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  • Writer's pictureSusan Wilson

A checklist for creating the ideal outdoor space

It looks like summer is FINALLY here (touch wood, I don't want to jinx it), and Canadians everywhere are heading outdoors to pack as much fresh-air fun and relaxation as we can into our short summer season.

And to make sure we really squeeze every last available drop of warm weather wonder out of the season, EVERY SINGLE DAY, a beautiful and functional outdoor living space right outside your door is a game-changer. Whether you have a large suburban yard, a small patch of green space in the city or a balcony off your apartment, here are six components that will help you create an idyllic spot to relax and enjoy Mother Nature for as long as she'll let us.



2. Connection

3. Shade

4. Water

5. Fire

6. Light

Soooo, first things first:


Just like your indoor living spaces, comfort is the key consideration, and so the same guidelines apply. Your furniture should be comfortable enough to sit and read, relax, or chat with family and friends. With the growing demand for 'outdoor rooms', the range of choice in outdoor furnishings has (happily) blown up in the last few years, and it's easier to find furnishings that look and feel more like the indoor furnishings we love to curl up on indoors during the colder months. That means furniture with comfortable padding: armchairs, rockers, sofas and sectionals. Don't forget to throw in some toss cushions, especially if your sofa or sectional has a hard surface such as wicker, rattan or metal for the arms. My rule of thumb for an outdoor sofa is "Can I nap on that?" Of course, that's kinda my rule of thumb for most furniture--sofas, armchairs, kitchen tables, area rugs... (kidding!) (...kind of)

Outdoor living gazebo exterior design
Design: Carrier and Company Pretty sure I could nap here...

And comfort also means a place to put our feet up, and our drink down, so don't forget side tables, coffee tables, ottomans and poufs!


I'm talking about connection to nature here, not the internet. Depending on the size and layout to your space, that could mean that your patio or deck is surrounded by the trees and grassy lawns of your back yard; a small bed of plantings bordering your sitting area; a row of potted cedars for privacy; or a collection of containers with flowering plants, grasses or small shrubs.

Having something growing in earth right by where you are enjoying that mojito is key to enhancing that outdoor feel. If you have the space, a bird bath and bird feeder can add some fauna to your flora, and makes for good entertainment too-- it's like tv, but in real life!


On top of protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, and giving you a cooler, more comfortable place to hang out when the sun is at its highest, shade is the ceiling to your outdoor living room, and creates a more intimate feel to your lounge area. If you don't have a big beautiful widespread shade tree handy, there are lots of other options, from gazebos to pergolas, awnings, shade sails or swivel and tilt umbrellas that can be turned to the angle of the sun over the course of the day.


Water changes everything, as far as outdoor zen goes. But if you don't happen to have an ocean, lake or river in your back yard, don't despair. Two words: Water. Feature. The obvious backyard water feature that springs to mind is a pool, but that is not do-able or even desirable for many people. Small backyard ponds are a great option that will also attract fauna (like the local predators trying to eat your koi, HA) and look really beautiful. Easy peasy would be to install a wall fountain or garden fountain, and easy-peasyEST would be just a table fountain to lend the soothing background sound of trickling water.

If you can't have this (and let's face it, you can't)...

waterfall architecture
Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water could at least have this:

Or this. Very pretty!

wall fountain exterior design


Summer without S'mores is unthinkable. Also, there's nothing like a good extended gaze into glowing embers to drastically lower the blood pressure and slow the mind. The outdoor living space complete with built in fireplace is a pretty dreamy summertime thing:

patio with fireplace
Beinfield Architecture, photo Jeff McNamara

More achievable for many is a conversation area built around a fire pit away from the house.

If your space is limited there are lots of options for propane fire tables, or wood burning fire pits.

If your outdoor space is a balcony (and even if it's not) candles instantly add a flickering glow to your sitting area.

Hurricane lanterns provide protection from the wind, or you can even get yourself a nice grouping of flameless candles as a windproof and super-safe 'fire' option.


Finally, a great patio area has enough light to carry on the magic long after the sun has set. There are lots of outdoor lighting options these days that do not require hardwiring and can add a lot of ambiance (and function) to your outdoor living space. Battery operated mini-lights on copper wires can be wrapped on branches, rolled up inside hurricane lights or mason jars, attached to the underside of umbrellas and awnings, the possibilities are endless. Solar powered lighting options are numerous and varied: you can mount a chandelier in your gazebo, string Edison bulbs on a fence, hang paper lanterns in a tree, click on a table lamp, uplight a tree or fountain with a solar spotlight, and highlight pathways with solar stakes.

So: Comfort, Connection, Shade, Water, Fire and Light.

What do you need to add to your outdoor space to create an everyday getaway, all summer, just outside your back door? Put all six of these components in place, then sit down, feet up, take a deep breath, and... full-body exhale (insert sound of birds chirping and leaves rustling).

In this slice of a backyard living space (designed by moi;) you can see comfortable furniture for socializing (and napping!), plenty of places to set your drink and your snacks, flowers and greenery close to the sitting area and in the distance, along with a bird feeder and birdbath, water, fire (those are glass candle holders on the tray) and just out of the shot is a solar-powered chandelier suspended from the ceiling of the shade-providing gazebo. Also out of the shot is a fire pit at the back of the yard.

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick aaaaaand tick.

Until next time, wishing you all a happy and relaxing-on-the-patio-filled June. Please let me know about any changes you have been inspired to make to your outdoor spaces--I'd love to hear about them!



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