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By Nichole Talbot
Summer’s around the corner, and warmer days means more time spent relaxing and entertaining outdoors. If you’re like us, you can’t wait to invite your favorite people over for backyard barbecues, poolside parties and starry night soirees.
Whether you’re on a budget or ready to splurge, we’ve got design tips galore — from adding twinkly lights to setting up the yard games. Read on to get your backyard in top entertaining shape before your first get-together.
Twinkling string lights create instant ambiance and add a warm glow. Even better? They come in lots of different sizes, shapes and brightness levels to complement your design tastes. If you don’t have an electrical plug nearby, there are battery and solar-powered lights available too.
String them along a gazebo, pergola or around an umbrella. Or hang them between trees and along a fence. For more permanent installations (installing posts for hanging, for example), consider contacting a professional for help.
While string lights help set the mood for your soiree, you’ll want to need more ambient lighting for the evening. After all, you want your guests to be able to see each other and what they’re eating and drinking.
If you have a covered patio, gazebo, or pergola, install pendant lights with warm white light bulbs that are outdoor safe. If you’re on a budget, invest in a few solar-powered outdoor lamps for your dining table.
Don’t forget candles when planning your evening outdoor lighting. They cast a warm glow and make your backyard look magical. Place them in candle-safe lanterns of various heights on your dining table and along your patio, deck or primary seating area. This will help them stay lit on breezy nights.
For an enchanting Southwest twist, place luminarias or paper bag lanterns along your outdoor walking paths (choose LED tea lights instead of candles for safety).
The last thing you want at your outdoor get-together is for someone to get injured. Proper lighting is an easy way to prevent slips and falls. Install pathway lights anywhere people will be walking, like pathways and along the patio, deck or steps. You’ll also want to add some overhead light. A bright bulb or two near your doorway will help guests move inside and out with ease.
A paver patio is a beautiful alternative to a concrete slab, which is susceptible to cracks and breakage. It’s a great choice for people who live in areas where the temperature fluctuates drastically between winter and summer. Plus, it looks great beneath an outdoor rug, seating and a fire pit. There are also hundreds of different stone sizes and configurations so you can create a custom look. Yes, this one’s a splurge, but you’ll enjoy it for many years to come.
There’s a lot that goes into a paver patio project, and it can be tricky to properly excavate and grade for drainage. Unless you're willing to do your homework and sacrifice several weekends, this one’s probably better left to the pros.
Never underestimate the design power of potted plants. Greenery is eye-catching and makes for lovely outdoor decor. They can also create visual breaks between areas in the backyard, creating boundaries between seating and dining areas and accentuating your other outdoor furnishings.
“Decorate your space with plants that climb and give color pops, potted plants to decorate side tables and awkward corners that need to be filled,” recommend Melissa and Isabella Chinchilla from landscape design firm Hex & Root.
Arrange potted plants and small trees of various sizes along steps, around a patio or lining a pathway. Tip: Use wheeled plant stands for easy portability.
A wood deck in your favorite stain or color is a wonderful backyard addition. And if you keep it clean and properly resealed, you can enjoy it for many years.
While a deck installation is on the pricier end of projects, costs will vary depending on the wood type and its availability. Contact a professional deck installer to get a custom quote.
If your backyard is a blank slate or in need of a serious makeover, take this opportunity to thoughtfully plan the space. Create activity zones for things like dining, kids’ play, flower or vegetable gardens and maybe even a water feature.
A professional landscape designer or installer can suggest how to create a visually appealing design that maximizes your space.
Related: Best landscaping ideas for backyards and front yards.
Take your everyday living outdoors to truly soak up the season. Create a beautiful backyard oasis with comfortable seating and small tables for drinks and snacks. Chinchilla of Hex & Root suggests an outdoor daybed. “When hosting in the backyard, we advise clients to have multiple seating that allows more than one person to sit or lay down.”
Make things cozy with texture by layering throw pillows, blankets, an area rug and fabric poufs for lounging. And don’t forget some ambient and accent lighting — hang a pendant or string lights overhead, and bring over some candle lanterns to create a relaxed evening vibe.
Is there anything better than dining al fresco? Food magically tastes better outside, so be sure to invest in or upgrade your backyard dining set ahead of summer gatherings.
The size you get will depend on how frequently you plan to host and for how many people. You’ll also want to consider cleaning and maintenance. For example, it may be hard to resist the warm beauty of a teak set, but it will require regular cleaning and resealing. If you prefer something more low maintenance, consider a set in coated wicker, composite or metal. Whatever you decide, find a cover to protect your investment during cooler months.
Daytime entertaining is sublime, but nobody wants a sunburn. Offer your guests some reprieve from the sun and heat on bright summer afternoons. How you do this will depend on your space, but a brightly colored market umbrella, awning, gazebo or roller shade are functional and stylish options.
