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37 Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Outdoor Rooms

Set out a daybed, weather-resistant cushions, or one of our other finds, and in a short time you'll have the ultimate staycation escape

1. Add Laid-Back Luxury: Color Underfoot

Photo by Mark Lohman

There's no more natural extension of your home's living area than a porch. But all too often, furnishings are bare-bones. The trick to making this outdoor space more inviting is to layer on the same comfortable and stylish touches you'd expect indoors.

A lively paint job makes the floor an accent wall. The floor paint on this porch, a few shades darker than the watery blue-green walls, offers a fresh alternative to the usual gray.

Behr Premium Porch & Patio Floor Paint, about $30 per gallon;

2. Cushions and Quilts

Photo by Mark Lohman

Guests linger longer when seats are supportive. In this setting, mismatched pillows and blankets in the same muted tones add cottage charm.

Similar to shown: Simply Shabby Chic Ditsy Patchwork Quilt, $80 for a twin, and Rosalie Ruffled Pillow, $23 for two;

3. Flexible Seating

Photo by Mark Lohman

The more sit-down options you have, the easier it is to entertain. Look for a love seat to encourage close conversation. Vintage wicker sets pop up on Craigslist needing only a fresh coat of paint, and an upholstered footstool can double as a pint-size perch for kids.

Similar to shown: Feedsack Foot Stool, $59;

4. Rustic Wall

Photo by Mark Lohman

Create a sense of enclosure with a partition wall fashioned from a vintage screen door.

You should be able to find an old door, such as this ornate Victorian-era model, for about $100 at a salvage yard.

5. Pretty Pendant

Photo by Mark Lohman

Set the mood and brighten the night with a no-wire candle chandelier.

Similar to shown: Gifts and Decor Wrought Iron Royalty's Candleholder Chandelier, $35;

6. Go for Bold Color: Vibrant Furniture

Photo by Julian Wass

Make a seating area the main attraction. This cobalt-painted set looks fetching against white.

Vintage wicker, finished with Impervex Latex High-Gloss Enamel for wood or metal in Delphinium, about $65 per gallon;

7. Separate Zones

Photo by Julian Wass

Area rugs, especially when positioned under hanging lights, can help define distinct spots for dining or lounging. Here, furniture arranged around a rug forms a mini sitting room.

Similar to shown: Pond Stripe Indoor/Outdoor Rug, about $90;

8. Green Screen

Photo by Julian Wass

A line of trees, tall shrubs, or bamboo plants can provide privacy. For a faster, summertime fix, train sweet peas up a trellis or another support.

Packet of sweet-pea seeds, $3.95;

9: Enliven with Accessories: Matching Curtains and Pillows

Photo by Tria Giovan

Hang quick-dry drapes to provide shade and privacy, and array coordinated throw pillows for a cohesive look.

Similar to shown: Parasol outdoor curtains and pillows, $30 per panel and $15 per pillow;

10. Deep Blue Overhead

Photo by Tria Giovan

Highlight the ceiling with a more saturated and energetic shade than traditional sky blue.

Emerald Exterior Acrylic Latex semigloss in Honorable Blue, about $62 per gallon;

11. Shadow-Box Art

Photo by Tria Giovan

Personalize the space with all-weather artwork. The khaki-hued paint on these shadow boxes echoes the window trim and provides protection from the elements. The coral clusters inside are man-made.

Basswood Canvas boxes, from $8 each;

Resin Coral, about $60 for a set of three;

12. Inject Vintage Style: Reclaimed Parts

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

A freestanding structure, set away from the bustle of the house, can be a real draw. Build it yourself with some key parts, and make it complete with just a few furnishings.

Salvaged porch posts mark off the footprint; diamond-pane windows and a gingerbread panel create the cornice.

About $85 to $250 per item;

13. Sun-Reflecting Roof

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

To keep costs down and ease installation, look for galvanized-metal panels.

