No Reservations Needed
Add comfort and charm to existing outdoor spaces like porches, patios, and decks—it can be like hanging out inside but with a breeze and a better view.
1. Add a Porch Swing
Architect and homeowner Erica Broberg Smith, left, says she's got the best seat not in the house. A cushion and throw pillows encourage lingering.
Similar to shown: International Caravan Royal Tahiti Balau 2-Seater Wood Porch Swing, about $160, with Blazing Needles Patio Bench/Swing Cushion in Aqua Blue, about $50, and Carib Corded Throw Pillow Set by Pillow Perfect, about $35; Wayfair
2. Try a Stone Floor
Irregular bluestone creates a grounded look that ties in with the landscape. For this new porch, stones were mortared on top of concrete. Make sure you have clearance at the door and on stair treads.
Shown: Flagstones, about $4-$7.50 per square foot; at stone yards
3. Punch Up With Paint
A vibrant accent color on wood trim or the front door makes a porch feel cheery and inviting. The green on these columns and windows echoes the leafy surroundings.
Similar to shown: Aura exterior semigloss in Killala Green, about $70 per gallon; benjaminmoore.com for stores
4. Keep It Casual
Rustic touches, such as this painted wicker furniture, wrought-iron hanging lantern, and wall-hung elk antler, add a sense of laid-back luxury.
Similar to shown: Wicker Lane 4-piece White Wicker Conversation Set, about $450; Walmart. Columbia Small Pendant in black enamel, about $320; Rejuvenation. Naturally shed elk antler, about $150; yellowstoneantlers.com
5. Set Out a Sofa
Generous seating can transform a porch into a living room—with nature taking center stage instead of a flat-screen. For this blue-and-white-themed space, interior designer Kelley Proxmire chose a three-seater made with all-weather wood.
Shown: Armada teak bench, about $1,320; Brown Jordan
6. Add a Breeze
A ceiling fan helps get the air moving. Choose one made for outdoor use.
Similar to shown: Casa Vieja Outdoor Ceiling Fan, about $150; lampsplus.com
7. Plug in a Floor Lamp
An all-weather fixture provides mood-setting illumination and reinforces the living room feel.
Similar to shown: Patio Living Concepts Bronze Outdoor Floor Lamp with Fabric Shade, about $240; lowes.com
8. Paint a Permanent Rug
Rather than unfurling a carpet, define a porch's dining or seating area with a painted version; it's easier to clean, and you can leave it out year-round.
9. Frame The View
Here, a shapely shingled arch creates an elegant transition between the existing porch and a deck extension along one side. Simply adding prefab corner brackets between porch posts and ceiling can produce a similar effect.
Find a range of bracket styles in wood and polyurethane from about $16 each; vintagewoodworks.com.
10. Try Classic, All-Weather Furniture
his deck addition creates the illusion of a wraparound porch while providing a fully open-air experience. Outdoor furniture open to sun and rain takes a beating, so interior designer Jennifer Palumbo chose wicker chairs with a traditional rolled-arm look in fade-resistant resin.
Similar to shown: Martha Stewart Living Lake Adela Porch Chairs, about $500 for two; homedecorators.com
11. Add a Nautical Accent
Styled after work lights used on fishing boats in the 1800s, bulbous onion lights offer casual coastal charm—and a welcome glow—to any porch. They come with or without a protective cage and as sconces and post lights as well as ceiling-mount fixtures.
Similar to shown: Hinkley Lighting Outdoor Ceiling Fixture from the Cape Cod Collection in Sienna Bronze, about $160; lightingdirect.com
12. Set Up a Daybed
To create an old-fashioned sleeping porch, simply swap the settee for a cot or daybed, such as this vintage version scavenged and refinished by homeowner and designer Joy Waltmire. Protect the mattress by zipping it into a waterproof vinyl cover.
Similar to shown: Lloyd iron twin-size daybed, about $900; charlesprogers.com
13. Hang Drapes
Not just for windows, long panels on a porch can create a sense of enclosure and privacy and help fend off the sun and wind. These billowy drapes are hung from rods suspended between the porch posts.
Similar to shown: White Escape Tab Top Curtain, about $30 for a 50-by-96-inch panel; worldmarket.com
14. Show Off The Ceiling
While blue and white are traditional, a wood-slat or beadboard ceiling left bare save for a few coats of protective polyurethane becomes a focal point. Here, warm wood tones contrast with the white clapboard walls and give the porch a cozy feel.
