5 cozy outdoor design ideas, you’ll more fully enjoy your extra square footage and your outdoor property will become your oasis.  

For more outdoor furniture design ideas and a wide selection of styles to shop, visit RST Brands.

Throw a Great Backyard Party This Year With These 6 Tips

On a warm evening, there’s nothing better than entertaining close friends in the backyard. Just being outside makes for an enjoyable event all by itself, but with a few added touches you can elevate the party to new heights.

Make sure your backyard party this year is one for the record books with these 6 tips.

 

Tip 1. Prep your porch and backyard

You’ve got to make your backyard look good, and that’s most likely going to require a little prep work. Start by mowing the lawn, pruning the bushes, and making sure the landscaping is looking its best.

To prepare your backyard deck, first make sure it is in excellent shape structurally, with no broken railings or nails poking out causing a safety risk. Additionally, check for rotting or warped wood, especially if it’s part of your deck’s support system.

After you’ve inspected your deck, sweep it off and spray off any remaining debris with a hose.

 

Tip 2. Make sure there’s plenty of shade

Even in the evening when the sun is going down, direct sunlight can make your guests uncomfortable and overly hot. To ensure everyone is comfortable, put up an extra awning, canopy, or umbrella. In addition to the added shade, these coverings can add a lot of character to your backyard and improve the overall feel and design.

 

Tip 3. Have comfortable seating, and lots of it

Compared with indoor furniture, outdoor chairs and benches can sometimes be little less comfortable. You want your guests to have plenty of comfy seating options, so bring out some extra cushions and pillows for your outdoor furniture, as well as some throws and blankets. Consider utilizing some of your indoor chairs as well, so there are many options for guests to sit and mingle.

For a less formal atmosphere, put some blankets and pillows down on the grass as another option for seating. Or if you plan on having a fire pit, incorporate some fun camping seating such as tree stumps and logs.

Check out some more outdoor dining options from RST Brands.

 

Tip 4. Decorate around a specific theme

There are so many ways you can make your backyard party fun and special. One great way is to choose a theme and base all your decorations around it. For example, throw a backyard luau and incorporate tropical decorations, or go with a fiesta theme.

Choosing a theme for your party will also help you decide on what food and refreshments to serve. Margaritas will be great for your fiesta, and Mai Tais or coconut drinks are perfect for your backyard luau.

 

Tip 5. Have lots of water

No matter what drinks you serve, be sure to keep your guests safe from dehydration and heat exhaustion by providing them with lots of water. Have a big cooler full of ice cold water bottles, or keep several pitchers of water continuously filled to the top. Those hot summer nights are always more enjoyable with a glass of ice water, and good conversation with friends.

 

Tip 6. Make your own custom music playlist, or have guests contribute to it

The soundtrack to your backyard party will have a big impact on the atmosphere, so be sure to set up a speaker or two and provide music for your guests. Are you planning on high-energy with possible dancing? Customize your own upbeat playlist. Or if you’re looking for something more relaxing, choose some mellow tunes to play throughout the evening that will be great background music without interfering with conversation.

You can also create a shared, collaborative playlist (Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services have great ways of doing this) so guests can “make requests” throughout the night. This adds some spontaneity to the proceedings, and is great at sparking conversation and adding extra fun to the party.

 

For more ideas for entertaining in your backyard, read our latest blog post, 5 ways to make your yard an extension of your home.

5 Ideas for Using Your Patio Furniture All Winter Long [Poll]

Whether or not you’re ready to accept that we’re going to have colder weather for a while, it’s happening. Warmer days are long gone and snow, ice, and cold temperatures are the norm.

Most outdoor furniture should be winterized either using covers, or stored to preserve the quality. However, just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you have to stop entertaining, and what better way to provide additional seating than your beautiful and comfortable outdoor chairs.

Here are 5 ideas to make use of your patio furniture all winter long.

1. Invest in a heat source

This may seem like an obvious solution, but gathering around an open fire is a great way to make use of your outdoor furniture all year round. Use a patio heater, fire table, or chiminea to create a warm conversation area around your heat source. As the temperatures drop, turn up the heat and share some hot chocolate, tea, or coffee with your friends and family. If you decide to keep your furniture outside to use around a fire, make sure you cover outdoor furniture when it’s not in use.

