Decorating & Design

March 12, 2009

Designing Outdoor Living Spaces

Enhance your outdoor living area with seating, lighting and architecture.

A good deck plan should encompass privacy, shaded areas and how the deck will look when lit at night.

In this article:


Whenever possible, try to create several seating areas instead of one large area to create the feel of a more expansive deck or patio. Carve out seating with built-in wood benches or use low rock walls as seats simply by placing cushions along the top.

Where budget is at a minimum, stick to free-standing furniture. If space allows, purchase an inexpensive, small bistro table and two chairs in addition to a larger outdoor dining table and chairs to create two sitting areas.

Large pillows covered in natural woven material or Sunbrella fabric can be used right on the deck as floor pillows or let the stairs do double-duty as makeshift seating, with or without decorative pillows.

Tip: Consider using mirrors when decorating your outdoor space — they visually expand any space and when placed outdoors, reflect natural light and greenery.


Perhaps more important in a city garden than on acreage in the country, privacy is one of the elements that will make your deck feel more like a retreat.

Fences needn’t be the only privacy solution: Create subtle barriers with architecturally interesting wood fences or use trellises covered with climbing clematis or grapevine or even a neatly trimmed low hedge for privacy. Folding screens in bamboo, metal or wood installed in strategic locations will offer privacy and add visual interest.

Make sure the privacy barrier you choose suits the style of house as well as the look of the deck or patio. A wood fence will look much richer if painted the same as the house or trim and detailed with moulding.


While we all enjoy warm sunny days, the option of taking refuge from the sun is a must on a well-planned terrace. Whether you use simple umbrellas, install awnings or build a gazebo or pergolas for filtered shade, offer yourself at least one area that can become or remains shaded. Make sure to notice the direction in which your deck faces and how the sun hits the deck throughout the day so you can plan the proper type of shade. If your deck faces south or gets sun most of the day, you might want a more permanent type of shade, like an awning or roofed pergola. Always try to create a tranquil, shaded spot under which to read, relax or dine.


Too often an afterthought, good outdoor lighting can help make your deck usable at night as well as during the day.

Install lights near the door leading from the house to the deck or terrace as well as lighting to illuminate any existing path in your yard.

From vintage-looking carriage lanterns to contemporary glowing spheres, there is a wide variety of styles available; choose a type of fixture that suits the style of your house.

“Washing” the sides of the patio with flood lights installed on the ground will make it seem to float when lit.

Spot lights disguised as rocks can be subtle additions to the garden, to make the yard glow at night or to highlight a bench or path.

Finish off the lighting with more subtle touches, like hanging candle lanterns over an outdoor table for a soft ambient glow. Hurricane table lanterns, paper lanterns and string lights all lend night-time sparkle.


Architectural elements on a deck can add impact to your outdoor space. A screened-in gazebo offers shade and protection from bugs and acts as a focal point.

Pergolas and arbours offer instant interest on a terrace and can be used as a “doorway” to the outdoor living space or as an inviting spot under which to relax. Add colourful climbing plants to pergolas, arbours or fences with varying heights and texture.

Large wood or metal planters add structural interest to a space and can be used as dividers, helping to define areas for lounging, dining or cooking. A series placed along steps can create a stylish, finished look.

Get more outdoor living and gardening inspiration in our guide.