Similar to shown: 2½-inch-wide Cypress Beadboard, about $10 for a 6-foot length; vintagewoodworks.com
15. Mix Up The Furnishings
Unmatched pieces add whimsy while also allowing you to freshen the style with new additions. Here, interior designer Barry Dixon used sleek woven-back metal chairs to help balance and modernize the look of a heavy oak trestle table.
Similar to shown: Castellon Dining Chair, about $280, and Chianni Trestle Table in distressed oak finish, about $950; Ballard Designs
16. Go for Bold Textiles
Cushions, tablecloths, and other soft goods add color, pattern, and personality with minimal commitment and expense—just replace or recover if your tastes change. In this otherwise neutral scheme, vibrant striped awnings and chair cushions create a cool, beachy vibe.
Find more than 200 outdoor fabrics in lively prints and colors, starting at about $6 per yard; warehousefabricsinc.com
17. Illuminate The Easy Way
A hanging candle lantern adds ambience and brightens a dining table without the expense and hassle of a hardwired fixture. This Moroccan-style pendant also adds a touch of worldliness.
Similar to shown: Tangiers Rustic Candle Lantern, about $140; houzz.com
18. Cap It With Green
A lush canopy can provide shade and shelter from the rain. Here, designer Heather Chadduck used a custom metal pergola entwined with wisteria to create a green roof.
For a similar look at a wallet-friendly price, try the Hampton Bay pergola, about $500; homedepot.com. It comes with a removable fabric canopy to keep you covered until your wisteria takes off. Potted, fast-growing Blue Moon Wisteria vine, about $20; burpee.com
19. Pattern the Floor
Give a plain concrete pad a graphic upgrade. Snap chalk lines to map out a design, and cut channels with a concrete saw. Fill them with wet concrete and embed river rocks, making them level with the pad.
Similar to shown: Rain Forest Black Polished Pacific Pebble, about $12 for a 20-pound bag; homedepot.com
20. Add Warmth
A fireplace like this one, built from cinder blocks, lined with fireproof brick, and coated with stucco, can anchor an entertainment area. Cubbies on either side serve as sitting walls.
Similar to shown: Outdoor Fireplace kit, from about $3,200; Eldorado Stone
21. Favor a Free-Form Design
A patio floor without rectilinear lines complements the organic shapes found in nature, for a relaxed, easygoing effect, says architect Erica Broberg Smith, who designed this space at her own home. Irregular bluestones in different shapes and sizes are set in stone dust and butt up against the surrounding turf, no edging required.
Shown: Bluestone flagstones, about $4-$7.50 per sq. ft.; at stone yards
22. Plant a Green Screen
A hedgerow can provide a natural backdrop for an outdoor room while also shielding an unsightly view and supplying privacy. Here, flowering shrubs in front of a taller hedge form a layered, living wall that hides the driveway and a neighbor's house.
23. Save With a Store-Bought Heater
Simpler and thriftier than a fireplace, a prefab wood-burning chiminea creates a warm gathering spot. A sturdy metal one with a large mouth, safety screen, and swap-in grate for grilling means you can use it to roast some marshmallows, too.
Similar to shown: Cast aluminum Prairie Chiminea, about $430; The Blue Rooster
24. Cozy Up to a Tree
The overhanging branches of an old specimen like this black locust provide a sense of intimacy and filter sunlight and rain—all for free.
25. Put in a DIY-Friendly Floor
For a low-cost, natural-looking retreat like this one, start with pea gravel underfoot. For the base, use crushed stone and stone dust covered with landscape fabric.
Similar to shown: ⅜-inch pea gravel, from about $45 per ton; at stone yards
26. Set Up a Flintstones-Inspired Table
A thick bluestone slab provides the perfect top. Make sure the base is no more than 26 inches high and its diameter at least two-thirds the length of the slab.
Similar to shown: Natural cleft ½-inch Pennsylvania bluestone slab, starting at about $4.50 per square foot; at stone yards
27. Establish a Perimeter With Benches
Like low walls, bench seats can define the borders of a gathering spot. When arranged in an L-shape, they also provide banquette-style seating around a table.
Buy prefab all-weather benches from the home center, or make your own stylish cedar versions with a backrest and built-in storage for just about $130 each.
28. Erect a Thrifty Metal Wall
Humble roofing panels become a chic wall when stood on end and bolted edge to edge. More steel panels sheath the top of this pergola, tying the space together.