A swanky outdoor kitchen takes outdoor living to the next level. Outdoor kitchens have become increasingly popular with home buyers, and because of that, they can raise a home’s sale price up to 2.2% according to Zillow.
Fortunately, there’s an outdoor kitchen to fit almost any budget and backyard size, from small modular units to ultra-luxe spaces with custom cabinets and countertops. Your best bet is to contact a professional installer near you for guidance and a quote.
Make your backyard celebrations a cozy experience with a custom fire pit or fireplace. Fire pits will remind you of your child telling ghost stories by the campfire or beach bonfire. They’re the perfect place to roast marshmallows with the kids, enjoy your favorite adult beverage or stargaze into the wee hours.
While you can easily purchase a freestanding unit, a professionally installed fire pit or fireplace can be tailored to your backyard and preferences.
Give your guests a few places to mingle outside. A small garden is an enchanting addition to any backyard and will quickly become your new favorite outdoor hang spot. When planning your garden, think about design features to delight the senses — a stepping stone pathway, a romantic vine-covered fence or arbor — the possibilities are endless.
Andra Delmonico, lead designer at the design blog Trendey, takes this idea a step further. “Homeowners are also considering using edible plants for their landscaping or gardening. Instead of just growing decorative plants, they are growing carrots with lush greenery, tall tomatoes, green bean plants, or fresh herbs that give off desirable scents.”
When you want to cool off during the dog days of summer, a mister will do the trick. Misters make you feel like you took a dip in a pool, without getting drenched. Plan the right amount of mister nozzles for the perimeter of your covered patio, deck or gazebo (for example, you will need about 10 nozzles for a 10’ x 10’ area).
If you’re unsure or if don’t want to fiddle with your plumbing system, contact a local professional for a quote.
Nothing beats the slow rock of a hammock. It’s the ultimate get-away-from-it-all feeling. String one between two trees, purchase a freestanding hammock, or indulge in a couple of hanging rattan chairs to create a boho vibe.
Your outdoor dining table is a great spot to surprise and delight your friends and family with thoughtful design. Spruce up your meals with a colorful, bright or patterned tablecloth, napkins, plates and cups. Tip: Cut some fresh flowers from your garden or scavenge for branches and greenery to make a centerpiece in a snap. Use the flowers and greenery to decorate around the plates and dishes.
Picture this: You’re relaxing in the shade with your favorite people, noshing on snacks with the music turned up. Your friends need their drinks refreshed but the bar cart is all the way inside. What’s a good host to do?
Keep the good times flowing with an outdoor bar cart. There are colors and styles to work for any style preference, and you can still be part of the fun while you’re mixing drinks. Some carts even have wheels so you can take them indoors during fall and winter.
Surprise your friends with a movie night under the stars. It’s not as hard as you’d think. Go lo-fi with an affordable projector and white sheet, or trick it out with a fancy screen and streaming stick. For seating, set out blankets, pillows and low-back chairs. Make it even more enjoyable by incorporating some of the ideas on this list, like a self-serve snack bar and outdoor beverage cart.
If you have young children (and enough space), give them a special area of their own to play, roam and get the wiggles out. Remember the activity zones recommended earlier? Create a special section just for kiddos, no grown-ups allowed. Think: swing set, sand box, art station, game area or even a fairy garden. It’ll give you a much-deserved break. If you purchase a playground set, you can find pros near you to help assemble it.
It’s summertime and the living should be easy. Setting up self-serve food stations is a game-changer when you’re hosting outdoors. Throw a tablecloth over a folding table and set out your favorite snacks, drinks and goodies. If you’re feeling fancy, create a theme like a s’mores bar, taco night or candy concession stand.
It’s time to take your playlist outside. Great tunes make any outdoor party come alive, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to integrate outdoor speakers into your home stereo system (although go for it, if you’ve got the cash).
Invest in a few portable speakers, connect them to your phone or tablet and place them around your backyard. Tip: Hide a couple of speakers under fake rocks so they blend in with your landscaping.
Give your guests fun activities to do so you’re free to finish up any last-minute food prep. Set up a few outdoor games like corn hole, horseshoes, lawn bowling or life-sized Jenga to get them mingling and encourage a little healthy competition. A lawn game tournament isn't just for kids either, it’s a fun backyard idea for adults too.
You don’t have to go to the campground to get outside in nature. Pitch tents on a level spot in your backyard and plan an evening of fun activities for kids — and kids at heart. Grill burgers and hot dogs and satisfy your sweet tooth by indulging in s’mores. Set up lawn games and tell ghost stories after dark.
If you have the cash (or can convince your friends and family to pitch in), consider throwing a big summer bash. Find a catering service or a food truck to supply all of the refreshments. Book a bartender to serve up fresh summer cocktails. And look into child entertainment options near you such as face painters, clowns, magicians, balloon twisters and more.
Your future backyard retreat awaits. Start creating your outdoor oasis with quotes from a local landscape professional near you.
Tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll show you pros right for the job, with prices.