2. Use furniture in garage

Even if you live somewhere that drops below freezing from January to March, you can still use your furniture inside. If your garage is filled with boxes and junk, take some time to relocate the boxes to one side and make use of your furniture in there. Sitting areas in the garage can be a fun place to send the kids when you want some peace and quiet.

3. Create a new space in shed

In 2015, we saw the rise of the women’s equivalent to the man cave: the she shed. These feminine dwellings can be used for crafting, writing, sewing, sleeping, or to get away for a little while. She sheds are unique to the interests and hobbies of their occupants. Spruce up your shed by incorporating comfortable patio furniture, throwing down a cozy rug, adding some heating, and a light source to make the space your own to relax and unwind from the busy holiday schedule.

4. Bring it into the covered patio

If your furniture is primarily used in an uncovered space and you have a covered patio, bring the furniture in, under the covered patio, to protect it from the elements and prolong its life. Sometimes getting a little fresh air is just what you need during a long winter, even if it’s not under the stars. Bundle up, grab a blanket, and relax in the great outdoors, without getting wet.

5. Warm up in the sunroom

Not everyone has one, but if you do, placing your outdoor furniture inside a sunroom can be a great way to use it during the cold months. A sunroom combines the views of the outdoors with the comfort of being inside. Most sunrooms are small, but can still accommodate some additional seating. If, you do decide to bring it into your sunroom, it can be an excellent place to entertain and relax through the holidays and in the new year.

Even with the cold weather here, you can still enjoy your outdoor furniture throughout the winter months. When you buy quality furniture, it’s nice to use your furniture as much as possible. This year, regardless where your outdoor furniture is located, you can continue to enjoy your furniture all winter long.

9 Outdoor Decorating Ideas to Light Up Your Life This Fall

outdoor decorating ideas

As the temperatures drop, you may find yourself wandering outside in a cozy sweater trying to soak in autumn’s essence. And no one will blame you.

Fall is a wonderful time of year and it beckons many of us outside for the last few weeks of temperate weather before the snow begins to fall.

If you find yourself slinking outside to breathe in the falling leaves, you might want to add an extra level of magic to your outdoor space. These outdoor decorating ideas will help you add some simple lights to transform your backyard into an eerie asylum or rustic retreat, and you’ll get the most out of the space this fall.

1. Trade Bright Lights for Tea Lights

To add some ambiance to your patio, get rid of that harsh wall light and instead sprinkle the space with small tea lights. By spreading out the light source, instead of shining one bright spotlight, your space will glow warmly.

Because it can get windy in the fall, opt for battery-powered tea lights. They will last longer and you won’t have to worry about getting up to relight them every time the wind picks up.

2. Tinted String Lights Offer Variety

String lights, like those hung at Christmas, provide great ambient light, and they are designed to handle the weather so you don’t have to worry about wind and rain as the seasons change.

Trade out bright white or colored lights for tinted string lights. Brown or orange-tinted bulbs will give your patio a nice glow. String lights are easy to hang and they can go almost anywhere. Line them along a table, over the doorway, or on your overhang for some extra aminance in your outside space.

3. Try Flickering Candlesticks

To create some lighted accessories for your backyard, reach for LED candlesticks. You can easily make all kinds of cool arrangements with these and place them around your patio for a moody setting.

You can paint the candlesticks to have whimsical patterns in fall colors or be dark and spooky for a haunted backyard theme. Make sure the lights flicker for the added element of atmosphere that comes from a burning candle.

4. Intertwine Lighted Garland

To add extra ambiance to fall decorations you already have, wrap them with bendable lighted garland. The small lights add a twinkling effect to anything they’re around, which can complete your magical outdoor space.

Wrap the lighted garland around wreathes, other hanging lights, or your patio arbor for simple, yet elegant lighting that will completely change your backyard design.

5. Illuminate Your Space with Globe Lights

Globe lights add an eclectic feel to any backyard space. You can string them across the yard, along the house, or in between branches for a unique, quaint atmosphere.

To take your globe lights to the next level, get them orange tinted or surround them with paper lanterns. This will break up the light so that it is more muted, adding to your backyard’s ambiance.

6. Candles Galore

Although LED candles are great, nothing can emanate the warm glow of fire like real candles. Use a variety of sizes and colors to decorate your yard and gather them in clusters around the patio.

When you really want to illuminate your surroundings — perhaps for outdoor dining — light the candles and watch the shadows created by their light dance around the backyard. You can also put the candles in patterned tins or paper lanterns as party decorations or just for your own outdoor enjoyment.

