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6 Creative Ways to Upgrade Your Outdoor Space

In the dog days of summer, it’s more than tempting to hide out in the comfort of your air-conditioned living room — especially when the alternative is a tired bistro set on a hot, buggy patio. Don’t blame the great outdoors: All too often, we neglect to treat our outdoor spaces to the same thoughtful space-planning we give our indoor rooms. But with a few key pieces and smart decorating strategies, it’s simple to transform a dreary deck or porch into a sun-dappled summer oasis.

Whether you have a tiny apartment balcony or a full size wrap-around porch, Joss + Main‘s style director Donna Garlough offered us her favorite ideas for turning an outdoor space into a refreshing retreat.

1. Use Your Green Thumb: Plants may be the simplest way to enliven an outdoor space. Whether hung from above or lining the edges of a balcony, potted flowers and foliage add color, shade and fragrance. And there’s endless variety, from small annual blooms to an assortment of culinary herbs or large potted palms. Whatever your fancy, choose carefully. Think about the color palette you’re trying to create, the scale of the plants (especially if you’re looking to create shade) and their daily sun and water requirements. Choose containers that complement the style of your outdoor furnishings, from rustic clay pots to sleek modern planters. And don’t forget about the tabletop: A row of drought-tolerant succulents make a nearly maintenance-free summer centerpiece.

2. Invest in Durable Decor: Being outdoors doesn’t have to feel like camping. The same rules of indoor décor apply: Chairs should be comfortable, rugs help define the space and pillows add loads of visual interest without a lot of expense. Just make sure any products you bring in are weather-resistant and easy to maintain. Many retailers now offer chic patterned indoor/outdoor rugs made of polypropylene or recycled and synthetic fibers, fade-resistant outdoor pillows that stand up to dew and dirt and cushy “all-weather wicker” sofas and sectionals that look like indoor conversation sets. Plush pieces may need to be covered or brought inside in extreme weather, but don’t worry too much if they get a little dirty: Most can be wiped clean and are quick to dry out.

3. Keep Bugs at Bay: No, you don’t need a noisy (and unpalatable) bug zapper or a fog of repellent to keep mosquitoes and biting flies from ruining your alfresco occasions. Citronella- and rosemary-infused candles can keep pests away while adding a romantic, flickering light. Certain plants like lemongrass and marigold flowers can also deter insects when placed around the perimeter of your space.

4. Bring in Breezes and Blankets: A portable fan can offer relief on hot days, and lightweight blankets can help prolong evening festivities on chilly nights. Keep these items in close reach, perhaps in a storage ottoman or cabinet just inside the patio door.

5. Privacy, Please: Whether you’re catching some rays or catching up with friends, it’s nice to have a little privacy from neighbors and passersby. Try hanging an outdoor curtain for a cabana-like feel in a small space, or set up a decorative lattice where climbing plants and vines can shield you from prying eyes. (Hint: Morning glories grow incredibly quickly and produce stunning blooms.)

6. Two Words: Garden Stool: This little piece of furniture deserves its very own section because of its versatility and ability to transform your outdoor space. It can serve as a side table for a white-wine spritzer or a tray of hors d’oeuvres, a place to elevate a planted pot, an extra seat or simply as a decorative piece. Garden stools come in a wide array of sculptural, openwork and ornately detailed designs — in finishes ranging from glossy and colorful to textured and antiqued. And when alfresco-entertaining season comes to a close, you can use them to bring a little bit of garden charm to your indoor spaces as well.

What tips are you going to incorporate into your outdoor space? Let us know in the comments below!