It’s Outside Time


It’s early June and it’s one of my favorite times of year. 

We’re in the middle of this summer’s Big Reveal, and it is presenting with a giant “Ta-dah!”  All the leaves are unfurled, the trees are full, the mulch edges are crisp, and the window boxes and porch plantings are lush with water and fertilizer.  It’s like how your kids look on their first day of school, with their clean notebooks, new lunchboxes and fresh outfits from the mall.  Really, your neighborhood will never look better than it does right now.  So, breath in that smell of freshly cut grass and take a moment to enjoy it.

Things can look a little different in August.  By then some of our container plants shrivel while we vacation, our lawns suffer from the water bans, and our tomatoes can get the blight.  And us?  We’re all a little too punch-drunk from the heat to care like we do right now.  But don’t take offense, August, I’m not complaining.  I love your hazy, lazy long days of summer.  Bring it on!  But it’s all the more reason to mix yourself a drink right now and sit out on that freshly power-washed lawn furniture of yours. Because this perfection won’t last forever.

And now that you’re out there, how is that outdoor experience for you?  It’s a natural time to ask that question.  Your energy is fresh, you are reacquainting yourself with some furniture that has spent the winter in the shed, and you are figuring out what goes where.  You may already have a list going for candle votives and outdoor cushions and the like.  But it’s also a great time to think about larger projects and what you might want to change down the road.  Not in a despairing, oh-my-outdoor-oasis-is-crap sort of way.  But more like you are sowing some contemplative seeds.  And as you think about those plans over the summer, some ideas may take root and others will not.

What are some typical improvements to consider?  Well, re-thinking your grilling area can make entertaining easier.  There are of course the full-blown outdoor kitchens complete with running water and an island, but you don’t have to go that far.  For grilling, you should first think about location.  Ideally you want something that is both out of the way, but not isolating.  You don’t want the smoke blowing into your guests faces, but you do want to allow room for those friends that hang by the grill offering moral support to the cook.  Maybe you find a spot just a little bit around a corner, but hopefully it is close to a kitchen door or window so food can be passed back and forth.

If your grill is gas and you also have a gas stove inside, consider having a gas line installed so that you can skip the propane tanks that inevitably run out at the worst time.  (Shouldn’t there be a gauge on those things?)  Also, consider some outdoor counter space.  It’s so handy to be able to set down one platter and grab another while in the midst of flipping burgers.  This counter space can be as easy as buying some outdoor metal shelving and topping it with a piece of granite.  The weight of that stone on top makes the shelving sturdy, and stone remnants are affordable.  Or free if you know someone that is renovating.

Another outdoor feature to consider is a pergola.  They are an affordable way to add some shade plus a good amount of architectural interest.  They can be modern or traditional, and made from wood or a man-made product like metal or PVC.  You can easily shop online because many of them come as kits. They can stand alone or butt up next to your home.  On their own they do help to break up the intensity of the sun, especially with some climbing plants.  But if you want solid shade, you can buy a canvas cover or add other materials to really block it out.  I picture pergolas in the backyard. But I saw someone dress up a little cape cod style home with a front deck and a pergola and it looked really cute.  Plus, it’s a much more affordable option than a traditional front porch.

A favorite backyard enhancement for beach lovers is an outdoor shower.  Check in with permitting first and make sure you have the environmental approvals to build one, but if you can they are so worth it.  Outdoor showers can be decidedly low-brow and as simple as a cold-water shower head mounted above the faucet for your hose.  Or they can be decidedly high-brow with teak decking and multiple hot-water shower heads.  Most people land between the two, and if you are after a bargain this is another product that is frequently sold as a kit online.  I like the ones that have two spaces inside -- one for showering and one for dressing with a little bench.  But regardless of what you choose, think carefully about your drainage first. Because nothing is worse than showering in a puddle.  Except for standing in someone else’s sudsy puddle as it oozes out onto your patio.

Firepits are popular, but I’m sort of 50/50 on those.  They are great if you have the space to dedicate to just that function.  But otherwise, I find they hog up too much square footage considering how much they actually get used.  But I know they are a must-have for some of you, so you do you!  But consider a freestanding one with a flat cover.  That way it also works as a coffee table when the fire isn’t going.  For me? I’m actually more of a fan of something I would call a “fire feature.”  I like the propane ones that have a spot for that tank built right in.  They can be tall cubes, or low rectangles.  They can be round or square.  I like them even more if they’re on wheels, because I’m not a girl that likes to be locked into one seating configuration.

And my final words on backyard bliss is about lighting; and those words are solar, solar, solar.  Where I used to roll my eyes and think of solar lights as dim little add-ons and silly landscaping features, I now take my hat off and celebrate how far they’ve come.  To be sure, these are not lights you would necessarily do needlepoint underneath, and they require sun to charge during the day of course; but for ambient lighting I think they are great.  I like them for the cafe-style string lights, and also for these stand-alone…. well, I’m at a loss as to what to call them.

I know if I google “solar lighting orbs” they come up. They are almost like portable, glowing lamps that you can scatter outside or put on tables.  Some are even waterproof to float on your pool.  Go take a look and see what you think.  The no outlet needed thing is just so liberating.

And the best part about all this?  We are just sowing seeds here.  No reason to jump up and do anything right now.  No reason at all.  Just keep on enjoying this summer’s first day of school.

Jennifer Coles is a local interior designer. coles color and