7. Perfect Pumpkin Lanterns

Fully embrace the season by using its signature foods to help illuminate your backyard. Carved out pumpkins, or even gourds, with candles inside make for perfect decorations and offer a little bit of that signature orange light that characterizes autumn.

You don’t need to carve out scary faces to get the right effect. Simple patterns punched out with a screwdriver can create an attractive display that isn’t too focused on Halloween.

8. Add Creative Paper Lanterns

Create some additional ambiance by adding paper lanterns to your outdoor lights. White lanterns reflect the surrounding light, giving your patio a gentle glow. Or reach for colored lanterns that will add some tint to your outdoor space.

You can buy lanterns for fairly cheap, or build your own to get custom patterns and colors that match your outdoor decorations. To really capture the autumn atmosphere, choose colors that match the falling leaves like warm oranges, muted browns, and deep reds.

9. Utilize Bare Branches

To complete your autumn sanctuary, capitalize on classic fall features in nature. Falling leaves, autumn harvest, and bare branches are perfect companions to your fall lighting.

Bring the iconic look of leave-less branches into your autumn design by draping them with amber lights or pulsating candles in mason jars. The part spooky, part familiar essence of the bare trees will really make your backyard feel like fall.

Conclusion

Whichever of these outdoor decorating ideas you choose to for your backyard design, have fun with your fall decorations. Creating a special space in your backyard will make those cozy sweaters and warm cups of coffee that much more enjoyable.

Sources

http://www.lightsforalloccasions.com/c-263-thanksgiving-fall-lights.aspx

http://www.landscapelightingworld.com/landscape-lighting-project-ideas-fall-maintenance-a/346.htm

Make Your Outdoor Furniture Last All Four Seasons

Purchasing high quality outdoor furniture is a year-round commitment. You wouldn’t expect a pool to just take care of itself throughout the year would you? So don’t expect your outdoor furniture to do it either. Unfortunately, many people don’t know where to start.

Luckily, we’ve come up with a short maintenance guide that you can use to keep your outdoor furniture looking and feeling great all year-round.

SPRING

The spring months are probably when you will use your patio furniture set the most. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and there’s plenty of sunshine to go around. However, one thing that spring does bring a lot of is rain, and rain can cause a lot of damage to wood and threaten metal-framed chairs and tables with rust.

To help your patio or backyard furniture make it through the storm, there are a few things you can do for your wood or metal frames.

Wood Frames – The biggest thing that you want to look out for is mildew. Mildew not only looks bad, but it can smell and if you’re not careful, it can ruin a wood frame over time. To protect your furniture, start by clearing off the mildew spores with a soft brush, so as not to damage the wood. Once the mildew is cleared off, wash the whole frame with a damp soft cloth then let it dry. Once the frame is dry, pick out a good synthetic resin water repellent that matches the color of the wood and apply it to the frame.

Metal Frames – Rust is the ultimate killer of all metal-framed outdoor furniture. Obviously, the best way to prevent rusting is to keep the furniture dry, which is why investing in good furniture covers is always a good idea. But what if rust has already gotten to your frame? The simplest method is by getting your hands dirty and scrubbing it out. Power drills often come with metallic bristle attachments designed for this kind of work. It’s important to remember when using the drill bristle to make sure you only use it over the rusted areas so that you don’t cause unnecessary damage to any other areas of the frame.

SUMMER

Summer is the season of outdoor barbecues and pool parties and as a result, your outdoor furniture will most likely be getting lots of use. Here are two really quick tips on how to make your summer parties more enjoyable and safe:

The thing about outdoor furniture protection that you have to remember during summer is that heat not only makes your outdoor chairs hot, but it makes you hot. When you’re hot, you sweat. When you sit in your chair, you sweat on your chair. When you sweat in your chair, it accumulates and…well…you can guess what accumulated sweat smells like.

So do yourself a favor, just like how you would clean off a bench at the gym after using it, clean off your outdoor chairs after using them in summer. No one wants a smelly barbecue.

Let’s be honest, not every outdoor chair has a high quality Sunbrella seat cover like RST Brands. So to help protect your seat covers from fading in the intense summer sun, you can either store them in shaded areas or invest in furniture covers to protect them while they aren’t being used. You bought the furniture because you liked the way it looked, so keep it that way.

FALL

Fall is the awkward stage of the year for outdoor furniture.

