10 Ways to Create Your Own Paradise in the Backyard

Designers Jeff Curren and Julian Calderon share outdoor room design tips enabling you to create a comfortable and great-looking refuge behind your house.

Outdoor Room Design - Backyard

Photo: Smith & Vansant Architects PC

Any outdoor living space, be it a compact apartment terrace or an expansive poolside patio, becomes so much more inviting once it’s been outfitted with a few creature comforts. In search of ideas to make your garden areas as comfortable as possible, we consulted Jeff Curren of Jeff Curren Interior Design and landscape designer Julian Calderon of Julian • Mark Events.

Consider function first. ”If it doesn’t ultimately serve your objectives, it doesn’t matter how great your outdoor space looks,” says interior designer Jeff Curren. “One person may want to sit quietly and read outside; another may want to garden. For those who like to entertain and cook, an outdoor kitchen can make life hospitable for both chef and guests,” he says, adding that with so many new options in appliances and cabinets, outdoor cook zones can be as beautiful as they are functional.

Keep traffic flowing. ”Inviting, well-laid paved paths or stepping stones lead you on a journey or allow you to gracefully get to an outdoor destination,” says Curren, who also recommends carefully planning your outdoor space with seating or dining areas that permit the free flow of foot traffic.

Outdoor Room Design - Trellis Enclosure

Photo: Joel Kelly Design

Go vertical. ”A tiny backyard or limited light on a city terrace needn’t prevent you from having a beautiful garden,” says landscape designer Julian Calderon. “Wall gardens with multicolor plants that need no direct sunlight are available from garden centers or home stores,” he says. Succulents, for example, are easy to grow on vertical surfaces even in arid climates. “You can also create a living fence by planting a row of tall, narrow thuja occidentalis trees,” says Calderon. “Or create ‘walls’ with arbors, trellises, room dividers or fences,” adds Curren.

Cultivate a theme. ”Come up with a style concept… and stick to it,” says Curren. “Ask yourself how you want to feel when in your outdoor space, then create that feeling with texture, pattern, color, shape and scale, using everything from furniture to planters to accessories.”

Stimulate the senses. ”Lavender, geraniums, lemongrass, eucalyptus, catnip, basil, mint and many other plants will not only add a nice touch of color close to paths and circulation areas, but they’ll also freshen the air with appealing fragrance as you and your guests brush past them,” suggests Calderon. “You can also use plants to create artful swaths of color and texture. Play with just a few colors or textures for more effective impact and easy maintenance,” he advises. “A multicolor Victorian or country-style garden may require you to hire an expert to care for it, unless of course you’re willing to be hands on.”

Outdoor Room Design - Lighting

Photo: Pedersen Associates

Bug off. “Most of us work, so we often spend time on our terrace or patio in the evening,” says Calderon. “Lighting is a good way to add interest and beauty to the outdoors, but it also attracts bugs!” To keep the bugs away, Calderon suggests soft yellow illumination concealed within planters or turned towards a wall. “Also, citronella candles and torches add light while chasing bugs away,” he says. Other bug-busting options include dabbing on oil of lemon or donning light-colored clothing, which bugs have a hard time seeing. “Plants like chrysanthemums, basil, and mint also repel bugs,” he adds.

Related: 7 Easy Budget-Friendly Backyard Makeovers

Outdoor Room Design - Rug

Photo: Liora Manne

Accessorize! ”Just as with an outfit, an outdoor living space is not complete until you finish it off with a few accessories,” says Curren. “But don’t overdo it here. Editing is key. Always start with a rug,” advises Curren, who likes the Watercolor Blossom rug from Liora Manne, made from recycled materials. “And don’t forget a shade overhead, especially if your patio is in a sunny spot.”

Lighten up. ”Remember to go for ambiance at night with light,” says Curren. “Use a variety of types of lighting—at least three sources of light is ideal—and keep it soft and out of your eyes. You want to see the glow of light but not the light source. Consider string lights, uplights, table lamps, floor lamps, hanging fixtures, even candles. For a green solution, great solar and LED lights are available.”

Let it flow. ”To enhance the comfort of outdoor living, add a water feature,” suggests Curren. “The bubbling sounds of water calm and sooth. You can even add goldfish.”

Extend the inside out. “Decorate outside in similar ways as you would inside,” recommends Curren. “And at any budget, have some fun and be creative with materials, more so than you might be in the house. To create your own outdoor private paradise, don’t be afraid to step out of your decorating comfort zone.”