Outdoor features your neighbors will envy
By Abigail Thorpe
It’s finally warm in the Northwest, and we’re celebrating the best way we know how: by getting out in our backyards. A few small additions like some comfy seating or a water feature can make a world of difference in creating a relaxing oasis in your own backyard. Or for a complete transformation, go big and create an adults’ (and kids’) dreamland that will rival the inside of your home—and keep you outdoors a lot more this summer.
From hammocks and outdoor fireplaces to treehouses and a summer kitchen, here are some outdoor additions large and small that will have you opting for staying home and inviting the party to your place. Now’s the perfect time to transform your backyard into a private paradise that will have your neighbors peeking over the fence for an invite.
1. Large outdoor hammock
When one’s not enough. Are you constantly competing over hammock space in the backyard? Here’s the perfect solution: a hammock large enough for two, or the whole family, if you don’t mind a snuggle. Depending on your space, you can hang it between two trees, or use a stand to keep it right out in the open. Prices range from around $50 to several hundred dollars, depending on how deluxe you want to go. Keep in mind stands and hammock tree straps are often sold separately, so make sure you have everything you need before you set out to create your cozy nap nook.
2. In-ground trampoline
The kids will love it for the fun, and Mom will love it for not creating an eyesore in the backyard. Plus, you’ll limit the number of falls off the trampoline during flip practice. An in-ground trampoline is discreetly dug in flush with the ground, keeping the backyard aesthetic clean and uncluttered, while still allowing for a fun playground to keep the kids busy. It’s a win for everyone.
3.Outdoor projector screen
Warm summer evenings make us want to spend as much time outside as possible. Take your theater outdoors this summer with an outdoor projector screen—the dark nights makes for a perfect light contrast to your favorite film, and you can stay out long after the sun goes down.
You can make your own projector screen from a white sheet, install a more permanent screen on an outside wall or frame, or purchase a portable screen and projector so you can take the movie with you wherever you go.
4. Summer kitchen
For the chef who wants to keep it all outside, including the meal prep, an outdoor kitchen will do the trick. Installing an outdoor kitchen is a bit more involved than, say, hanging a large hammock. But if you’re someone who cooks a lot and loves to host, it can be a game changer. You can prep and toss your meal right on the grill, all without having to go back and forth inside. And your indoor kitchen stays a lot cleaner all summer long.
Plan out your outdoor kitchen carefully, and consider what appliances you will need to best fit your lifestyle—it can be as simple as a grill, or the full layout with refrigeration, sink, grill and/or oven and prep/dining space. Because we have cold winters, make sure the materials you use can withstand whatever January throws at them (particularly if it’s not covered).
5. Cocoon hanging (or free-standing) swing
You’ll find the comfort and swing of a hammock, with the cozy cocoon feeling of three sides. Cocoon hanging swings are the new outdoor comfort seating. An added bonus—they take up less space horizontally than a hammock, so you can place them in a corner or under the porch. Cocoon swings can hang from a beam or come with a free-standing frame, depending on your outdoor needs. It’s the perfect place to snuggle up and enjoy a book or relax by an outdoor fire.
6. Outdoor fireplace
Speaking of outdoor fires—an outdoor fireplace is one feature that can add a whole lot of ambiance and comfort to your backyard and is definitely a crowd pleaser with the guests. Depending on where you like to entertain most, you can do a built-in or freestanding fireplace, and can choose between wood-burning, propane, natural gas, charcoal, bio-ethanol and gel. If a permanent fixture is too much commitment, or you like to move the party around your space, opt for a portable device that will let you enjoy all of the benefits of a wood-burning fire, without the commitment.
7. Guest yurt
It’s like a guest house, but with a little more natural glamping feel. This requires quite a bit of free space in your backyard and is not for the faint of heart, but it can add a lot to your yard, serve as a fun place to get away for a few hours and relax, and is a great spot for guests to stay when they visit, so you (and they) have a little privacy.
Choose your space carefully—you want enough air flow and room for the yurt. You can order a yurt kit online and do it yourself, or you can hire a professional (which is recommended if you’re not experienced with carpentry). Just keep in mind that depending on the yurt, it may need to be taken down in winter.
8. Swing sofas
We’re not talking your grandmother’s old standing porch swing (though we love those too). These guys are full on comfortable outdoor sofas—that swing. They are often hung with rope or steel cables, and create a dramatic look and ultra-comfortable seating. You can place them under a porch or deck hung from a beam, or position multiple around an outdoor fireplace or dining area to create a welcoming and lounge-worthy outdoor living room just begging for an afternoon nap.
When you don’t want to go full-out kitchen, opt for an outdoor bar. It’s the perfect addition if you like to entertain and is much less involved than a full kitchen. Big bonus: You won’t have to go inside each time someone’s glass gets empty. It can be as simple as a small bar top with space for bottles and a tub of ice, or you can get more involved and install refrigeration, a sink, an ice sink, and an area for glasses and bottles. Just make sure you’ve got bottles and ice ready and waiting when the party starts.
It doesn’t just have to be for kids! Swiss Family Robinson your backyard by using those trees to house your secret hideaway. Or go all out and build a series of tree houses joined by hanging bridges—just make sure it’s structurally sound. It can be a kid’s outdoor paradise, or can serve as an art studio, hideaway nook or even a guest house. If it’s going to be more than just an outside fort, make sure you get the professionals involved to keep it safe. You don’t want your guest falling through the air, after all.
11. Outdoor shower
Nothing beats an outdoor shower after a nice long day in the sun (although it’s equally as nice as a morning wakeup). Listen to the birds sing and take in the sweet smells of summer during your daily scrub. The key is to make sure there’s plenty of privacy, good drainage and hot water—a cold shower is only fun for a few seconds. Side tip—make sure there is somewhere clear of the shower to set or hang your dry clothing and a towel for when you are finished.
Pergolas are a great way to add some shade and partial covering to your backyard, as well as some structural beauty. For an added pop—and to filter even more sun rays out—grow a creeping or flowering vine up the sides of the pergola. You can purchase pergolas ready made and assemble them at home, or you can build from scratch. Add to a back-porch area to make an extension of your home, or situate as a stand-alone statement in your backyard. Some even come with canopies to help up your shade factor.
13. Convertible daybed
A daybed is the perfect place to relax and sunbathe while reading a book or watching the kids play. Add in some built-in shade with an awning or umbrella and an iced tea and you’re set. The best part about choosing a convertible daybed, though, is it easily transforms into the perfect sitting area when you have company. Just pull the sides away, and you have bench seating to fit the entire crew, with an ottoman to set your drinks (or feet).
14. “Causeway” over a pond
A water feature adds so much to the backyard visually and audibly. The look and sound of water helps to calm, adding tranquility to the space, and helps cool a hot backyard. For a modern, extra touch, make it part of the entrance to your backyard space by creating a walkway over a pond to either enter the house or access part of the backyard. It instantly takes your space to the next level and will make you feel like you’re in a botanical garden instead of your own backyard.