When I was planning our deck build, I placed just as much importance on structural planning as I did decorative planning. Why? Because if not, we would be left with a big hard space that didn’t feel welcoming or cozy at all. And after spending plenty of moula (dollars, cheddar, bills etc etc etc), it would feel totally wasteful if the space wasn’t comfortable to be in.
As with everything else in the design world, there are so many ways to bring in warmth and coziness to an outdoor space. It’s also an “in the eye of the beholder“ type thing as well. What is comfortable to me might feel cold and unwelcoming to you. I’m going to break down 5 main categories and my thought process when using each. I’ll also share exactly what items we purchased and link them for you. I will include a list at the bottom of all the items and their links if you want them easy to find all in one spot.
Tip #1 - Greenery
I challenge you to think about a time that you drove through an older area, with mature trees lining the street and houses with beautifully landscaped yards. Now think about a time you drove through a new subdivision that is still under construction or newly finished. Did you feel the difference? Did you take note of the calm comfort, that feeling of home, that comes from driving alongside all those towering trees? There’s just something instinctual about natural elements that brings a cozy feeling. So while it’s not feasible for the majority of people to order a 20 foot tall tree, there are plenty of other ways to bring nature to your space. The biggest tip I have is to spread the greenery around your space, and don’t limit it to just your yard or garden bed. It makes such a difference to see greenery incorporated no matter where your eye goes.
Let’s breakdown some options:
Trees. Depending on the amount of space you have, planting a young tree and watching it grow over the years is one of my favourite things about owning a home. If you don’t have a lot of space, or don’t want to deal with watering and raking, you can go the route we did and get a faux (fake) tree that is made for outdoor use like this bamboo tree we have on our deck. This palm tree was a runner up but ultimately wasn’t as dense as we wanted. When putting a fake tree in your space, still put it in a planter as you would a real tree, and even put some soil in to create the illusion that it’s real.
Small Plants. Hang some small green plants like these mini faux boxwoods or this faux eucalyptus from little planters like these on a privacy fence or wall. Alternate the height of each planter to create interest for the eye.
Tall Grasses. Oh how I love tall grass. The way it blows softly in the wind is just *chef’s kiss*, you know? You can use it in a planter on top of your fence to add some more privacy, or put some bunches (like these ikea ones) into pots like these and use as decoration on your dining table.
Privacy Fences/Ivy Climbers. We wanted to add some extra privacy to our backyard so we built panels with some 2x2 wood and chicken wire. I then ordered these faux ivy bunches and weaved them through. Again, whether you use real or faux greenery on your privacy panel, you will still add warmth to the space.
Raised Garden Beds. There are so many pre-made options available in many different styles to suit your needs like this cedar one or this more modern take. If you’re handy you can also build one that is totally custom to what you need. Filling these with fresh herbs will not only give you a nice scent, it will deter many common bugs and rodents from the area.
Tip #2 - Ambiance Lighting
Having lighting throughout your outdoor space creates warmth just like turning on a lamp inside your house in the evening. And it doesn’t just do so while on in the dark. Seeing the light fixtures during the day gives a sense of an intentionally finished space.
These days there are so many beautiful options for outdoor lighting. While there have always been nice looking wired lighting to chose from, the same cannot be said about solar lights. In recent years that has changed and the solar lights now available have the same sophistication to them as traditional wired lighting. Gone are the days of flat solar fence lights, with frosted plastic covers that turn yellow so quickly and brightness that fades after a couple months use. **Always consult with a licensed electrician before installing wired lights outdoors.
Let’s look at some ways you can add lighting to your outdoor space:
Walkway Lighting. Having lights along a walkway or path that leads from point A to B not only provides direction and safety, but creates a feeling of being welcome.
Perimeter Lighting. Defining the whole space and not just where you’ll be sitting makes it feel more like a room and less like a table or couch in the middle of a huge dark field. There are many many options available at many price points. We got these solar deck lights and installed them on every other fence post around the backyard. They look like mini wired porch lights and add a definite richness to the backyard whether during the day or at night. Lots of people light up their perimeter with string lights like these that we used around the inside of our gazebo.
Deck Lighting. Placing recessed lights around the perimeter of your deck and into the risers of any deck steps not only provides safety, but is also super sexy! I don’t have any on my deck but found this set with great reviews!