Corrugated Galvanized Metal, about $35 for a 2-by-8-foot panel;

14. Lavish Lounger

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

An antique chaise or daybed like this one evokes Victorian-era gardens—and can easily top $1,000. Opt for an easy-care resin reproduction.

All-Weather Resin Outdoor Easy Care Wicker Chaise in white, about $250 (cushions are extra);

15. Try a Lush Look: Leafy Archway

Photo by Mark Lohman

Position an arbor in front of a tent-pole canvas cabana to serve as a dramatic portico. This metal one holds variegated potato vine.

Similar to shown: Oakland Living Single Arbor with Base, about $130;

16. Potted Plants

Photo by Mark Lohman

Establish entry points with portable greenery. Oversize green ceramic containers stand sentry here.

Similar to shown: Garden Odyssey 16-inch Glazed Milano Planter in Crackled Green, about $15;

17. Pebble Carpet

Photo by Mark Lohman

For an easy DIY floor, pour pea gravel into a frame that's made from steel or pressure-treated wood and sunk into the soil, sandbox-style.

Multicolor pea gravel, about $4 for a 50-pound bag; at stone yards

18. Plush Seating

Photo by Mark Lohman

Make sure any upholstery is weather-safe, and finish bare wood with exterior-grade acrylic-latex enamel paint or stain.

Similar to shown: La-Z-Boy Outdoor Benjamin 3-Seat Sofa, about $650;

19: Create Ambience: Partial Shade

Photo by Mark Lohman

A little structure makes a patio feel like an outdoor room. Consider a paved or loose-stone floor, and use the house or a fence for a sidewall or two and a pergola or tree boughs for a "roof."

A pergola offers sun protection without blocking breezes, while its open sides frame the view and establish a sense of enclosure. This pergola was custom-made, but DIYers can build one from a kit.

Similar to shown: Outdoor Living Today Breeze Cedar 8-by-10-foot Pergola, about $2,350;

20. Water Feature

Photo by Mark Lohman

No babbling brook nearby? A fountain can mimic its soothing sounds. Just be sure there's a spigot for replacing evaporated water and an outlet for running the pump. This sculptural fountain also adds a formal touch to an otherwise casual sitting area.

Similar to shown: Artmada Selia Indoor/Outdoor Fountain with LED Light, about $400;

21. Looking Glass

Photo by Mark Lohman

Hang a mirror on a wall or fence to create the illusion of a window to another room.

Similar to shown: Bronze Ornate Vanity Mirror with a water-resistant polystyrene frame, about $30;

22. Prep for Gatherings: Site Matters

Photo by Mark Lohman

An eating area near the house reduces the number of steps to the kitchen. Add a weatherproof concrete pedestal table that doubles as a bar, and chairs that fold for easy stowing.

Similar to shown: Table, about $250; at garden centers

Jordan Wooden Folding Bistro Chairs, about $130 per pair;

23. Pleasing Palette

Photo by Mark Lohman

Follow the 60-30-10 rule for color selection. In this outdoor space, the house, table, and flagstone create a neutral foundation. Red elements account for 30 percent, and lively accents claim the rest.

24. Floral Trellis

Photo by Mark Lohman

For an arbor-like backdrop, train a flowering vine up the wall and onto the eaves or the top of a door or window. Just add eye hooks threaded with medium-gauge wire for a support structure.

Red mandevilla in a 2½-quart pot, $15;

25. Build a Fire: Glowing Hearth

Photo by Thomas J. Story

An open flame draws people near and keeps them cozy after the sun goes down. If you've got the space and budget for more than a fire pit, consider putting in a freestanding prefab fireplace and surrounding it with a hearth that doubles as a low sitting wall. For a DIY version of this wall with foot-traffic-friendly contours, construct a winding base of cinder block, face it with ledgestone veneer, and top it with custom-cut flagstone.

