Patios, porches, decks, terraces and verandas are lovely things. Too often we just toss out a few chairs, and perhaps a table and call it a day. These beautiful spaces are often neglected and not utilized to their fullest potential. When the weather starts to get warmer, we absolutely should take advantage and turn this outdoor space into an additional, usable living space. I will walk you through not only on how to maximize the use of your space, but also how you can make it a spectacular one.

Outdoor living at its best!

There’s a growing trend to bringing the indoors outside, and people want their outdoor space to be just as comfortable and as functional as their indoor living space. With careful planning and consideration this can be so easily done. Most of us have to factor in the weather. Even if the temperatures permit sitting outside, a sudden downpour will make this impossible, unless you have a covered or screened in porch or other means of protection.

Warm weather often brings with it humidity, so you must carefully choose what will be placed outside. Certain wickers, resins and metals can withstand rain and dampness. There are weatherproof fabrics that will not mildew or fade. When placing furniture outdoors, you must be certain that it has been treated and can tolerate the elements. With all that is available on the marketplace now, there is no reason to sacrifice comfort or style.

Decorate for your lifestyle

How do you plan on using your outdoor space? Will it be mostly for relaxation or will you be entertaining a good deal? If possible plan for separate dining and sitting areas. This will create a flow for when guests gather outside. If you’re entertaining a small group of people you can use the sitting and dining areas separately or together.  You want your sitting area to be as relaxing as possible. You want your guests to enjoy some wine and hors d’oeuvres before moving over to the dining area to be seated for dinner, then afterwards, everyone may wander over to the sitting area again.

Or, if you plan on having a larger group of people you can utilize both spaces at once. The eating area should be closer to the door so that when you are bringing trays of food in and out you will be less inconvenienced. A gardening bench makes for a great prep area – consider placing near both the grill as well as the dining area – as well as a convenient place to place food and can be used for a buffet meal. A tea cart on wheels that can be rolled in and out of the house can serve as additional storage or service space.

Get comfortable, make yourself at home.

A comfortable space is an inviting space, and an inviting space is a well used space. Decorate for your lifestyle but decorate for comfort. Think about the space as it will be used when you are not entertaining. Your outdoor area can and should be multi-functional. It should suit a quiet afternoon with a book just as well as an intimate dinner party. Make sure your seating is comfortable. You needn’t spend a lot of money and buy expensive outdoor furniture. Sometimes, all it takes is the addition of a few throw pillows that can be purchased at a discount home furnishings store or online. Consignment stores and Goodwill are great places to find furniture for your outdoor space. Give your newly acquired furniture a new, fresh and updated look with a new coat of paint. Do be sure to use an outdoor paint, though.

Adirondack chairs are great for both relaxing and dining. Consider your lighting source. You should be able to use your space at night. If there are outlets nearby consider the placement of lamps or electric lanterns. Of course candles in great glass hurricanes offer a soft reading light and set a tranquil tone. Outlets can also be used for fans, music and even large outdoor television screens. Make room for plants and flowers. Bring out plants in large planters and plant some flowering bushes all around you. Plantings  soften a space naturally, add color and ambiance as well as a sense of privacy which you may well want if you happen to have neighbors all around you.

Add your own personal touches

As you read about creating the perfect outdoor oasis and gather ideas about seating and dining and comfort and flow, don’t forget to add your own personal touches. What makes your own living or sitting room so special? Bring some of that outside. Add mirrors and even artwork (though nothing light, heat and water sensitive) to hang up, if possible. Create a theme and be sure to incorporate your favorite colors and patterns.

Plants, candles and assorted collectibles, such as a large bowl of river rocks, shells and pine cones, can really personalize a space. (Do watch yourself so as not to over clutter!) Add some throw blankets and an indoor/outdoor rug is a great piece to tie your furniture together and add some softness underfoot. While most of us love nothing more than to be able to go out and curl up with a great book, I would not advise leaving paper goods out for any period of time if you live in an area where humidity is an issue.

Offer shelter from the storm

Screened-in porches are, in my opinion, the best invention since the wheel. They’re a true extension of the home, however, not all outdoor spaces have a roof and sides to protect from the sun’s burning rays as well as from the elements. If you do not have a roof over your space you must provide a source of shelter. You can add a retractable awning or place large sunbrellas in one or more locations. Consider building a trellis or a permanent awning. If your porch or deck does have a roof overhead, try adding some long weather-proof curtains around the perimeter to keep out both the heat and the rain. If you don’t have one already, outdoor ceiling fans are fabulous!

What else would you add to create your perfect outdoor oasis?