“Do I use it still?” “Is it too cold outside?” “Does it look like it’s going to snow?”

Instead of just letting your furniture sit awkwardly outside during the autumn months, treat fall like the ultimate maintenance period. Oil those hinges. Buff out the last little bits of rust that have accumulated throughout the year. Apply that final coat of resin to keep it water tight and safe for the upcoming winter.

One thing that outdoor furniture can be used for in the fall is gathering around a fire pit with friends to enjoy the last few weeks of cooler weather before the extreme cold of winter hits. In that case, fire safety is an important thing to keep in mind. Remember these outdoor fireplace safety tips:

Sometimes, the resin on wooden frames can be VERY flammable, so don’t park your chair too close to open flames.

Metal gets hot! I know it’s obvious, but some people need to be reminded every now and then. Don’t be that person that ends up with a burn scar the width of your outdoor chair metal frame because you sat way too close to a fire for too long.

Some chair covers are plastic based and when heated, they can melt to skin pretty quickly.

Falling leaves are dry, flammable, and capable of spreading flames everywhere.

If you practice common sense both with yourself and your outdoor furniture, fall can be a very enjoyable time of year. Just remember to be safe.

WINTER

The only thing that comes to most people’s minds during winter, when it comes to outdoor furniture, is storing it. Storage for your backyard or patio furniture during the winter months is just as important as regular maintenance is during the spring and summer. When getting your furniture ready for storage, remember:

Make sure your storage area stays dry throughout the year. That way you can avoid rust, mold, and mildew. Get it clean first, especially your cushions. Proper cleaning before storing can reduce the chance of mold growth.

If you’re using outdoor furniture covers, make sure they are fastened COMPLETELY. The last thing you want is to have water leaking all winter and potentially ruining your frames.

Hopefully this helps! Remember, purchasing backyard furniture is a commitment just like any other household purchase, but it’s a commitment that can make your relaxing time at home all the more enjoyable.

7 Simple Tricks to Make Eye-Catching Outdoor Centerpieces

By now, you’ve been to a few barbecues this summer. It’s hard to get bored of endless watermelon and savory steaks, but the typical evening gathering is starting to lose its luster.

Still, the perfect summertime temperatures are far from over, so don’t give up on BBQs just yet!

Next time you host a delectable outdoor dinner, use the outdoor decorating ideas in this post to bring new life to the average barbecue. Attendees will feel like they’re walking into an event, not just a dinner, which is sure to liven attitudes and lift spirits.

Simple outdoor decor like string lights and tablecloths do wonders for dressing up an event, but to really make the evening feel special you need a little more. Adding creative centerpieces to your outdoor dining tables will make the barbecue feel like a special occasion.

Unsure about your crafting abilities? Don’t stress. We’ve got a few simple tips to make designing centerpieces a breeze.

Check out these easy tricks for making outdoor centerpieces everyone will love.

1. Get Inspired by Nature

Outdoor centerpieces don’t need to be extravagant. In fact, a collection of flowers, leaves and twigs from the yard arranged in a simple vase could be the perfect centerpiece your table is missing.

If your garden doesn’t have many pickable pieces, head to the store for inexpensive plants, like cacti or fresh herbs, and place them in interesting vases to add a little flare.

2. Strike a Match

Lit candles add an air of ambience to any environment, and the earlier-setting sun makes nighttime lights essential.

Float small candles in glass vases filled halfway with water or decorate the candles to be stand-alone pieces. Some glitter or ribbon goes a long way when making a simple object seem special. For a more eclectic look, arrange a handful of candles of different heights in the center and surround the collection with twinkly garland.

Pro Tip: Use citronella candles to decorate your tables. You’ll get the added bonus of keeping bugs away while your tables glow through the night.

3. Open the Junk Drawer

You’d be surprised what junk items can become with a little imagination. Tin cans, mason jars and bowls all make great vases. Use some twine or paint to spruce them up if these items look a little worn.

Other items can be used for vase or table decoration. Rubber bands, wine corks, newspapers and lace are a few examples of items that can be repurposed into your next great centerpiece.

4. Give Items a Fresh Coat

Simply adding a little paint can breathe new life into shabby materials. When painting glass vases, paint inside the glass instead of outside for a cleaner look. Or, use items around the house to add interesting patterns, like bubble wrap to create polka dots or tape to make stripes.

If you want to have a little more fun at your next barbecue, splatter glass jars with glow-in-the-dark paint. The centerpieces will come alive as the sun sets, exciting guests of all ages.

