Summer is officially approaching, and it's time to claim whatever outdoor space you have available. From an apartment balcony to a petite backyard, there are so many ways to convert any outdoor area into a comfortable living space for the warm months of the year. Whether you have a tiny bistro table or a hammock for two, I guarantee you can find a way to enjoy outdoor space.
There are a few things to consider when planning an outdoor space. First, you must be aware of insects. It doesn't take much still water to attract mosquitos. Clear out any still water you may find in pots or plant boxes; stop up a leak from the garden hose; and sweep water out of any area where landscape drainage pools up. If you live near a body of water or in a humid climate (basically, if you live in an area frequented by mosquitoes), do what you can to screen bugs out of your outdoor space. Start by visiting the Mosquito Curtains website for mosquito netting and curtains, and research bug zappers. They seem to work on many insects, although it's not clear whether they are efficient for mosquito control.
Next, think about how you might introduce a unique feature, such as a water feature, to your porch or balcony to add some ambience. Even a confined area can play host to some sort of water fountain like a standing water wall that's less than 18 inches wide or a recirculating tabletop fountain. The soothing sound of water can mask city noise or simply add a dreamy, relaxing quality to your space. Do some research. You'll find a great deal of portable fountains made from resin and fiberglass on the internet. Be aware that water features can be affected by extreme weather conditions, such as heat and freezing temperatures. Models made of concrete or cast stone are heavier (and therefore present installation challenges), but you may find that they are a better long-term investment. Hire someone knowledgeable to install your fountain if you can't install it yourself. Otherwise you will endure frustration after frustration, and your fountain may not even work properly for a good portion of summer. I personally went through two installers before I found someone who knew what he was doing.
Another popular feature is a fire pit or some other type of heat source. This modern table combines a small, open fire pit with a cocktail table. It's a very space-efficient feature. Be aware of the immediate surroundings when introducing an open-flame device. Make sure you're far enough away from your home, and keep a fire extinguisher nearby. Take note of the typical outdoor weather conditions in order to assess the efficacy of a standing heater or fire pit. My yard is so windy most of the time that an open flame would be too dangerous. If you have safety concerns, consider a portable fireplace with a screen or a chimenea -- two options with more protected flames.
Complete your outdoor design with blooming potted plants. You will likely find that you have to change small pots out numerous times during the summer. Also, the smaller the container, the more often you will need to hand-water the plant. Pot hangers allow you to hang containers off handrails. There are a variety of long, narrow planters that work well when pushed up against a railing, too. A structure, such as a trellis from which you can grow vines, or a patio cover from which you can hang potted plants, is another way to add a lush aesthetic to your outdoor space. An element-resistant area rug will make the space feel more like a room. They can be found at home-improvement stores and discount retailers like Tuesday Morning, TJ Maxx, Marshall's and Ross.
Christine Brun’s column, “Small Spaces,” can be found at creators.com.