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39 Budget-Wise Ways to Create Outdoor Rooms

Transform an ordinary outdoor space into an open-air living room that adds value and comfort to your home year-round

Bring the Living Room Outside

Have a humdrum porch? A basic patio or a neglected deck? Some simple additions—a hanging swing, mood lighting, a vintage find or two—are all it takes to transform an ordinary outdoor space into an open-air living room that adds value and comfort to your home year-round

1. Rustic Swing

Photo by Tria Giovan

Encourage guests and family members to sway on a slatted-wood porch swing. This one is hung with sturdy ropes, rather than chains, for a natural look. Make sure the rope is rated to hold at least 600 pounds, and check regularly for wear. For a step-by-step on safely hanging a porch swing using rope, go to June 2012.

Similar to shown: Great American Woodies Cypress Classic 5-foot porch swing, about $200; Hayneedle

2. Mood Lighting

Photo by Tria Giovan

Candle lanterns hung from a hook in the ceiling or placed on tables or railings lend a subtle nighttime glow. They're also easy to move where you need them and require no wiring.

Similar to shown: Smith & Hawken Premium Quality Wentford Zinc Lantern (medium), about $59; Target

3. Indoor Appeal

Photo by Tria Giovan

If your porch is covered, bring living room furnishings, such as this wool rug and rocker, outside. Set back from the porch's open edges, they'll be safe from the weather.

Similar to shown: Lattice Dhurrie 3-by 5-foot rug in Rust; about $129; West Elm

4. Patios

To turn a basic concrete or stone pad into an inviting outdoor room, start by creating a sense of enclosure—your home's exterior walls or even a row of potted plants will do the trick—and, ideally, some overhead protection. Then use colorful accents to add personality.

4. Dramatic Entrance

Photo by Judy White/Gardenphotos.com

Hinge an old garden gate between a pair of wood posts to define your patio entry. Ornate wrought-iron gates like this one are about $75 to $250 at salvage yards, a fraction of the cost of a new, hand-forged gate.

5. Dual-Purpose Planter

Photo by Judy White/Gardenphotos.com

Perch a metal farm trough atop chunky balusters to create a raised planter or, filled with ice, a party-perfect bar. Vintage troughs like the one here can be pricey, so pick up a new trough that will develop a patina over time.

Eclectic Galvanized Metal Planter Box, about $59; Pottery Barn

6. Mirror, Mirror

Photo by Judy White/Gardenphotos.com

Reflect light and create the illusion of a window into another room with a wall-hung mirror. Make your own by fitting a cast-off divided-light window with mirror glass.

Custom-cut mirror, about $5 to $6 per square foot; at glass-supply shops

7. Green Canopy

Photo by Judy White/Gardenphotos.com

Grow climbing vines, such as grape, over an existing pergola to provide extra protection from the sun and rain.

Concord Grape, ships bare-root, about $10; Stark Bro's

8. Bold Backdrop

Photo by Judy White/Gardenphotos.com

Turn a blah wall into a focal point. Red stain and barrel tiles give this concrete garden enclosure a Southwest feel.

Similar to shown: H&C Concrete solid-color stain in Tile Red, about $20 per gallon; H&C

Marley Roof Tiles in classic red, about $5 each; Northern Roof Tiles

9. Container Plants

Photo by Judy White/Gardenphotos.com

A small patio becomes a verdant oasis with potted plants. Low-water options, such as sedum and Russian sage, require little care.

About $14 for one plant; White Flower Farm

10. Paver Grid

Photo by Judy White/Gardenphotos.com

Give a thrifty pea-gravel patio a style boost and create activity-specific zones by edging areas with pavers.

About $5 per square foot; at home centers

11. Living Arch

Photo by Norm Plate

Create an arbor with plants trained up the side and out onto the overhanging eaves of a shed or outbuilding. Anchor plants, and contain aggressive species, by growing them in pots.

Similar to shown: sweet autumn clematis in a 3-inch pot, about $18; Spring Hill Nurseries

12. Flagstone Floor

Photo by Norm Plate

A dozen stones arranged in a free-form pattern can easily turn a small patch of grass into an intimate dining area. Grow grass between the stones (shown) or choose a traffic-resistant groundcover.

