The end of summer draws near. And how did you use your backyard? Did you only sit on the patio, within mere feet of the screen door (and practically within reach of the refrigerator), ignoring some of your home's most valuable real estate? Maybe you didn't realize that neglected corner could become a shady spot for reading and sipping sangria, or that your deck could be a chic gathering space for two or 20. We turned to the landscape designer Judy Kameon, and her work on Susan and Tim Anderson's Los Angeles backyard, to see the best ways to turn your garden into an outdoor version of your home, with separate zones for eating, lounging, napping — and dreaming.
1. Love your outdoor living room
Pull up a chair — or a sofa or bench. Comfortable furniture invites lounging and lingering. The Andersons have a cushion-covered banquette that is actually made of plastered concrete, and it helps define the corner of their backyard. (If concrete is a little too permanent or imposing, try low sofas instead.) Lightweight butterfly chairs are easy to move around as more people join the conversation, and lanterns and throw pillows add punches of color. Tall, sculptural plants such as giant birds-of-paradise and spiky brown cordylines create a wall of sorts, giving the corner an intimate feel.
2. Make it lush
Create a green welcome with simple plant solutions like ficus. Fast-growing vines such as these will quickly cloak walls. At the Andersons', they help soften a rustic wooden gate at the entrance to their small front garden.
3. Create a conversation pit
Don't scrimp on dimensions in the great outdoors. Extra-wide seat cushions allow for plenty of room for casual groups, as well as a serving surface for a tray of appetizers. (Choose outdoor fabric, and spills will wipe off easily with water.)
4. Embrace the bench
Declutter a small patio by switching out a cluster of chairs for modern, comfortable benches upholstered in outdoor fabric. Instead of bringing in bouquets for dinner parties, try a potted plant as a permanent centerpiece.
5. Find a hideaway
A shady green part of the Andersons' garden seems a world away even though it's really just a few steps from the kitchen and all the hubbub of the backyard play area.
6. Define your palette
Develop a distinctive mix of colors and patterns that marries outdoor upholstery, throw pillows and ceramic tiles to play off what's happening in the flower beds.
7. Create a dream spot
Place a comfortable daybed on the patio, instead of an ordinary and expected chaise longue. An outdoor rug will help define the parameters of the “room" and soften stone or concrete underfoot. A ceramic stool can serve as a handy side table — and do double duty as an extra seat when you're entertaining.
8. Turn up the heat
A fire pit is a focal point for a seating area — plus, it extends the outdoor entertaining season beyond the warmth of summer. The Andersons' model has a gas hookup that can be easily switched on with a key (hidden from the kids), but a wood fire in a concrete vessel also works.
9. Focus on the foliage
Emphasize rich brown, gray and silver leaves rather than flowers, which can come and go quickly in the garden. Informal flower beds can be anchored with a larger sculptural plant such as blue agave, and a grouping of other colorful drought-tolerant succulents.
10. Gain some party space
When topped with cushions, a low wall adds valuable space for extra seating for a larger gathering.
11. Dare to go pale
Light-colored fabric can be tricky to keep clean outdoors. Look for cotton canvas covers that can go right in the laundry or be folded up and stored indoors when not in use.
12. Maximize tight spots
Don't let hard-to-use spaces like a narrow sliver between the end of the pool and a sunken utility area go to waste. Use one space-saving double chaise instead of two separate ones, and arrange decorative stools (which can be used as side tables) in the same symmetrical way you would in your living room. Hang electric lanterns from a large tree to complete the feeling of a stylish outdoor room that's cool and shady during the day and romantically secluded at night.