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How to design the perfect outdoor space

Whether you’ve got a sprawling backyard patio or a cozy apartment balcony, nothing beats having an outdoor haven right outside your doors. But, there’s an art to creating the perfect outdoor space.

No matter what kind of space you’re starting with, all it takes is a little planning, the right furniture and accessories, and some thoughtful arrangement: you can turn your patio, deck, or balcony into a seamless extension of your house — one that’s not limited to summer use.

Read on to learn how to design an outdoor space with tips from professional interior designer, Lisa Moody.

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Decide how you’ll use the space

Patios, decks and balconies are nothing if not versatile. Before you get too far into the design process, you need to decide what you’re going to use your outdoor living space for.

Much of this decision will hinge on the space’s size: if you’ve got a sprawling patio with a pool and a gazebo, you can turn it into a multi-use space. A small apartment balcony may simply be a place to sit and relax.

Small apartment patio with brown wicker chairs for seating

Aside from relaxing, people use outdoor spaces for dining, cooking, entertaining guests, sunbathing, or all of the above. Think about what you most want to do with your space before you start thinking about specific furniture or features.

Think about your aesthetic

The next step when embarking upon any design project is to decide what the general look of that space should be. Your outdoor space should feel like an extension of your home’s interior. It doesn’t have to be identical, but you should make sure that your home’s style flows from inside to outside.

For example, let’s say you’ve decorated the inside of your home in a rustic, throwback style. You might not want to use an ultramodern minimalist design for your patio.

When you walk out into your outdoor living space, you don’t want to feel like you’re walking into someone else’s backyard.

Empty patio space with modern furniture and stone work

Start creating your layout

Whether you’re working with what you’ve got or planning to buy all sorts of new décor, you can still do some layout planning early in the process. Knowing how much space you have will help you ensure that you’re buying furniture, decorations, and fixtures that are going to fit. If you don’t yet have your desired new stuff, you can still measure things out based on the dimensions of the things you’re planning to buy.

There are a few things to consider when it comes to laying out your outdoor living area:

  1. How will you move in this space?

    Consider how you’re going to be moving through the space. Think about how people will move from the door to the seating area or barbecue, or from the barbecue to the dining area. Make sure you leave pathways that allow for movement — imagine that you’re creating traffic patterns.

    From the entrance to the patio or deck (usually the door into the house), make sure that people can easily flow to the different zones of the outdoor space as well as the backyard beyond, if you’ve got one.

    Extended deck to patio seating with a gazebo
  2. Consider the view

    What do you want to look at? If you’ve got an outdoor pool or a beautiful view, you probably want to orient your seating space so that you can enjoy the sights while you relax. If you have a firepit or fire table, make sure there’s seating around it so people can enjoy it.

    If you don’t have much of a view, or anything else you care to look at, you can create a focal point for your outdoor space and orient your layout around that. A fire table, a piece of artwork, a flower garden, or even your outdoor kitchen could all make good focal points.

    Outdoor seating area with greenery
  3. Cooking?

    If you have an outdoor cooking area, try to set it in such a way as to minimize the travel time to the indoor kitchen. Even with a fully-equipped outdoor cooking area, you’ll still find yourself shuttling ingredients and tools between inside and out.

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Choose your outdoor furniture

Once you’ve planned how to use your outdoor living space and figured out how much space you’ll have to work with, you can finally start equipping it.

Large home patio with seating area and swinging benches

Since your outdoor furniture is going to be subjected to mush harsher conditions than your indoor furniture, it’s worth paying for quality materials and builds. You don’t save much money on a $25 chair if you need to buy a new one every summer.

The best materials for outdoor furniture are things like metal, resin wicker, or certain kinds of wood.

Metal furniture comes in many shapes and sizes:

Aluminum

Aluminum furniture is lightweight and needs minimal maintenance. Plus, it doesn’t rust and it’s easy to clean. Aluminum furniture also stands up to the elements better than most and is available in many styles.

Stone and tile outdoor patio with aluminum chairs and table

Wrought iron

Wrought iron furniture is heavy. That may be a good thing if your outdoor space is subject to heavy wind, though! Unlike aluminum, wrought iron is prone to rusting, so it needs to be covered or taken inside during wet weather. You can easily manage Rust by sanding and re-sealing the rusty spot with paint as soon as it’s visible.

Tiny outdoor area with wrought iron chairs and table

Steel

Steel furniture is sort of a middle ground. Though expensive, it is resistant to the elements and lighter than iron. Steel furniture lends your space a modern, sophisticated look.

Resin wicker

(a.k.a. all-weather wicker) is a popular choice as well. Often, wicker furniture has a metal frame that’s covered by the signature woven material we call wicker. That weave is typically plastic, so resin wicker furniture stands up to the elements as well as anything. It comes in many different styles, too.

Outdoor resin wicker lounge chairs in the sun

Plastic

There’s also the humble solid plastic furniture. Plastic furniture is inexpensive, and unfortunately often looks that way. You can’t beat its durability, though. Plastic furniture is often made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is hard but lightweight.

Plastic outdoor furniture on a brick patio

Wood

Finally, some types of wood furniture are well-suited to outdoor use. Wood furniture looks great and suits many design styles, but not all woods are created equal. Cedar, redwood, and teak are some of the best woods for outdoor furniture, thanks to their moisture-resistant resins and relatively light weight. Wood furniture doesn’t necessarily come cheap, though, and does require some upkeep in the form of occasional sanding or re-finishing.

Wood bench seating in the backyard

If you’re going to use your outdoor living space for cooking, do some research into the best options for designing an outdoor kitchen that suits your style.