Shown: Corrugated-steel roof panels, about $30 each; at home centers
29. Carve Out a Portal
A window in a patio wall-—here, a sheet of acrylic framed by barn-wood planks—creates a feeling of spaciousness and invites in light.
Save by trading pricey barn wood for wood scavenged from a discarded shipping pallet. And hit the home center for precut acrylic. Optix 36-by-48-inch Acrylic Sheet, about $35; homedepot.com
30. Save Space With Shared Seating
Settees and benches allow more guests to squeeze around the table. Here, Shaker-style benches have striking high backs and shapely sides.
Make a similar bench with a DIY kit: Restorers Shaker Style Warming Bench Kit, about $420; vandykes.com
31. Use Trees as a Design Element
Integrate mature specimens into the building plan. As an alternative to a freestanding pergola, Durie floated a slatted ceiling by using the sturdy trunks as supports.
Similar to shown: Find hardware especially made for anchoring structures to trees at nelsontreehouseandsupply.com.
32. Try a Step-Down
A change in levels can help carve out a distinct, purpose-driven space. In this one, by Jamie Durie Design, the dining area is 5 inches lower than the expansive surrounding deck.
33. Suspend a Pendant
Take advantage of an overhead structure, be it a pergola roof or an outstretched tree limb, to hang a light fixture. Optimal height over a dining table is 30 inches from the table surface.
Similar to shown: Find more than 100 outdoor pendants, including contemporary styles like this one, from about $60 at lumens.com.
34. Build in Borders
For on-grade or slightly raised decks, a built-in bench can serve as a low railing, defining the area while providing space-efficient seating. Architect Erica Broberg Smith, at home with her husband, Scott, designed one wide enough for lying out on a beach towel.
35. Add Some Tunes
All-weather speakers help get the party started. Choose between hardwired versions that connect to an indoor stereo system and tuck discreetly under the eaves of the house, as shown, or portable wireless speakers that sync via Bluetooth to a smartphone or tablet to tap stored or Internet-streamed music.
Similar to shown: Bose 151 SE Environmental Speakers, about $280 per pair; bestbuy.com
36. Go for a Double-Duty Umbrella
A patio umbrella is always welcome for shade during the day. Some new versions also come with tiny LED bulbs built into the frame for illumination and ambience after dark.
We like the 9-foot Round Umbrella with Lights, which has an 18-foot power cord, about $120; worldmarket.com
37. Create a Staging Area
By parking a table near the grill, the chef can prep food and keep ingredients and serving platters close at hand. This simple bistro table also provides an extra spot for diners to gather around for chips and salsa.
Similar to shown: Home Styles Terra Cotta Bistro Table, about $190; Wayfair
38. Make It Mobile
A barbecue on wheels allows the chef to move into the shade or out of the wind in an instant. On smaller decks, like this one at the home of architect John Margolis, it also allows the space itself to multitask, as an outdoor kitchen one day and a place for potting plants or pouring coffee the next.
Similar to shown: Weber Genesis 3-Burner Liquid Propane Gas Grill, about $850; lowes.com
39. Add Interest All Around
Railing planters filled with bright blooms and tall ferns or grasses offer splashes of color while also increasing privacy. When hung inside the railing, they let you, rather than the neighbors, enjoy their decorative boost.
Choose from planters that mount right on top of the railing or window-box types that hang in front, starting at about $20 each; gardeners.com
40. Install a Tent-Like Topper
A stylish fabric canopy is a thrifty alternative to a solid roof. Here, metal poles anchored to the deck railings and house form a framework for fade-resistant fabric. Retractable versions allow you to enjoy full sun or a starry night.
We like the heavy-duty remote-controlled Capri retractable canopy with Sunbrella Gray/Beige Chip Fancy fabric, about $3,600 (for a 10-by-12-foot deck like this one), including delivery and installation; shadetreecanopies.com.
41. Make a Rustic Table
A covered deck is the perfect setting for pieces like this coffee table with sawhorse-style legs.
You can assemble one for less than $150. For the legs, use galvanized-steel sawhorse brackets, about $3 per pair, boxed out with 2x4s. Top them with Numerär beech butcher block, from about $130; ikea.com. Protect the wood components with a few coats of clear polyurethane.
42. Borrow Indoor Furnishings
It's fine to cart out a few pieces, such as this upholstered armchair, to up the style and comfort factor. Just be sure to move them back inside once the party's over. The only investment: a little elbow grease.