Weekend Warrior: Patio Update
If your outdoor space could use a little love, here’s a simple six-step mini-makeover
May 23, 2018
Park City summers are short and precious, which means you want to make the most of every shorts-and-T-shirt moment. Take a weekend to spruce up your outdoor living space — patio, porch, or deck — and spend the rest of the season in the happiest part of your home.
Planters with personality
Transforming a patio from bland to grand can be as easy as adding an arrangement of garden pots or planters, often known as a container garden. The selection of styles, sizes, and colors is considerable, and you can expand it by adding your own decorative touches. Use one big container to make a bold statement, then add smaller planters around it — in different heights, different sizes — to add interest.
Don't get carried away with a clash of colors. While you want a variety of shapes and elevations, you should be creating a visual oasis, not a multi-hued circus. As for the plants themselves, the rule is thrill, fill, spill: tall and showy at the center, as red fountain grass is so perfectly suited for; filling the spaces in between, such as begonias and impatiens do so well; and spilling over the sides in an attempt to escape, as sweet potato vines are always trying in vain to accomplish.
Safe from the elements
For Park City residents, relaxing on a backyard patio is often part of a perfect summer's day. But into even the most perfect summer's day can come a little too much mountain sun, or rain, or wind, or sometimes even hail. Protecting your patio from them all can range from setting out a sun umbrella to installing a permanent pergola. But if you forget to take in an umbrella before a windstorm, it may be launched into Colorado. And the cost of a pergola, necessarily designed to withstand winter snow loads, may be more than you want to invest.
A good compromise is a shade sail, a stretched section of durable, decorative fabric that's attached to your home or other anchor points with hardware heavy enough to ensure that even the strongest blast of wind won't have the entire setup chasing your neighbor's umbrella eastward. And when winter comes, it's simple enough to take it down and store it away. You can put together a prefab version yourself in a weekend, but the need to get the wire tension and anchor points just right makes it wiser to consider a custom setup that's professionally designed and installed.
The power of cushions
There's no simpler or more effective way to add color to a patio than with new seat cushions and pillows. A neglected corner cries out for a bolder look? Conflicting color schemes need to be somehow tied together? Decorative cushions, whether in solids or prints, can do it. And with all the weather-resistant, fade-resistant fabrics available, your choices are limited only by your imagination.
There are a few basic design principles you might want to follow. For maximum impact use complementary (opposite on the color wheel) colors—teal cushions with a few tangerine throw pillows, for example. But it's really about what most reflects you. And because outdoor furniture cushions are so easily replaced—a drive to the home improvement store and you're done—you can always try something new when you have a change of creative inspiration, or season, or address.
Light it up
In the evenings, patio lighting not only contributes to safety but creates a visual boundary that makes any setting seem more intimate. Simplest is to hang strings of globe or café-style lights, using LED bulbs for efficiency and longevity. If you don't have sufficient hanging points, you can string the lights from attachments fixed atop poles or posts set into concrete-filled planters, into which you can pack dirt and then plant flowers. The planters are portable, so you can move them around for different effects or winter storage.
Just don't overdo it by lighting up the patio like you're trying to discourage a prison break. Instead, try to find a balance that preserves the starry beauty of a night time sky, for you and your neighbors.
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A focus on fire pits
Nothing is better than a fire pit at creating a patio's visual focus, or a summer-evening gathering place for family and friends. Luxury versions, often available in custom finishes ranging from granite tops to hammered copper fire bowls, can cost thousands of dollars. You can order them with electronic ignition for automated operation, featuring tabletops spacious enough to accommodate a round of drinks, and even with glass screens for wind protection. These are best installed by professionals, especially if they require an underground gas line.
But building a simple fire pit from a kit (available at many home improvement stores) can be a fun weekend project, with the results nearly as attractive as the high-end versions. If building it yourself, first inquire about local burning restrictions, and make sure you're positioning your project a safe distance from potential fire hazards, such as your home.
Granted, most of us are in Park City for the outdoor vistas. But there are times when sacrificing a bit of a mountain view for more privacy would be nice, too. The solution is a patio privacy screen. Some are simple framed sections of stained or painted wood lattice, while others incorporate finial-topped posts, planter boxes at their base, even gates. The more ornate might involve custom-designed wrought iron scrollwork. They often serve as trellises for climbing plants, creating a more natural look along with more privacy. In the case of climbing vines like clematis, with its pink, rose, violet, and white flowers, they also produce pleasant drops of summer color.
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