80+ Best Outdoor Design Ideas from House & Home
Now that spring has officially sprung, there’s no place we’d rather be than in a sunny, bloom-filled backyard. But after a long winter, not all of our green spaces are looking their best. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to elevate a garden for the warmer months ahead, from small tweaks to big-impact changes. Take your yard from drab to dreamy with 80 outdoor design ideas plucked from the most stunning outdoor spaces in the House & Home archives.
Get grandiose. In designer Sharon Mimran’s backyard, she adds European polish with an ethanol-burning fireplace topped by a weatherproof faux-limestone resin mantel. Two pyramidal evergreens create symmetry. A collection of urns on the table can be easily repositioned or repotted.
Consider the lighting. Oversized coach lanterns are era-appropriate for designer Sharon Mimran’s Victorian house, but an even more charming tone is established by the wrought iron chandelier (hung by a wire over the dining area), outfitted with simple tapers.
Use symmetrical furniture placement. It gives an outdoor arrangement a formal living room feel. This Palm Beach home has the added benefit of a covered pavilion, so the addition of an Oushak rug makes this spot feel extra elevated.
Manicure shrubs. For instant European sophisticated, shape slow-growing boxwood into globe shapes for visual rhythm. Holt Renfrew president Mario Grauso’s Bridgehampton, New York country home combines the formal elegance of an English garden with wilder expanses.
Make an entrance. Planters filled with petunias are pretty, but upping the height of the containers and the scale of the plants (in this case, luscious ferns) creates major drama.
Add a petite pool. A small reflecting pool looks natural in this English garden-inspired backyard. Because the pool is so small it doubles as a hot tub!
Layer up lush pillows and lighting. In the L.A. garden of actress Shay Mitchell, jewel-like metal lanterns dangle from the trees, while the bench is lushly dressed in oversized pillows. Shay was born in Mississauga, Ontario, but judging by her backyard, she’s completely at home with California outdoor living.“I loved all the new seating areas and little details like the pillows on my bench around the table and lanterns,” says Shay.
Double up on seating. In the lounge area, wicker-style lounger chairs and a chic black umbrella conjure up a pool in an exotic locale, while the hanging chair is a coveted accent piece.
Add life with a statement tree. An artful planter in a fresh white shade lends even more impact to the fiddle leaf fig tree. The planter’s composite stone and fiberglass construction makes it lightweight to move around, and drainage holes keep roots from getting waterlogged.
Make comfort a priority: Shay wanted a long table with an organic yet modern feel, and to be able to create an exotic, Moroccan vibe with accents. Synthetic bamboo-frame chairs with brown mesh weave are comfortable for long dinner parties, and can stand up to the elements.
Add glamor with metallics. “I love getting pieces for my house from all of my trips,” says Shay. A glimmering metallic ceramic garden stool that looks like a souk find is a luxe focal point for less.
Stage lanterns strategically. A set of cylindrical filigree lanterns are pretty by day, and look magical lit up at night. A nautical hurricane candle holder is given a glam update with braided gold-tone rope. A chic hamam-style towel can double as a throw.
Make a fire feature the focal point. A fire feature is a natural gathering spot. “I love the teardrop chairs around the fire pit. It’s such a great little nook now for reading or hanging out around the fire,” notes Shay.
Create a green screen. In this B.C. garden, expert gardener Thomas Hobbs preexisting cedars as a backdrop for all-white ‘Blushing Bride’ hydrangeas around the pool. Instead of olive trees, which won’t thrive in the Canadian climate, Thomas potted weeping silver-leafed pear in planters to give the silvery leaves more grandeur.
Create a lush tabletop display. Group together a range of urns and pots — large and small, antique and new — on a garden table to create a layered focal point.
Pick a pretty parterre. Pebble-based parterre gardens are a classic European look, but get creative when it comes to choosing the color to enhance your outdoor spaces. “We used peach shale gravel everywhere, truckloads of it, and had it shipped in from Alberta because the gravel around here is a boring, dreary grey,” says gardener Thomas Hobbs of his own home. “The peach is a warm Provençal color.”