Choose cushions and other fabrics

When it comes to cushions, make sure to find dedicated outdoor cushions (unless your patio is well-sheltered from the elements).

Outdoor couch and throw pillows near a table

Outdoor cushion forms (like reticulated foam) are designed to dry quickly if they get wet. If you do have a sheltered outdoor space, you might be able to get away with softer, indoor cushions, but be ready to take them inside during inclement weather. Cushions that spend too much time being wet can develop mould and mildew.

When you’re choosing cushions and other fabrics, make sure you’re not setting yourself up for too much work. If you have to move a bunch of cushions from the house to the patio every time you want to use it, is that going to make you not want to use it at all? That’s why outdoor-rated cushions are best.

Fortunately, outdoor-friendly cushion covers and other fabrics come in as many colours and styles as you need to match your décor scheme. Focus on finding products that are UV-resistant and quick-drying. Regular fabrics fade quickly when exposed to direct sunlight, and they can take forever to dry if they get wet.

Speaking of textiles, you can use outdoor rugs to ground furniture within the space, or to create different zones within a very large outdoor space. For example, you might use a rug to visually set your sitting area apart from your cooking area, even if they’re right next to each other.

Note how the space is oriented

Unless you’re building a new home, chances are the location of your patio or balcony is set. That means it’s important to consider the space’s orientation relative to the house, the sun, and other natural elements.

Gazeebo and patio space with hanging lights at night

Is the space covered? Does it get direct sunlight in the morning, or afternoon? Is there a big tree that casts a shadow across the space at certain times of day?

Answers to these questions might affect your plans.

If you’ve decided to use your patio for dining, for example, you want to avoid subjecting your dining table to sweltering, late-afternoon summer sun. You may decide that you need to buy a shade sail or a patio umbrella.

Lounge chair in the shade in the backyard

If the wind usually comes from the same direction, you can plan to include wind buffers (like hedges) along one side of your patio.

A covered outdoor space gives you more flexibility than a wide-open one. If your outdoor space has a roof and a wall or two, you might be able to get away with indoor-only furniture or even large electronics like a television.

The orientation of your space will also affect what sorts of accessories you might add to it.

Accessorize your outdoor living space

The right accessories can take your outdoor space from good to great.

One big consideration is heat and light sources. Adding these can allow you to use your patio or balcony later into the night (or the year).

A fire source is never a bad choice, whether it’s in the form of a firepit or a gas-powered fire table. If you choose to install such a fixture, check that your local building codes and bylaws permit it, and make sure you’ve got a fire extinguisher handy nearby. Your home insurance provider might want to know about fireplaces as well.

Wicker and aluminum patio furniture by a stone fireplace

A full-size firepit might throw enough heat to keep you warm, but fire tables often don’t. If your chosen fire source isn’t enough to make your outdoor space comfortable during cool nights, you can also add some overhead heat lamps.

Roof-installed outdoor area heat lamps

While they may not offer much heat or light, candles are a great addition to outdoor spaces if you’re planning on hanging out after dark.

If you’ve got mosquito issues in your part of the world, you can opt for mosquito-repellent citronella candles to keep the bugs at bay.

mosquito-repellent candles on a house porch and table

Whichever candles you choose, make sure you’re not keeping them in direct sunlight during the day — you may find only wax pools left when you go to use them.

Finally, adding some plant life to your patio or deck is a nice touch. A few plants on the patio create a transition zone between your house and the great outdoors. Large plants can even provide extra shade on top of their visual appeal.

Outdoor living spaces and home insurance

Most aspects of an outdoor space don’t have many special insurance considerations; furniture and other movable stuff are all part of your personal property (or contents) coverage.

Make sure your personal property coverage limit is high enough to cover your outdoor décor, especially if you’re buying a lot of new stuff.

Even though it’s part of the same category as your indoor furniture, outdoor furniture does face some extra risk as it’s exposed to the elements — and potential thieves.

While your home insurance policy may cover damage to your outdoor furniture from hailstorms or windstorms, it’s better to avoid the damage entirely. Keep your furniture stored away during inclement weather if you can.

Being outdoors, your patio furniture could be a target for thieves as well. If you’re going to be away from home for a while, store your outdoor furniture indoors if you’ve got the space — even if you’re just stacking it in the kitchen for a few weeks.

If your outdoor design project involves much construction or renovation, you might need to inform your insurance provider or purchase additional coverage. For example, if you’ve built a new patio or balcony, it could add a substantial amount to the rebuild value of your home. The coverage you need may be different depending on if the new structure is attached to your house or not, too. If you’re unclear on the right coverage, you can always ask your home insurance provider for guidance.

If you’ve done any landscaping, make sure your home insurance policy has the right coverage for that as well. Home insurance policies often include some coverage for things like trees and shrubs, but if you’ve added a lot, you’ll want to make sure that your coverage is still sufficient.

Aerial view of a stone patio with a fireplace and seating

Square One offers coverage for detached structures, fences and landscaping all together as an optional coverage you can add to your policy if you need it.

Another consideration for outdoor living spaces is liability. If your outdoor setup leads to a visitor getting injured, you could be liable for those injuries. Make sure things like power cables or gas hoses aren’t tripping hazards, and generally keep the area safe for visitors.

Furniture and other components of your outdoor living space may suffer damage over time as they get baked by the sun or repeatedly wet by rain. Home insurance doesn’t cover wear and tear, so make sure you’re taking proper care of your outdoor space and the stuff in it.

Want to learn more? Visit our resource centres for hundreds of helpful articles created specifically for homeowners, condo owners, landlords, and tenants. Then, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.

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