Mother Earth Living

10 Secrets to Creating the Perfect Outdoor Living Space

Outdoor rooms make us feel connected with nature, and they can help us live well in small spaces. But you may have trouble finding inspiration in areas that have long seen nothing but flagstones, concrete or turf. Help is here! Outdoor design specialists know the best strategies to create beautiful, functional outdoor rooms, so we asked one of our favorite green landscape designers, Shirley Bovshow, to share her secrets. Her ideas cover everything from outdoor lighting to easy repurposing tips that may surprise you.

A Perfect Outdoor Living Space

Bovshow says in the past year nearly double the usual number of people have asked her how they can create a beautiful outdoor space without spending much money. The key is to think creatively and repurpose things you already have, she says.

• Space, defined. Arrange potted plants to create and define spaces, using plants of different heights to make “green walls” that separate one outdoor “room” from another. Intimate spaces are inviting places.

• Private eyes. A beautiful sitting or dining area isn’t as relaxing if your neighbor can observe your every move. Rethink the purpose of weatherproof products. For example, you can create colorful, inexpensive privacy screens by stringing bright outdoor rugs between patio posts. The rug becomes kinetic art as it blows in the breeze.

• Bright idea. Create ambience with solar path lights that gather energy by day and throw light from your container plants at night. With no cumbersome wiring, your solar path lights can be staked directly in plant containers to show off blooms at night and add soft lighting to your sitting area. No electricity needed.

• Fun with furniture. Search your yard or ask neighbors for unused pavers or flagstones. Set them atop a large pot to create an impromptu side tabletop. Think creatively when it comes to seating, too: A piece of rescued lumber can become a bench; milk crates or tree stumps topped with outdoor cushions become shabby-chic stools.

• That’s hot. Nothing creates intimacy like a roaring fire. Build or buy a modular outdoor fireplace, fire pit or tabletop fire bowl to act as the centerpiece of your outdoor room. Use environmentally friendly, biodegradable and inexpensive burning materials such as propane, lava rock or eco-fuel cans.

Get Cooking

Take outdoor living to the next level with a well-designed alfresco kitchen.

1. Locate your outdoor kitchen near your indoor kitchen for easy access to your pantry and refrigerator, along with dishes and silverware. Adding a door from your kitchen to your outdoor kitchen is money well spent.

2. Make a list of everything you want to do in your outdoor kitchen. Grilling, cooking, blending drinks and making pizza all require space, specific appliances and electricity. Allow counter space for food preparation and serving, including 12 to 14 inches on both sides of appliances to accommodate serving platters.

3. To maximize comfort, plan for a variety of weather conditions. If your deck is sunny, shade it with a tall tree, a lattice covered with edible vines or an umbrella. If your deck is breezy, plant a windbreak with shrubs. If you live in a rainy area, consider covering your space so you can enjoy it during showers.

4. The pleasure of preparing food outdoors is multiplied when you can pick fresh food from your garden. Install a raised-bed garden nearby for easy access to herbs and veggies. Get double duty from your raised bed by capping the edges with stone or wood to create built-in seating. Guests can keep you company while you cook—amidst the scent of sweet basil.

5. A truly functional outdoor kitchen is one in which you can cook day or night. Install overall ambient lighting along with task lighting for the grill, side burners and countertops.

Shirley Bovshow is a nationally recognized garden designer, television host and creator of the syndicated garden design blog EdenMakers. Check out her TV show at 

  • Published on Mar 29, 2011
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