Add mirrors. It’s important to have a shady area in a garden. In this cabana, landscape designer Meredyth Hilton likes to add mirrors to the interior walls of cabana’s to create a sense of movement. The turf around the cabana is artificial, so no grass clippings will blow into the pool.
Lay out graphic tile. Cool blue and white-patterned cement tiles bring geometric interest to stylist Emily Henderson’s patio. An antique French table is the perfect finishing touch.
Go for a pool and a pond. When it comes to outdoor spaces, there’s no such thing as too much tranquility. We love the combination of a moody lily pond with a pristine, stone-trimmed pool.
Add a modern outdoor kitchen. The outdoor kitchen has come a long way; these days, you’ll find clean-lined open storage and eye-catching gooseneck faucets.
Dig sunken garden beds. Try embedded plots, as opposed to opting for the usual raised planters, to prevent dirt and water from running off onto your patio pavers.
Set up a Riviera-style cabana. A classic striped changing tent makes a chic poolside addition. Bonus: It packs neatly away once the weather cools off.
Repurpose a garage. Garages are a resale asset, so we don’t suggest doing away with one entirely, but if you’re one of the urbanites weaned off your wheels by Zipcar, Uber, ride-sharing apps or a bike, why not convert a garage into a lounge you will use every day? In this Toronto backyard, the driveway and garage, which can be closed off thanks to a 20-foot sliding glass accordion door, become usable, picturesque spaces for entertaining and relaxing.
Change levels. Skip a bunch of low flowers for a larger bush with prominent blooms, and draw the eye up with a raised planter for extra impact. In this garden the pretty hydrangea bordered by a boxwood hedge are perennials, so they don’t require replanting in spring.
Use Sunbrella ‘sails’ strategically. Steal a page from stylist Jenn Cranston’s porch on her Lake Simcoe cottage and hang Sunbrella fabric to provide shade and create a breezy atmosphere.
Try a tiki. A classic tiki umbrella can instantly transport a backyard. Keep the tropical vacay vibe going with woven pillows and Moroccan stools.
Design a tiered garden. Channel this stunning, multi-level garden by designers Maxime Vandal and Richard Ouellette, who took their inspiration from Monet’s gardens in Giverny, France.
Build a personal greenhouse. Take a page out of designer Kelly Anderson’s book and put up your own piece of sheltered paradise. (Kelly’s brother, Luke, built this one out of salvaged lumber and reclaimed windows.)
Embrace natural weaves. An easy way to infuse beachy style into your outdoor space is with rattan, wicker and other natural woven pieces. Here, petite rattan tables pair nicely with a planter full of wispy grasses.
Enhance architecture with flowering vines. At designer Sloan Mauran’s bungalow in Florida, the loggia is trained with vines blooming with fuchsia flowers which add incredible color.
Add an outdoor shower. A refreshing addition to a tropical home or lakeside cottage, an outdoor shower is also practical, keeping sand out of living spaces. Add wooden seating and potted plants for a super luxe effect.
Invest in a hotel-worthy loungers. In Olympic champion Eric Lamaze’s Palm Beach home, the woven patio furniture invites ultimate relaxation. For a crisp spa vibe, top with white cushions.
Make room for play. Whether your game is bocce, pétanque or horseshoes, you won’t regret designing a designated games area — especially if you’re a frequent entertainer.
Reconsider the humble picnic table. A long dining table and generous bench seating is ideal for hosting a crowd, and looks boho-cool draped with a few textured throws.
Beautify out buildings. Pretty boat houses and cozy bunkies are magnets for guests at the cottage. Why not kit it them out with a few lush window boxes?
Border flowers with hedges. We love the tailored effect of surrounding abundant hydrangea with a border of crisply trimmed boxwood.
Go big with exotics. You’d never know this cottage was in Ontario and not the tropics, and much of that has to do with the addition of two stately palms, which are more than happy to weather the Canadian summers. Wood decking frames the pool like a boardwalk, and fiberglass sofas add a glam note.
Roll out an all-weather rug. Add graphic pattern and texture to your patio in a flash with durable — and often affordable — polypropylene rugs.