5. Light the Way

Lighting is key to creating a stellar backyard ambiance.

And if the wind is a concern where you live, forgo the candles and opt for LED lights. Find battery-powered string or individual lights so guests don’t have to worry about tripping on a cord.

LED lights come in all shapes and sizes. Liven the event with colorful lights that flicker through the rainbow or choose flickering white lights to create a moody atmosphere.

6. Embrace the Unusual

Sometimes the best centerpieces are those created with completely unique items. Books, knickknacks or fruit and veggies can be organized in artful ways to make stunning centerpieces.

If you are throwing a themed dinner, creative outdoor centerpieces are a great way to decorate without spending too much money. Fill cowboy boots with flowers for a southwestern supper or load a sliced globe with foliage for a worldly feast.

7. Work With Water

Float objects in water to add a clean, mystical look to your centerpieces. Candles, flowers and fruit float well and look pretty in glass containers.

Use food coloring to turn water a light, graceful blue or eye-catching red. Drop in marbles or glass beads for a unique look or light the jars to create multi-colored lanterns.

Conclusion

The heat of summer can get monotonous, but your barbecues shouldn’t. Take advantage of the last few weeks of warm nights this year by throwing a dinner for your friends and family.

Creative decorations can spark conversation and make the evening memorable. What is your favorite way to spruce up a drab backyard picnic?

Swimming pools through the centuries

For many of us, swimming pools are the hallmark of our childhood summers, whether we visited the community pool each weekend or had our own in our backyard. Splashing our parents with cannon balls, eating lunches while clad in towels at picnic benches and patio tables, laying out in the sun – these all paint a picture of summer vacations and being young. Swimming is such a defining activity, in fact, that it's tough to remember that pools weren't always popular. Pools have a particularly lengthy and tumultuous history, though, and it took thousands of years for them to become what they are today. Ready to dive in? 

3000 B.C.

The settlement of Mohenjo-Daro, located in Pakistan, was home to the first pool-like water tank in the world. Technically referred to as a "great bath," it was only a couple meters deep, though it was as long and wide as a modern pool. It was difficult to make it totally water tight during this time period (before concrete mixers and modern pavers), but the citizens were able to achieve this by using gypsum plaster and natural tar. This wasn't a pool for swimming, but for religious rituals.

800 B.C. 

Pools from ancient Rome and ancient Greece are closer to the kind we know and love today. This was the first time in history that humans could afford luxury items – or had the time to dedicate to them. These pools were still frequently used for religious purposes, but they were also used for bathing and relaxing. Aesthetic appeal became important to pool owners. In most societies across the globe, primitive or modern, bodies of water are considered to be very beautiful. Some of the most wealthy Romans and Greeks had personal pools filled with live fish. 

100 B.C.

In this century, the Romans ushered in the first heated pools. Built by Gaius Marcenus, the very first of their kind brought pool building too a new level of innovation. During this time period, many Romans began to try to chemically sanitize their pools.

300 A.D.

The Romans upped the ante with one of their most famous pools in 300 A.D. It was an immense structure at 900,000 square feet, designed for the same purposes as previous pools, but there was one major difference: The pool was heated from beneath with fires. 

After the fall of the Roman Empire, swimming pools dropped from popularity. Perhaps it was that many similarly advanced civilizations didn't have the optimal weather or soil, or perhaps existing pools were constructed of other materials that degraded quickly. Regardless, it wasn't until many centuries later that swimming pools regained popularity. 

1400 B.C.

Public bathing is deemed immoral by the church. What was left of public bathing and swimming centers becomes even more rare, as modern "swimsuits" had not yet been invented. 

1800 A.D.

It wasn't until the 1800s that swimming itself became a popular activity. Swimming competitions became prevalent in Great Britain, and so the development of pools began again. The first swimming clubs were established during this century. Some were used for sport, and some public pools were once again used for bathing (clothed, this time). 

1900 A.D.

Modern water treatment begins, starting with sand filtration and chlorination. This meant that pool water could be reused, saving time, money and resources – and making usage safer for everyone. After World War II, a great deal of the U.S. population spread into suburbs, buying larger homes with more land. This is when private pool became insanely popular – and interest has only grown since. 

Today, there are thousands of pools across the U.S. alone. They're one of the most popular backyard features around. (Hey, we're not mad about it.)