Flagstone prices vary by type, but expect to pay about $3 to $6 per square foot at stone yards.

13. Impromptu Table for Two

Photo by Norm Plate

A bistro set is inexpensive and small enough to fit on a tiny patio. Choose sturdy but lightweight sets for maximum movability.

Similar to shown: Venice Outdoor Cafe/Bistro Set, about $171; Wayfair

14. Front-Entry Courtyard

Photo by Eric Roth

Carve out a seating area in the front yard by enclosing a swath with a DIY sitting wall made from mortared fieldstone.

About $300 per ton, enough for 60 square feet.

15. Herringbone Brick Floor

Photo by Eric Roth

This zigzagging design helps lock bricks in place and is more dynamic than the typical running bond. Make the pattern with any rectangular brick or paver.

Similar to shown: 4-by-8-inch Red Charcoal Holland pavers, about 60 cents each; Lowe's

16. Walls with Dimension

Photo by Eric Roth

Add texture to siding with trellises, and draw attention to windows with boxes filled with bright blooms.

Similar to shown: Dura-Trel Cambridge 6-foot Vinyl Arch Trellis, about $70, and Rectangle Wood Nantucket Standard Window Box in white, about $70; Hayneedle

17. Decks

Photo by Mark Lohman

Taking your deck from dull to dramatic can be as simple as integrating colors, materials, furnishings, and plantings that smooth the transition from indoors to out.

17. Bench Border

Photo by Mark Lohman

If your deck is low enough not to require a railing, build a bench around the perimeter to provide seating and a sense of enclosure.This bench wraps two sides of the deck, but you could build a smaller version on just one side using leftover deck boards for the seat and pressure-treated 26s (about $5 for an 8-foot board; at home centers) for the supporting structure.

18. Stained to Match

Photo by Mark Lohman

18. Stained to Match

19. Wall Art

Photo by Mark Lohman

Add a furnished feel by hanging ornaments, such as this fountain, on your home's exterior wall.

Similar to shown: Garden Wall Mount Niche Fountain, about $130; Signature Hardware

20. Bright and Cheery

Photo by John Ellis

Make a big impact in a small space with intense color. Here, a turquoise-painted picnic table and coral-colored accents make an energetic combo.

Table paint: Behr's Premium Plus Ultra Exterior Semi-Gloss Enamel in Spring Stream, about $36 per gallon; The Home Depot

21. Lots of Levels

Photo by John Ellis

Create the illusion of greater space by keeping the eye moving up and down. A stepped deck design like this is one way to do it, but you can also create levels by clustering tall and low container plants and ornaments together.

Similar to shown: 10-inch Asian Ceramic Elephant plant stand, in three color options, about $35; Wayfair

22. Soothing Sound

Photo by John Ellis

Turn an urn, a birdbath, or a pretty pot into a gurgling fountain. All you need is a water pump to fit inside (Beckett 60 GPH Submersible Fountain Pump, about $18; The Home Depot), a GFCI outlet to plug the pump into, and a basin below where the water can collect and be recirculated.

23. Lattice Panels

Photo by Jerry Pavia

Screen wind and lend privacy to your deck with thrifty treated-wood or plastic lattice walls. Flowering climbers soften their look and add color.

Similar to shown: Master Mark 2-by-8-foot plastic lattice panel, about $15; Ace Hardware Superstore

24. Soft Surroundings

Photo by Jerry Pavia

Top an existing built-in banquette, such as this corner unit, or a storage trunk with cushions and throw pillows to create relaxed seating. Look for weatherproof fabrics so that you won't have to bring everything inside at the threat of rain.

Similar to shown: Blazing Needles water-resistant seat cushion and pillow set, in various colors and patterns, starting at about $27 and $30, respectively; Wayfair

25. Easy Canopy

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Erect a "roof" by draping a canvas drop cloth between four bamboo poles anchored in heavy planters.

Similar to shown: Super Heavy Canvas Drop Cloth, 9 by 12 feet, about $25; My Tarp.