Fairy Lights. Nothing I say here will really convey to you how much I love fairy lights. They are so versatile and so pretty. My favourite thing to do is to place them into a planter, around the base of the plants. When they turn on at night it creates a glow that is so beautiful. Similarly, you can wrap them around your trees, privacy fences or climbing vines to highlight these otherwise hidden areas at night. Most, like these ones I use, have multiple settings so you can chose to have them stay on or blink. I like to leave them on the still setting.
Fire Pits. The only natural nighttime light there is, a fire will not only warm you up literally but also create a cozy ambiance to the space. We are still on the hunt for the perfect one but I have been eyeing this one for a long time. **Make sure to check your local bylaws for rules about open flames and check the manufacturers guideline for what surfaces their fire pit is safe to use on.
Tip #3 - Adding function for your family’s needs
How many times have you come across a beautifully curated photo of a space, whether it’s indoors or out, and thought to yourself that you would LOVE that to be yours. But then you start thinking and looking closer. You say to yourself, well, I couldn’t get a couch that colour or fabric because...kids. Or I‘d need space for extra seating because we have our big family over for dinners often (pre-pandemic thoughts). Or how about, I’d have to remove this this and this to make room for that that and that (insert kids toy here). In my case, sometimes it’s a matter of a certain material not working because I wouldn’t be able to wipe it down or wash it properly. That’s my anxiety’s thoughts popping through.
Here are some functional items to consider when cozying up your outdoor space:
Hooks. Yep, hooks. Super simple idea, but not something that is usually worked into a backyard design plan. If you have kids, you know that in the summer they LOVE playing in water. Weather you have a large in ground pool or tiny inflatable one, or just a classic sprinkler, kids are going to find a way to play in the water. But what happens when they decide they’re done? Usually the leave their wet clothes and towels in a pile on the ground, which means if they decide to go back and play some more a while later, you’re left getting new bathing suits and towels because the old ones feel icky. That’s why I intentionally got these hooks to hang off the Hoft Solutions privacy fence we put in. Now the kids know to hang up their wet items and by the time they’re ready for them again they’ve usually dried enough to use. Hoft does make hooks for their fences but I found other ones for a fraction of the price so decided to save there.
Storage Containers/Bins. Many people use their storage bins for couch cushions in the winter, we primarily use it for toy and sun umbrella storage. The kids know that when we are done outside for the day they need to put everything back into the bin. Then when we’re back out there again there’s no crying and searching for a toy they misplaced.
Gazebo/Pergola/Large Umbrella. If your backyard doesn’t get much shade and you plan to spend lots of time outside you will want to incorporate one of the items above. We got this one from Canadian Tire and it is awesome. There’s plenty of space underneath for 2 large couches and 2 chairs, plus room to spare for a future coffee table or fire pit. It allows me to sit comfortably while the kids run and play all day!
BBQ/Smoker/Dining Table. I know that’s a weird grouping, but they all fall under the love of eating outdoors umbrella. If you and your family love to bbq and eat meals outside, you want to make sure you have a comfortable space for all your cooking and eating needs!
Tip #4 - Using Earth Tones
Like with tip 1, nature has a natural calming effect on us. Pulling in muted colours from nature will give you the same feeling. Here’s some spots where you can do this:
Paint/Stain. If you have any furniture that needs to be painted or stained, this is a great way to pull in some earth tones. For our Adirondack/Muskoka Chairs, I chose Dark Olive by Benjamin Moore. I was going to do black but changed my mind last minute. Because the deck is grey and there are already a lot of black elements (I’ll take a can of matte black spray paint to anything!), I thought adding black chairs would just feel a little cold and monotoned with everything else.
Planters. Pretty straight forward. Choosing a planter for your plants that looks like stone or clay can cozy up the space instantly.
Textiles. Accent Pillows, Table Cloths, Throw Blankets. All great places to add some earth tones. And the best part about these is that you can get some beautiful things for very affordable places. So changing them out every year or two won’t break the bank!
Tip #4 - Textures
Adding different textures throughout your outdoor space creates interest for your eyes and other senses, and doesn’t let the space feel stale. You can add different textures with the furniture you chose, the textiles, differing greenery throughout the space, mixtures of finishing materials (wood, stone, brick etc etc etc). We chose this couch and it’s coordinating chair for under the gazebo and the little bit of wicker mixed with the soft grey fabric really makes the space feel super welcoming.
Well, there you have it. 5 Tips for adding warmth to your outdoor space. You could reference these tips for your indoor spaces too! Here’s a list of all the links that are scattered throughout this article.
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Until next time,