Decorate with warm terracotta. Oversize, earthy vessels are a seamless fit in this Palm Desert, California, outdoor space (but we think they’d look just as warm and sculptural in any yard).
Add layers of lighting. Don’t forget to think about how your outdoor space will appear at night. We love how this garden is peppered with light: a lantern on the table, an illuminated pool, and a small fire pit come together to create an inviting ambience.
Create cozy outdoor “rooms.” Slatted dividing walls create an intimate patio for two in this large city backyard, while letting summer breezes — and garden views — come through.
Showcase architectural salvage. For a romantic, English garden effect in your own backyard, look no further than your local vintage shop for beautifully aged architectural remnants. (We’re especially fond of weathered stone.)
Consider sight lines. Don’t underestimate the power of a strong first impression. Adding an elegant gate and vine-covered trellis will set a refined tone before guests even enter your backyard and draws the eye to the end of the garden.
Cultivate a wall of ivy. Ivy never fails to lend a rich look to outdoor spaces, as demonstrated by the lush wall in René and Priscilla Wikkerink’s garden. Our advice to keep this robust plant under control? Opt for self-clinging ivy (such as Virginia Creeper or the Boston Ivy shown here), encourage it to grow up a fence or trellis (as opposed to a brick wall), and prune it regularly.
Layer your planters. Surround the base of potted trees with cascading wildflowers for a romantic effect. We love how designers Richard Ouellette and Maxime Vandal opted for tiny white blooms to complement this classic panelled planter.
Light stairways and paths the natural way. Lanterns and pillar candles never fail to set the mood at an outdoor dinner party, but they’re also a practical addition where light is lacking. Place a matching pair at the top of a set of stairs for a balanced look.
…or repurpose lanterns as casual vases. Another way to decorate with lanterns is to stuff them with fallen branches or fresh-cut blooms, like landscape designer Meredyth Hilton did in this Toronto garden.
Put up a pretty pergola. Pergolas add shade and architectural interest to a garden without interrupting sight lines. We’re particularly smitten with this arch-shaped design in Colette van den Thillart’s yard.
Build rustic stone walls. Border your flowerbeds with simple rock walls, letting moss, grass and wildflowers — like the pretty malva, calendula and Johnny jump-ups shown here — spill over for maximum charm.
Try an allée. Prefer a more orderly look? Plant a row of trees or allée, a walkway lined with trees or tall shrubs, around your backyard using slim-trunked trees like these lindens in this city backyard.
Set up a fun cut-out for the kids. Delight little ones with a whimsical pirate ship, cottage or castle cut-out. (Just ensure it’s well anchored to stand up to inclement weather.)
Build raised flowerbeds. To get the look of this stunning yard in Vancouver, create a symmetrical arrangement of raised beds, fill them with go-to herbs and vegetables, and lay out paths of fine gravel.
Design a backyard pond. Draw inspiration from artist Bobbie Burgers’ coastal backyard, which is set off by a long, shallow reflecting pool. Wispy grasses and plantings enhance its serene look.
…or install a tranquil water feature. A miniature waterfall brings a spa-like feel to landscape designers Brad and Meredyth Hilton’s urban garden, while small ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood hedges soften all the hardscaping.
Give side paths their due. Don’t neglect walkways along the side of your home; dressing them up them with pretty shrubbery, flowers and flagstone will make your landscaping look complete.
Make room for al fresco dining. H&H alum Michael Penney set the stage for casual summer meals in his Oshawa, Ontario, yard with a turned-leg table and wicker chairs. Pick a shady spot, like this one, to guarantee your own setup gets the most use.
Fill a bed with one type of flower. Want to make a statement — without all the pruning and fuss? Plant several specimens of one kind of flowering shrub, like fluffy hydrangea, and let the blooms grow wild.
…or feature variations of the same bloom. Plant rows containing different species of a single kind of flowering plant, like roses, to mimic the tidy aesthetic of botanical gardens.
Channel traditional Japanese gardens. Homeowners Troy and Michelle Miller created a calming refuge in their Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, backyard, with Japanese juniper, mini dogwood bonsai and carefully-raked gravel paths.