How to turn your backyard into an Italian villa

With summer tapering off and fall slowly arriving, the cooler night temperatures are a perfect time to spend with friends hosting barbecues or late-night dinner parties. You have nice outdoor dining sets and outdoor furniture sets, but how do you create the perfect ambiance around these patio essentials? If you've ever pictured yourself sipping wine and eating olives in an Italian villa as the sun goes down, then here are just a few decorating suggestions to lend your patio some Old World charm:

La dolce vita
Once the sun sets you'll need the perfect style of lighting to keep the festivities going. Outdoor string lights, especially yellow globe ones, can give any space an Italian courtyard feel. To create a canopy effect, string several lines in a zigzag overhead. Pair the lights with a patio bistro set and you'll feel like you're dining in Tuscany. You and your guests will be able to dine and celebrate al fresco into the wee hours thanks to these romantic lights.

Pergola
A pergola is a pair of poles with crossbeams over its top, and even though it won't shelter you from rain, its beauty makes up for what it lacks in utility. You can purchase these garden and walkway coverings at most home supply stores or you can make your own out of cedar wood. Whichever route you decide to take, these wooden structures are great to hang vines and other plants off of. A pergola will give your backyard a bit of shade and an Italian Renaissance look. 

Add a chair under the pergola to create a perfect and peaceful place to escape with a great book or a glass of wine. 

Flora
Besides vine-like plants, other flora can really add to the villa atmosphere. If you want plants that will complement your outdoor chaise lounge or other lounge seats, then consider planting a few Mediterranean plants and trees. Cypress trees, succulents, lavender and rosemary plants will give your patio and backyard a beautiful and sophisticated vibe. Add even more greenery near your tables by planting some ferns in clay pots and arranging them around your deck or near your pool.

Games
Villa settings are all about relaxing and taking in the joys of everyday life, but that doesn't mean lying around all day. If you want to provide some entertainment for your guests but also keep your Old World-style theme, consider buying a bocce ball set. The Italians modernized and popularized this ancient sport, and it's a fun and relaxing outdoor game that you and your partygoers will instantly fall for. 

If you're looking for another classic game – one that will work your brain instead of your throwing arm – then treat yourself and a guest to a game of chess or backgammon. These board games never go out of style and can be a wonderful way to while away the hours. 

Food
What Italian villa would be complete without food? Wine and cheese plates are a great way to go. Serve a selection of red and white wines or prosecco, a few light Italian beers and a charcuterie plate, and you and your guests will be dining in style at your "villa."

Knock Their Socks Off With These 7 BBQ Hosting Secrets

BBQ Hosting Secrets

It’s BBQ season and when it comes to throwing the ultimate backyard party everyone will be talking about, you want to make sure you come out as the hostess with the mostess. With enough propane or briquettes, a little moxie and our expert tips, your fete is sure to be the talk of the neighborhood.

Here are our super-easy BBQ hosting secrets to take your skills to expert level without spending a fortune or having to take a week of work to prepare.

1. Master the Grill

First things first—give your grill a top-to-bottom scrubbing and oil the grates to keep food from sticking.

Next, stick to a menu that features items you already know how to make. A party isn’t the time to try out new recipes. Instead of turning your friends into guinea pigs, offer up your signature ribs or that killer cheeseburger everyone’s always begging for.

Above all, keep the menu simple. There’s no need to be a short-order cook. Pick a limited menu and stick to it. And don’t forget to include options for vegetarians or anyone with other dietary restrictions.

2. Dress Things Up

You don’t need to go overboard to transform your patio into a BBQ paradise. Help the occasion feel special with colorful table cloths, clever lighting, splashes of wildflowers displayed in rustic containers or bright, outdoor cushions and pillows that provide additional, comfy seating.

You can also augment seating by throwing shabby chic quilts or fun beach towels on the lawn.

3. Set the Mood

Everyone will be in the mood to relax and have a good time when you provide a killer playlist and patio lighting.

Create a playlist on a streaming service like Pandora or Songza. Test out BBQ-themes or pick a genre that keeps the energy high. If your crowd is in their 40s, pick an eighties soundtrack or choose a country theme if you’re hosting a rural crowd.

When the sun goes down don’t leave your guests in the dark. Hang a few strings of decorative white lights or scatter mason jars with tea lights throughout your backyard space. Citronella candles will also help keep mosquitoes and other pests at bay.

