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Create a Great (Back Yard) Escape

That Caribbean vacation you’ve been dreaming of might be on hold - indefinitely. (We all can dream.) And the family beach vacation might be out of reach this year, or seem like a frivolous expense. But investing in your own great outdoors, and creating a living space that feels like a resort escape, will provide a “vacation” from life’s hubbub every time you leave your back door.

Sound like a better way to invest those dollars saved? That’s certainly the case when you consider that consumers value a landscaped home up to 11.3 percent higher than its base price, according to a study by Clemson University and University of Michigan. Smart Money magazine says consumers who spend 5 percent of the value of their home on landscaping can expect a 15-percent or more return to its value.

The problem is, many times the outdoor space is forgotten in the midst of interior renovations, says Joel Bertet, who owns Los Angeles-based Maison Bertet with his wife, Sophie. They design the furniture sold to multi-million dollar estates. Turns out, leaving the outdoor space until last is a universal trend.
“It’s an afterthought,” Bertet says, advising that homeowners plan this space as they would any other room.
“It’s another room that people don’t always think about furnishing, and it’s generally on the main level,” says Pam Faulkner, designer/owner of Faulkner House in Oak Hill, Va. Why not capitalize on this space and give it
indoor-quality creature comforts - cozy sofas, luxe loungers, bistro tables and barstools for entertaining, a cooking space equipped for a real outdoor chef. And you don’t need to out-spend your budget to get a great return.

“You can work with what you already have, always keeping the style comfortable and in tune with your lifestyle,” says Courtney Cachet, a New York-based designer and TV personality. “Start by being aware of your surroundings and approaching this with a realistic mindset.” 

Before you run out and buy patio furniture, consider the “big plan,” Bertet emphasizes, suggesting homeowners ask themselves these questions: How do you really spend time outdoors? Do you entertain? How many guests do
you typically invite to gatherings? Do you have children or pets? What is a typical weekend like at home? (What do imagine your weekends would be like if you only had the perfect outdoor space?) Now, let’s transform that backyard space into a true escape that will accommodate the whole family!

WHAT’S IN IS OUT. “The transition between indoors and outdoors used to be very distinctive,” Faulkner says,
noting that today’s patio furniture is more substantial. “Now, the lines are more blurred. People are willing
to put money into the styles because sometimes, they bring the furniture indoors in the off-season.”
And even if that furniture will stay planted on the patio, or be sheltered in a garage or storage space during
winter, homeowners are tending toward cushy comfort that makes an outdoor space feel every bit as welcoming as a family room. 

Faulkner is even seeing outdoor beds with curtains that shield the sun. “People like the look - it’s exotic,” she says. Some configurations of this design include two loungers with serpentinecurved backs that are attached at the “hip” to form a queen-size chaise. Adding a canopy provides privacy and gives a four-poster-bed feel to 
the look, which is appealing to those who wish to take a plein air siesta or soak up some rays.

The same coffee-table arrangement in the living room can be accomplished outdoors by creating “conversation
zones” with small tables and chairs. This setup might be a sidebar to the main dining table, or replace the
traditional round all together. Faulkner is seeing sectionals that pull apart into individual chaises that can be easily moved around the patio for convenience.

And many times these outdoor rooms are anchored with a rug that can withstand what the weather throws at it. Materials like sisal and bamboo are low-maintenance and won’t mold. Cachet finds these floor pieces at popular home stores.

FURNISHING AN OUTDOOR ROOM. There’s no hard-fast rule stating you must anchor your patio look with a big, ol’ table and matching chairs. “Form follows function,” Faulkner says, emphasizing that homeowners should identify
how they really use the space rather than how they think they are supposed to spend time outdoors.

Do you really like to eat meals outside? If so, a hip communal table and bench seating or extravagant dining-size table and chair set will suit your lifestyle. If you find yourself taking that plate indoors to eat (avoiding bugs, heat, sun), then consider creating eating hubs with smaller tables and chairs, or bistro-height rounds and barstools  
that are conducive to entertaining - and snacking, not dining.

“People think they have to have a table with six chairs and that’s great, depending on how you entertain,” Faulkner says. “If your family eats a quick meal and moves on, then a table and chairs might not be what you want.”
No matter what you decide, consider these basics before buying patio furniture: your climate, available storage space, ease of cleaning and versatility.

Cachet remarks on how many people mistakenly purchase metal furniture for a patio that gets full sun in a hot climate. “They can’t understand why they burn their fingers and the backs of their legs,” she says.

Decide whether storing furniture is necessary in your region, and if so, how much space do you have to stow away patio pieces? Can you take some furniture indoors - and would you want to do that every winter?

UPDATE AND ACCESSORIZE. You don’t need a big budget to change the look and feel of your backyard space. The key to transforming a blah patio into a retreat is to accessorize - and, again, think “indoors.” Toss some color into your brown-black furniture palette with throw pillows, Bertet suggests.

The newest PVC weaves that are UVresistant and weather-ready come in vibrant colors, textures and patterns. “Different thicknesses and weights and patterns are an exciting way to take a very standard, square sofa for an outdoor space and make it very exciting and nice,” he says.

Funky baskets filled with colorful towels add a splash of color to complement outdoor planters. Bring out candles, add placemats, treat a potted plant as a coffee-table arrangement. Shield the sun with market umbrellas that conveniently move, Cachet says.

If a subtle, earthen look is more your style, embrace the bevy of eco-friendly products available on the market today. Or go chic-rustic and add a bench that the kids will love. You can take on these improvements gradually - take your time, but work from a plan.
“Get your  ideas on paper,” Bertet says, “and have a good, overall view of what you need to accomplish, keeping in mind friends, family, kids and pets.”