Natural Moso Poles, about $90 for four 3-inch-by-8-foot poles; Cali Bamboo

26. Repurposed Table

Photo by Thomas J. Story

For an industrial-chic look on a budget, co-opt commercial kitchen gear. This stainless-steel prep surface doubles as an all-weather dining table.

Find steel tables on Craigslist, starting at about $50.

27. Movable Seats

Photo by Thomas J. Story

They're not just for extra party guests. Wood folding chairs are stylish and simple-to-stow everyday seats.

Similar to shown: Bollo acacia wood outdoor folding chairs, about $20 each; IKEA for stores

28. Porches

Photo by Tria Giovan/Gap Interior

The key to comfort on the porch, whether it's off the entry or an upstairs master, is outfitting it to take advantage of the shade, views, and privacy it can offer. Just pick colors and furnishings to suit the style of your house so that the porch feels like an organic extension.

28. Surfaces with Patina

Photo by Tria Giovan/Gap Interior

Preserve a weathered painted finish rather than strip it. Here, the mottled concrete floor and ceiling add unmistakable vintage appeal.

Seal old paint under a water-based clear coat appropriate for the material. About $20 to $30 per gallon; at home centers

29. Pleasing Opposites

Photo by Tria Giovan/Gap Interior

If your backdrop is rough or rustic, add a hint of formal elegance, such as this manicured boxwood in a classical urn, for a balanced and purposely eclectic look.

Similar to shown: Concrete Urn, 25 inches high by 17 inches wide, about $60; Lowe's for stores

30. Hanging Baskets

Photo by Tria Giovan/Gap Interior

Pretty up and add privacy on the porch by strategically hanging planted baskets from the eaves. For maximum impact, choose lush and trailing plants.

Similar to shown: Trailing maidenhair fern, about $20 for one in a hanging basket; at garden centers

31. Shutter Divider

Photo by Jean Allsopp

Use salvaged shutters to form a richly textured partition. This one sections off a large upstairs porch.

Find louvered pairs at flea markets for about $25.

32. Air Supply

Photo by Jean Allsopp

Install a ceiling fan to cool your porch and keep bugs at bay. This fan, with its built-in light, also adds an ambient overhead glow at night.

Similar to shown: Hunter Fan Co. Astoria White Fan with Light, $129; Sears

33. Soothing Palette

Photo by Jean Allsopp

Cool tones, like the watery blues on the porch floor and seat cushions, create a serene effect.

Similar to shown: Valspar's Latex Porch & Floor Paint in Liberty, about $27 per gallon; Valspar

34. Evergreen Screen

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

If proximity to neighbors is an issue, plant a row of evergreens along the exposed side of the porch.

Try Spartan junipers, which can grow as much as 2 feet a year. About $37 each; Fast Growing Trees

35. Coordinated Colors

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

Get a manicured look with a controlled color scheme. Here, all the furniture is the same shade of cranberry. And the upholstery, pillows, and rug echo the cranberry, as well as the home's muted green shutters and khaki body color.

36. Stylish Synthetics

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

For low-maintenance furniture that looks new longer, choose materials that stand up to the elements. Resin wicker looks and feels like its traditional cousins but tends to cost less, and you can simply hose it down when it gets dirty.

Similar to shown: Oakland Collection Oakland Living Corp. Resin Wicker Loveseat, about $229; Sears

37. Rope Hammock

Photo by Van Chaplin

String one up and rock yourself to sleep. Use galvanized threaded eyebolts to secure it to wall studs, and leave room to sway.

Similar to shown: Cotton Hammock, about $109; L.L.Bean

38. Hanging Bed

Photo by Tria Giovan

It's like a porch swing only deeper and easier to stretch out on. Rather than buy a bed swing, available with or without a backrest, make a wood platform for a twin mattress and suspend it with chains.

About $60 for lumber.

39. Laid-Back Lounger

Photo by Tria Giovan

Prop pillows against the arms and a cushion on the seat to turn a backless bench into a daybed.

Similar to shown: Generous 4-foot Backless Teak Garden Bench with Scrolled Arms, about $400; Plow & Hearth