4. Pick a Signature Drink

It’s fun to throw a bunch of bottles in a galvanized tin with ice, but take your BBQ to the next level with a signature drink.

Try adding berries or mint to lemonade, along with some flavored vodka. This mixture also makes a special virgin beverage for those underage. Drinks you can serve in pitchers or punch bowls are a great choice and they leave you free to mix and mingle and keep your guests’ drinks full.

5. Keep Everyone Entertained

Make sure guests of all ages stay engaged and have such a great time they won’t be able to stop talking about it. Paint a Twister mat on the lawn and see if the kids or the grown-ups are more limber. If you have any kind of sports net you can play a variety of games from water balloon volleyball to badminton.

Other activities like bubbles, water guns or an impromptu hillside water slide can lead to hours of fun—just be sure to provide plenty of towels so your guests don’t have to eat in soggy drawers.

6. Prep In Advance

As the host, you need to be calm, cool and collected once the party starts. To make sure you’re not running around in circles when guests arrive, do as much as you can the night before.

Get that meat marinating, chop those veggies and whip up your famous potato salad early in the day. The only thing you want to worry about during the party is what you’re putting on the grill and making sure every guest has a smile.

7. Serve Up Something Sweet

Dessert is often overlooked at a BBQ, but you can really blow your guests away by planning a star-gazing s’mores cookout or setting up a serve-yourself banana split bar.

If you’re feeling ambitious make a tasty Dutch oven fruit cobbler or grill up some sweet and savory fruit kabobs. Pineapple, bananas, mango and most berries are great on the grill. Offer some creative dips for the kabobs like brown sugar, yogurt, sour cream or whipped cream.

With these amazing outdoor entertaining tips you have no more excuses for putting off the annual BBQ. And thanks to these tips you can pull off the best shin-dig yet with half the stress!

Sources
http://www.redbookmag.com/food-recipes/entertaining/advice/g1179/bbq-hosting-tips/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marlo-thomas/tips-for-the-perfect-barbecue_b_3359926.html
http://www.julep.com/blog/how-to-throw-a-summer-bbq/
http://www.samplehouseonline.com/national-bbq-month-host-hostess-tips/

How to protect your pets from your yard

Yes, you heard us right – protecting your pets from your yard might seem a little backwards, but it's just as important as protecting your yard from your pets. Creating a pup-proof backyard isn't as tough as it may seem, though. Here's how to do it: 

Smooth it out

Those misshapen rocks may look great in your garden from an aesthetic perspective, but they aren't so great for your pet's paws. Instead, opt for a smoother variety – or better yet, ditch them altogether. Small stones can be ingested even by little dogs, and can potentially be a choking hazard. 

Use a fence in your garden 

For your actual garden, it's important to fence it off entirely, as many plants are poisonous for dogs (and meant for human enjoyment, of course). You can choose from a variety of decorative options, such as a traditional lattice fence or plain old chicken wire. Regardless of which one you opt for, make sure it's not too short or easy to knock over. 

Be careful with your fertilizer, bug repellents and pest poisons 

Some of the things you spray on your plants and leave in your bushes can be incredibly dangerous for your pets, such as fertilizer, rat poison, or bug repellents. What's worse, dogs often confuse fertilizer for food, meaning they don't just accidentally eat it – they seek it out. It can be tough to nix these things when you're seeking a gorgeous garden, but they aren't worth the potential harm they could cause your pup. 

Don't leave the grill open 

There's nothing better than grilling in the backyard, but it's dangerous to leave your pet near a hot grill unattended. To mitigate the risk of something going awry, make sure the grill is always closed when you're not actively putting on or flipping meat. 

Get a good fence

This one is a no brainer – the fence surrounding your yard as a whole should be high enough that your pup can't hop over it or slip through one of the cracks. You can even use an additional fence to surround a small area of your yard for your pet to hang out it when you're not able to keep an eye on it. 

Long live the dog house

"Dog house" might have a negative connotation when it's used colloquially, but dog houses are actually great for pets, especially in bad weather. To get the most out of your backyard dog house, it's a good idea to choose one that is insulated for the cold and entirely protected from the rain. As a bonus, this will also give your pup some shade when it's super hot. 

Keep them off the outdoor furniture

OK, so this tip isn't exactly for your pet's safety so much as it is for you sofa's, but you get the idea. Training your pets to stay off the outdoor furniture means they won't do any damage to those cushions – and they won't fall off, either.