Similar to shown: San Juan prefab gas or propane fireplace with masonry surround, about $3,600;

AirStone veneer, about $50 per carton (about 8 square feet);

26. Textured Accessories

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Baskets and rugs made from natural fibers, such as jute and sisal, weather well and fit in naturally with their alfresco surroundings.

Similar to shown: Owen Herringbone Jute Rug, 5 by 8 feet, about $200, and Beachcomber Lidded Basket, about $100;

27. Warm It Up: Patterned Floor

Photo by Jean Allsopp

Finish a simple wood platform, whether attached to the house or out in the yard, with plants and materials that fit in with the surroundings.

Use deck stain to make a checkerboard in weathered grays.

Similar to shown: DeckScapes deck stain in Cotton-wood and Kings Canyon, about $46 per gallon;

28. Leafy Levels

Photo by Jean Allsopp

Plants and small trees in wheeled pots lend structure to an open space and can slide inside in winter.

Benjamina ficus, about $60;

29. Metal Trellis

Photo by Jean Allsopp

Iron panels invite vines like clematis to create a privacy screen.

Similar to shown: ACHLA Designs Square-on-Squares, about $145 for a 311⁄2-by-86-inch panel;

30. Assemble an Intimate Getaway: Low Walls

Photo by BBC Magazines Ltd./GAP Photos

A deck that doesn't require railings can be bordered with fencing and planter boxes for a tucked-away feeling.

Large Cedar Planters, from $140;

31. Bistro Set

Photo by BBC Magazines Ltd./GAP Photos

Sit down for a glass of wine or dinner for two at a folding table that's portable and fits on a platform. Unpainted wood sets like this one may require annual sealing with a penetrating oil, such as teak or tung oil, to maintain their luster.

Similar to shown: Living Accents 3-Piece Wood Bistro Set in acacia, about $80;

32. Green Roof

Photo by BBC Magazines Ltd./GAP Photos

Arrange seating or dining areas under a backyard tree. The dappled shade created by leafy boughs overhead is atmospheric—and it's free.

33. Set Up a Snug Nap Spot: Comfy Bed

Photo by Steve Gunther

Who says you can stretch out only on a chaise? This antique Spanish-cedar bed frame can weather the elements just fine, but even one made of inexpensive unfinished pine can be protected—and warmed up—with the right finish. Then, for a mildew-proof mattress, zip a custom-cut foam slab into a waterproof vinyl cover and add a fitted-sheet–style topper stitched from quick-dry weather-resistant fabric. Finish with outdoor cushions, as well as indoor linens—if you're willing to bring them inside in damp weather.

Similar to shown: Fjellse bed frame, about $40;

Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey Exterior Wood Finish in Acorn Brown, about $20 per quart;

Sunbrella Dolce Outdoor Mango striped fabric, $33 per yard;

34. Striped Foot Warmer

Photo by Steve Gunther

An outdoor rug brightens deck boards and cushions bare feet.

Similar to shown: Pappelina woven-plastic outdoor carpet runners in dozens of patterns, including the Lisa Runner in Pink and Vanilla, about $105;

35. A Canopy Caps It Off: Billowed Silk

Photo by Debi Treloar

One of the simplest ways to enclose a space is with fabric. These three styles offer shade while adding a little drama.

Long lengths of silk can hang over a clothesline strung between the house and a pole anchored in the backyard. Secure the sides to a fence or a roof overhang with sturdy spring clips.

Similar to shown: Silk Scapes in Sea, about $50 for a 3-by-9-foot piece;

Everbilt Wood Clothespins, about $2.35 for 50;

36. Repurposed Tarp

Photo by Mark Lohman

Cotton canvas treated to resist moisture can serve as a temporary awning when suspended from a pergola with ties or metal clips.

Similar to shown: Coated white canvas tarps with grommets for ties, from about $20;

37. Romantic Netting

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

A veil of fine netting that comes with its own "hat" to hang from turns a well-cushioned bench into a private getaway.

Similar to shown: Solig net, about $20;