Embrace the charm of patina. For a rustic, laid-back look, leave your wooden bistro chairs, stone walls and terracotta pots open to the elements so they weather over time. We love how everything in this English-style garden looks as if it’s been there forever.
Incorporate weathering steel. Another way to embrace the beauty of aging materials is by building with corten steel. Here, landscape designer Kim Price used it to create a modern planter box that will look better with every passing season.
Stagger your garden path. Add a meandering walkway to your garden, laying stone or pavers in an off-kilter pattern, for a welcome dose of romance.
Use grasses as breezy dividers. Plant fine reeds or grasses in movable planter boxes to create separation or define zones in your yard, like designer Allison Willson did at her dreamy cottage.
Build a planter-meets-banquette. H&H Creative Services director Lisa Murphy can easily host a crowd in her backyard thanks to a long dining table and handy banquette that features a clever, built-in planter box.
Shape some sculptural topiaries. If you have a knack for pruning, why not create some eye-catching topiaries? The spherical shrubs in this French-inspired garden make a handsome statement.
Install a showpiece fountain. There’s no doubt that a backyard fountain like this one is an extravagant addition, but if you’ve got the room in your garden and your budget, we say go for it!
Repeat shapes. For a unique look, trim climbing plants — like these elegant ‘New Dawn’ rose bushes — so that they seem to “fit” inside arches or other designs in your home’s brickwork.
Upgrade your pool gate. Fencing off your pool area is always recommended, especially if you have little ones around, but this doesn’t mean you have to put up an unsightly metal barricade. Here, a design featuring latticework and pilasters turns a safety feature into a focal point.
Add hardy concrete seating. Poured-concrete seating is a smart addition to an outdoor space, since it will stand up to the elements and develop a nice patina. Top the hard-wearing frames with indoor-outdoor cushions to soften their hard lines.
Build designated zones. Homeowners Arren Williams and David Pimentel’s backyard is perfect for outdoor entertaining, with a series of “rooms” for cooking, dining and just hanging out. Colorful accents make the spaces even more inviting.
Mix up your planter styles. To lend your patio a decorated look, take your cue from designers Richard Ouellette and Maxime Vandal, who mixed aged planters with classic blue and white ginger jars (keep an eye out for the latter at vintage shops and flea markets).
…and your planter sizes! Combine oversized planter boxes with petite earthenware pots to create a layered, garden-like effect on a patio.
Embrace the unexpected. A man-made water feature makes this urban green space truly memorable. Tree branches hang over the water, creating stunning reflections on the water’s surface.
Break up expanses of stone with flowerbeds. Thin stone paths and curvy flowerbeds lend retailer Viola Jull’s Prince Edward County, Ontario, backyard patio plenty of visual interest.
Conceal unsightly A/C units. We love how designer Sarah Hartill built simple slatted walls to hide the air conditioning unit in her front garden. Painting the slats a similar tone as her siding helps them blend in with the exterior.
Think about movement. If your outdoor space is on a body of water or bluff (lucky you!) plant tough species of grasses and trees that look better a little windswept. Take inspiration from this stunning landscaping design by the team at Joel Loblaw Inc.
Design architectural dividers. If you prefer your landscaping on the contemporary side, build concrete half-walls to define your green space, like the ones in the front yard of this modern home.
Lay out a stone patio. Add a river-rock terrace to your outdoor space if rustic is more your style, like this gorgeous patio in Germany.
Invest in an outdoor fireplace. You won’t regret adding a cozy hearth to your garden if you love to spend evenings outdoors. We love this mod fireplace in Sarah and Murray Bancroft’s Palm Springs backyard.
No grass? Line up planter boxes. Designer Mazen El-Abdallah set modern planters end-to-end along the back wall of his city patio to create a wall of greenery. Overflowing planters add to the lush effect.
No backyard? Create an urban green space. H&H’s Joel Bray added a trellis, pretty patio furniture, a pair of cedar trees and plenty of potted plants to his city deck to establish a private, garden-like feel.
Have more land than you know what to do with? Go all out. If you’re fortunate enough to have a large rural plot, we say plant en masse! Cultivate a field of bee-friendly wildflowers or add a few rows of fragrant lavender. Dreamy!