Written by Kathryn M. D’Imperio
The long-awaited warm weather is finally here, perfect for barbecuing, relaxing, and sipping cocktails in the summer breeze. Just think of all the outdoor parties you can enjoy, not to mention bonfires and meteor showers. With all these wonderful thoughts in mind, now is the perfect time to start thinking about your patio or your deck and how you can spruce up your outdoor living space for summer entertaining, relaxation, and fun. An attractive deck or patio encourages you to spend more time outside enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, and moonlight. Consider these tips from deck and patio experts as inspiration for your own outdoor social settings.
Creating the Perfect Deck for Entertaining
If you don’t have a deck yet or if you’re planning to build one sometime soon, you are fortunate in that you can plan every specification of your deck to meet your needs. You can create your own blueprint, consider a single platform versus a multi-tier style, choose the type of wood or composite material, and pick the color of stain or materials. Adding a deck to your home greatly enhances the social nature of your outdoor living space, giving you more room to relax, socialize, and enjoy the views.
“We’ve completed a number of decks, some of which blur the boundaries between inside and outside,” says Joseph Cracco of Modern Yankee Builders. “Right off, I’d say that’s one of the biggest trends we’re seeing … that our clients want to blur that line so that the inside of their house has more of a connection with their yard. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing a wall to a bank of windows and putting in a window seat. Other times, it’s with a screen porch, which … well, isn’t your father’s screen porch anymore.”
Cracco says some of the latest enhancements to today’s decks include “dedicated areas of the deck or outdoor living areas for different activities — cooking/grilling, sitting/socializing, hot tubbing, etc.” He says level changes in the deck, such as changes in walking surface or integration of structures, create a better flow for the outdoor living space. The average deck designed for ultimate enjoyment may include “an area for shade (an awning, tent, pergola, or the like), privacy from neighbors (dense bushes, privacy screens, etc.), nicer furniture, space heaters to extend the season, and similarly, the integration of fire pits.”
Patio Plants, Trees, and Flowers for Your Outdoor Living Spaces
With so many flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees available at your local garden centers, it can become overwhelming to narrow down the selection and choose something that’s right for your living space. Shade versus sun, potted versus planted, color, size, shape — there are so many factors to consider. Thankfully a good landscaper can make the decision process a snap.
“For an outdoor living space you want something that flowers in the summer,” says Robert Langille, founder of Landscaping Concepts. “I always use a lot of summer color —hydrangeas, happy return daylilies. Make sure they are ever-blooming. The endless summer hydrangea flowers all summer long. You’re out there from Memorial Day through June, July, and August. That’s why I try to pick things that flower in the summertime.”
Langille recommends Summersweet, a shrub that flowers in the summertime and boasts fragrant white flowers and nice foliage. For a shade tree, he says a Honey Locust tree gives nice, filtered shade but drops a lot of leaves. He loves the idea of a pergola to break up the sun.
“It’s a structure that any carpenter can build,” he says. “It definitely adds value and it really puts some panache on your patio, by having a pergola that allows you to grow some grapes or clematis or wisteria vine. They flower in the summertime and also are fragrant.”
To add even more aesthetic impact or to soften up a corner, Langille recommends large urns with cannas, a tropical flowering plant that does even better as the summer gets hotter. If you find yourself short for space in your outdoor living area, he says a sitting wall can solve the problem. These walls are typically made of the same pavers as your patio and come to the height of a normal chair. A nice vertical element is achieved with this type of outdoor enhancement.
Finally, for the true gardener at heart, a container garden may be in store. Consider some of your favorite veggies and fruits for a decorative yet functional addition to your deck or patio setting.
“With such great interest in growing your own food today, I’d suggest vegetables and herbs that can easily be grown in containers on a deck,” says Adam W. Latham, ASLA, sole practitioner landscape architect with the Howland & Higgins Co. “A mix of a few herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, thyme, and rosemary in a large pot will supply plenty for home cooking needs. Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and cucumbers can be made more ornamental by selecting varieties with interesting colors and shapes of fruit and leaves,” Latham says. On a trellis, climbing annual vines such as scarlet runner bean and hyacinth bean can supply beautiful flowers and edible pods. For a more exotic flare, potted figs or lemons can be grown on a sunny deck in the summer and overwintered indoors.”
Patio Sets and Deck Furniture Trends
Pergolas can provide shade, privacy, and an attractive way to showcase climbing vines. Photo courtesy of Joseph C. Cracco, Modern Yankee Builders, Inc.
Tables, chairs, and loungers designed specifically for the outdoor elements greatly enhance the look and feel of your patio or deck. The right set of furniture makes your outside setting so much more inviting and just about guarantees you will be spending more time enjoying all that Mother Nature has to offer. Patio furniture allows you to relax, get lost in conversation, and enjoy a wonderful meal al fresco.
“We manufacture high-density polyethylene outdoor furniture; it is quite the trend right now,” says Andy Boyce, vice president of sales at Seaside Casual Furniture. “High-density polyethylene outdoor furniture is really the number one growth category in the industry, not just regionally, but nationally. It looks like wood but there’s no maintenance. We have 13 different colors and several fabrics that we offer.”
Gerry Auclair, president of Custom Craft, Inc., says that teak furniture, wicker, and poly furniture are very popular now. His company offers more than 150 fabrics in their line of custom outdoor cushions, pads, and related accessories. “The 100% solution-dyed acrylic fabrics named ‘Sunbrella’ and ‘Outdura’ are the most popular fabrics,” he says. “These fabrics are very durable, water-resistant, mildew-resistant, and are excellent in color fastness.”
Auclair explains that customers looking to spruce up their existing patio furniture have countless options when it comes to the hundreds of fabrics available in a diverse array of colors and weaves. He says coordinating toss pillows and umbrellas are a great way to accessorize your deck or patio area. “As a cushion manufacturer, the first way to enhance your patio is with new cushions,” Auclair says. “Even old furniture can look great with new cushions.”
Additional Accents for Your Deck
Outdoor entertaining is a favorite summer pastime for people of all ages. Countless options exist for sprucing up your deck and patio areas with everything from outdoor televisions and sound systems to fountains, fire pits, and the perfect mood lighting.
“Don’t forget the lighting!” says Sam Brusco of Brusco Design & Renovation. “Lights built into your deck are not only decorative, but they keep you safe. Most people put floodlights on the side of their house to light the deck. Although this is surely enough to light up your deck (and probably your whole backyard), you should consider a lantern or some other attractive light fixture instead, and save the search light for another spot on your house. Too much light (and the bugs attracted by it) usually ruins a party or a romantic evening.
“You will also need separate lighting for your stairs. Even if you go with the 500-watt mega-light, your steps will be dark. There’s no fun in falling flat on your face. So, involve a licensed electrician in the planning and construction of your deck. You’ll enjoy your deck more and you’ll enjoy it in safety.”
While the weather keeps getting warmer, give some serious thought to the different ways you can enhance your deck or patio area. Remember, a comfortable and functional outdoor living space pays happy, healthy dividends for a lifetime to come.