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The Great Outdoors

Martha Stewart Living

Late August always has me dreaming of the cooler fall weather to come. By now I've had my fill of long, lazy, sweltering summer days (and nights) and long for the crispness of fall and the holidays to come. Unlike many areas of the country, Houston's best weather is from October through April, and it's during those months that you can find Houstonians enjoying their patios, backyards, and the Great Outdoors generally. For the majority of you though, I imagine that the end of August heralds the end, rather than the beginning, of spending time outdoors. And so, as we all look ahead to the changing seasons, I thought I'd share with you a few of my all-time favorite outdoor spaces.

Kristen Hutchins

Of course a covered porch is almost essential to any great outdoor space (unless, I suppose, you happen to live in Southern California or another location that rarely rains and rarely gets too hot). The gray ikat print is such a wonderful choice for an outdoor space; it's a very "of the moment" and unexpected choice from the ever-popular nature motifs or solids. Gauzy white drapes soften the lines of the porch but also provide essential shade or shelter should the weather shift unexpectedly. And, of course, I love the delicate white lantern.

Amanda Nisbet

A purple ceiling is an unexpected (but brilliant) way to add color to a patio space where painting walls really isn't an option. A classic choice is sky blue, but I'd love to follow Amanda's daring lead and go with a more saturated color that really pops.

Mary McDonald

I love stripes for the backyard -- they're just a classic. For a modern take though, why not try an unexpected color combination as Mary McD. did here with the black and white? A monochromatic palette -- even outdoors -- makes a strong, modern statement. Note too how Mary fearlessly applied the stripes to the walls as well. If you're a bit concerned about permanently altering your home's facade, a similar look could be achieved by using outdoor drapes along the back wall for a cozy, tented look.

domino, May 2006

Another example of some truly fantastic drapes in an outdoor patio. I also love how the floor is a sleek, smooth white. A thoroughly modern touch that really highlights the wonderful blue and white patterns used in this space.

Kristen Panitch

Outdoor fireplaces are a personal favorite of mine as they add such a wonderful touch of ambiance and coziness to any outdoor room. And of course, they serve a practical purpose as well as they can extend your enjoyment of your outdoor space far beyond balmy summer nights. A stone fireplace can bring a wonderful, old world vibe to your outdoor space -- and definitely increases the "indoors/outdoors" feeling. A mantle encourages seasonal decorating.

Bonesteel Trout Hall

Although this backyard is in California, it reminds me so much of the type of yard you'd find in upscale neighborhoods in central Texas -- well, anywhere in Texas, really -- as it typifies the "Hillcountry Look" that many of my fellow Texans are so enamored with. Not that I'd turn this place down myself, mind you. I absolutely love the daybed tucked away at the side of the patio. With a rug underfoot it looks positively perfect for one of my favorite indulgences: weekend afternoon naps.

domino, June/July 2008

If your tastes are more modern, a clean-lined fire bowl that uses ethanol in lieu of wood is a great (and eco-friendly option).

I know that many folks, especially in larger urban centers, do not have the luxury of large outdoors spaces. But that doesn't mean that you can't maximize the usefulness and style of what small patch of earth (or patio or balcony) that you do have. And, on the plus side, smaller spaces allow for more luxurious touches that, due to their size, won't break the bank. Our old town home near downtown Houston had only a small 10 x 10 yard to work with so, trust me, I've been there.

domino, ca. 2007

The shape/size of this yard reminds me so much of our backyard at our old place. Love the horizontal wood fence at the back (which somehow feels far more modern than a vertical fence) and the white shed that doubles as a place house. This is just the kind of small yard that manages to live very large.

Maybe it's just the gorgeous light here or the very tall french doors, but there's just something so irresistibly romantic and European about this small patio. It's just the kind of place that I would love to enjoy a cappuccino and paper on a leisurely Sunday morning.

Stephen Shubel

I absolutely adore the neatness of boxwoods and clever Stephen Shubel managed to make these ordinarily high maintenance plants maintenance-free by selecting high quality plastic ones. A great idea if you (like me) have more of a black thumb than a green one (or just happen to travel a lot).

Ty Larkins

I love an ivy covered wall, especially when it's well trimmed and maintained. It adds a layer of softness that's so often necessary amongst all the hardscape.

T. Keller Donovan

Even if you only have a small balcony, you can still create a stunning outdoor space with the addition of a narrow (but plush) window bench, small table and a few small stools that can double as extra seating in a pinch. Even outdoors, I love a blue and white palette, which when done with an inky blue feels so wonderfully Greek to me. Even though this balcony overlooks South Beach, it feels like it would be even more at home overlooking the Mediterranean...and thus the transportive power of design, yes?

* * *

During the past few months, we've been planning (and now finally implementing) our own outdoor paradise as we attempt to transform our formerly barren expanse of grass (or what I liked to call the soccer field) into a beautiful and useful outdoor space. Since the summertime is not a good time for planting here in Houston, we spent the hottest months of the year installing the hardscape.

Not only did we brick in the existing covered patio, but we extended the patio out another 25 feet or so. On top of a portion of the patio extension, we'll be erecting a 12' x 12' pergola to provide some much needed shade for what will become our outdoor dining room. Our landscaper will be back in a few weeks to complete the pergola, but you can get a sense of its size and scale from the four posts that are now cemented into the ground. We've run electricity out from the house so that we'll be able to install lighting and a fan: essential for long dinners extending well into the night.

Beyond the pergola, we've installed a fire pit, which was at the top of Dave's wish list. I'm hoping to construct a tabletop for it so when the pit is not in use, it can double as an extra table. I look forward to throwing a party later this fall where we can try it out, but for now, it's nice to just have something to look at beyond the kitchen window besides weeds.

Finally, we've installed some crushed granite beds that will hold some large decorative pots for plantings. We'll also be putting in flower beds along the fences once the weather cools off as well as adding some screens along the back to break up the expanse of red brick (which doesn't match our brick at all). I promise to show some pictures once we start up again later next month.

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