10 Steps to Paradise in Your Own Backyard

Any outdoor living space, be it a compact apartment terrace or an expansive poolside patio, becomes much more inviting once it’s been outfitted with a few creature comforts. Designers Jeff Curren and Julian Calderon share outdoor room design tips to help you create a comfortable and beautiful refuge right outside your house.

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  1. Consider Function First

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    "If it doesn’t ultimately serve your objectives, it doesn’t matter how great your outdoor space looks," says 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.

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  2. Keep Traffic Flowing

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    "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 so that seating or dining areas permit the free flow of foot traffic.

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  3. Go Vertical

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    "A tiny backyard or limited light on a city terrace needn’t prevent you from having a beautiful garden," says 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. "Or create 'walls'  with arbors, trellises, room dividers or fences," adds Curren.

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  4. Cultivate a Theme

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    "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."

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  5. Stimulate the Senses

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    "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.

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  6. Bug Off

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    "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 toward a wall. "Also, citronella candles and torches add light while chasing bugs away," he says, adding that "plants like chrysanthemums, basil, and mint also repel bugs."

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  7. Accessorize

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    "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. "And don’t forget shade overhead, especially if your patio is in a sunny spot."

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  8. Lighten Up

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    "Remember to go for ambience at night," 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."

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  9. Let It Flow

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    "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."

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  10. Get Inside Out

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    "Decorate outside as you would spaces indoors," 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."

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