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Cover story: ‘Decorating’ patio with simple, inexpensive ideas

- - Thursday, July 5, 2012

Now that the summer season is in full swing, you may be noticing your outdoor space leaves something to be desired. Not that a deck, patio or balcony isn't good enough all by itself when the weather cooperates, but sometimes it's nice to add a little pizazz to your patio.

Try these suggestions for ways to spruce up your space without cutting into your vacation budget.

While adding some bling in the form of decorative items can be fun, Dan Hastings, president of Mr. Handyman in Gaithersburg, suggested starting with something a little more mundane: a good cleaning.

"You should power-wash your deck, stone patio or brick patio about every two years," Mr. Hastings said. "In between, you should hose off your deck or patio to make sure dirt and debris doesn't collect and cause damage. You should also inspect your deck every year for loose or rotted boards that may need replacing."

Mr. Hastings recommended staining your deck and sanding it seasonally to maintain a refinished look.

When you inspect your patio, deck or balcony, you also should check the trim around your doors and windows to see if they need painting. Replacing a sliding glass door or upgrading your patio access could cost $2,000 or more and might require a professional, but you always can improve the look of your current doorway with a thorough cleaning, new paint and perhaps new doorknobs and hinges.

Once you've done the mundane tasks of sprucing up your space, you can turn your attention to adding some fun to the area.

Liz Levin, owner of Liz Levin Interiors in the District, suggested, "Paint your porch with porch paint and stencil a pattern, or try an outdoor rug that can be hosed clean. An outdoor rug can cover a less-than-stellar floor or patio, adds color and a coordinated look if you choose one that complements some new outdoor pillows."

Lisa Adams, owner of Adams Design in the District, said an outdoor rug can unify an area and make it more intimate.

"You can also use a tablecloth to create a floor space and add big new pillows for comfortable seating," Ms. Adams said.

One trend interior designers notice is the increasing impulse to decorate outdoor spaces as if they were indoor spaces.

"It's always a surprise, as a temporary measure, to bring indoor pieces outside," Ms. Adams said. "Bring out an Oriental rug, a table lamp, a fan and some ornate chairs. The unexpected use of indoor furniture adds to the excitement of the event."

Ms. Levin said homeowners can coordinate throw pillows and planters.

"You can fill odd corners and funky places with groupings of planters and flowers in the same hue and varying heights," Ms. Levin said. "Hibiscus are tall and colorful, impatiens are low and easy to grow in shade. I like to use some perennials that come back easily year after year, like hosta, clematis and hydrangea."

Kelley Proxmire, principal of Kelley Interior Design in Bethesda, suggested grouping potted plants of different sizes to add interest to your patio or deck, particularly in trios.

"Hanging baskets of flowers, herb pots and wall art created of greens all augment the outside, providing scents, color and sustenance," Ms. Adams said.

Ms. Levin said she redefined the outdoor space in an old row house by cutting "windows" in the fence.

"The 'windows' let in air and rooftop views, and then I added greenery by hanging baskets of flowers in them," Ms. Levin said. "This really opened up the narrow patio and felt lush."

Mr. Hastings suggested adding a pergola over a deck or patio for shade and an extra space to hang baskets of plants. He also recommended placing potted plants around the perimeter of a deck or patio to soften the edge of the space.

"If there's a garden fence or wall on which to hang a mirror, this makes a fantastic statement in your backyard," Ms. Proxmire said.

Fire and water can add excitement to even a small outdoor space without the expense of building an outdoor fireplace or a waterfall.

"You can buy a prefabricated fire pit to add warmth to your patio and to use the space, even on cooler evenings," Mr. Hastings said. "Another option is to buy a small wall-mounted or corner fountain. They start at $200 or so and are usually easy to install."

Ms. Adams said a small tabletop fountain offers another option for adding a water feature.

"Candles help give off diffuse light for evening entertaining," she said. "String lights are also attractive and distracting. You can use them to highlight elements you wish to attract attention to and use them to distract from areas you are trying to hide. Both candles and string lights add a festive air to your outdoors."

Ms. Proxmire said colored candles in glass hurricane lamps liven up and change the tablescape in a backyard.

"You can also place a large lantern on the ground next to a casual seating area or on a small tabletop next to the chairs," she said.

Ms. Levin suggested mixing votives and larger candles in the backyard along with strings of inexpensive globe lights.

Mr. Hastings also recommended using inexpensive lighting to add evening drama to your outdoor space.

"You can find solar post lanterns in different varieties and styles, including some that fit directly on your deck posts for $20 or $30 each," Mr. Hastings said. "Low-voltage accent lighting is available online or at home improvement stores at a low cost and can give you a nice evening view of your yard, even when you are inside."

While good lighting, water and perhaps a cozy fire are all good elements to have in an outdoor space, Ms. Levin also suggested adding outdoor speakers for your music. She said Brookstone has outdoor speakers with blue ambient light.

Ms. Adams suggested adding a spontaneous touch to your backyard entertaining this summer with the addition of paper pleated fans on the table for guests, a picnic basket or even towels for seating and picnicking off benches.

Adding a bit of excitement to your deck or patio should be just like summer entertaining: easy and casual.