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Create an Inviting Outdoor Space

Jun 25, 2015

by Valerie Rains handmade and vintage goods

Whether you have a massive back yard or a balcony barely big enough for two, it only takes a few simple steps to turn an outdoor space into a second living room. You’ll need: an inviting place to sit (or sprawl), a place to set a drink, and some soft lighting to help you keep enjoying al fresco lounging well into the evening. Read on for tips, product suggestions, and DIY projects to make the most of summer (or any other time the weather’s mild).


Start With the Seating

Opt for something handsome and handmade that you’ll happily spend hours in.

This swing was made for napping. Family-run Lowcountry SwingBeds crafts custom-built porch swings from cedar or pine; from $975.

The Vancouver, BC-based duo behind Gallant & Jones plants a tree for each handmade deck chair they sell; $146.

Alternating slats of (sustainably harvested, FSC-certified) ash and mahogany give this foldable perch its subtly striped look; $265.

Minneapolis-based macrame whiz Emma Radke takes custom orders for hippie-chic knotted swings like this jute number, designed after a pattern from the 1970s; $250.

Rustic, reclaimed pallets make a striking contrast with the bold steel frame of this unique chair, made in Clarke Titus’s Atlanta studio; $325.

An 18-inch cube sheathed in recycled polypropylene works indoors and out; as impromptu seating or a place to prop your feet; and, when topped with a tray or platter, the perfect place to rest a glass of ice-cold lemonade. Available in 15 jazzy patterns; $149.

Spruce up some garden-variety chairs with neon spray paint, like I Spy DIY’s version, above.

Fill in With Furniture

Portable sun protection, durable tables, and the classiest cooler we’ve seen.

Thanks to this breezy portable shade, you can create a (98%) UV-free zone anywhere you like — and not miss out on any of the backyard action. Available in solids and stripes; $250.

Never sacrifice style for the sake of quenching your thirst. This handmade, customizable cooler stand holds up to 18 bottles in its galvanized tub, and transforms into a solid-surface side table in seconds. Made to order; $399.

The only thing better than a beautiful, hand-crafted cotton hammock made by a collective of artisans in Masaya, Nicaragua? A beautiful, hand-crafted cotton hammock built for two; $127.

A reclaimed-wood top (salvaged by the furniture-makers themselves, from industrial sites near their Michigan home) and a 95% recycled-steel base give this low-slung coffee table a not-too-perfect finish that’s just right for outdoors; from $199.

Perhaps the world’s smartest renter-friendly patio hack: Ananda Qianyu’s San Diego, California, boho-chic balcony makeover, which can be entirely disassembled when her lease is up. Read all about it on Design Sponge.

Add a Warm Glow

Candles, lanterns, fire pits and string lights add ambience — and extend the day’s pleasures.

Bring a little glimmer of Asheville, NC, home with one of Sweet Tea Clothing Co.’s charming strands of mason jar lights; $69.

Fill a hand-built ceramic lantern with tea lights (or flameless candles) to keep the home fires burning; $36.

The Pacific Northwestern artisan behind AnemoneArts builds metals’ natural patina into her design process. This spiraling steel pendant lamp is lined with gold leaf for extra glow; $349.

LITDecor’s hand-painted jar lamps are inspired by the motifs and materials used in Moroccan decorative arts; $28.

Proof that the simplest shape is often the best: this streamlined, cube-like fire pit with a built-in spot to store wood; $350.

Melissa Crisp sees her ornately detailed steel fire pits as functional sculptures; $2,000 (with lifetime warranty).

Follow Martha Stewart’s lead and use upcycled jelly jars and wire to create a DIY outdoor chandelier, suspended from the supports of a patio umbrella.

Parade Your Plants

Hang them, stack them, or put them on a pedestal. (You can even dangle them from a ceramic squid!)

No room for a garden? No worries. You’ll impress guests plenty with an army of air plants suspended from these squid-shaped planters; $32.

Make the most of a small space (or disguise an unsightly fence or wall) with a gridded vertical garden rack, like this one from Melbourne metal shop Industria Metal; $199.

This vivid turquoise wire stand can give plants a boost — or become an eye-catching side table with the addition of a colorful, laminate-coated plywood top (sold separately); $40.

Made from durable, reclaimed cedar fencing, these hanging planters keep your prettiest blooms prominently displayed; $20.

Add some color to your leafy greens with handmade ceramic plant markers; $7.

Etsy seller Skinny Laminx‘s macrame tutorial lets you fashion your own stylish plant hangers for just a few bucks’ worth of materials.

Embellish With Extras

Welcome some feathered friends, install a swing to delight your inner child (or your actual child), and roll out the outdoor carpet for an even cozier entertaining space.

Seattle woodshop Twig and Timber turns out clever, contemporary birdhouses like this one, dubbed “The Camera Shutter”; $85.

Hang a symbol of one of summer’s most distinctive creatures with a stained-glass dragonfly sun-catcher; $52.

Yes, we know: Many of you are perfectly capable of tying up your own dirt-cheap rope swing from any old slab you have lying around. But for those who lack the knot-tying gene (or easy access to reclaimed lumber), there’s this splurge-y option, fashioned from salvaged old-growth pine that was last seen serving as flooring in a 19th-century house; $200.

Going barefoot in the grass isn’t for everyone (or every time); this easy-to-clean outdoor rug, made from recycled plastic bags, smooths rough surfaces and adds a pop of color and pattern to any area or occasion that needs it. More styles available; $75.

Weather-resistant, machine-washable outdoor pillows in a (double-sided) Scandinavian-inspired print instantly enliven even the most basic patio furniture; from $31.

Who wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon engrossed in a good book and swinging gently atop a DIY pallet bed? Read the instructions for how to make your own on The Merry Thought.

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Valerie Rains is an editor at Etsy.


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