Intentional planning pays off come fall.

This socially distant summer has us putting flight refunds toward casual spruce-ups and full-scale overhauls of our outdoor spaces, all in the name of (low-key) entertaining or homebound happy hour—for one. Landscape architect Michal Lehmann of Seattle’s Cambium Inc. breaks down the particulars of designing a patio to be used well past Labor Day, from furniture placement and picking a fire pit to answering the age-old question: How many string lights is too many string lights?


Weather Be Damned

In matters of patio furniture, style might be subjective, but comfort is not. Cushions are key for cozying up outside—Sunbrella offers water-resistant options that can withstand Northwest elements through a handful of seasons (consider a cover or bring them inside in the event of a downpour). Neutrals are great and all, but a pop of color can brighten up a gray day or carry your interior palette outdoors. In a larger area, a longer sofa with a few lounge chairs is a good bet, says Lehmann. But if you’re working with less space, go with a few individual chairs or a love seat. Tropical woods like teak are worth the investment, but will require some TLC in the form of sanding and staining every other year if you're looking to maintain the color and longevity. 


Leave a Light On

Okay, maybe a few. But not too many. “Cafe lights are a great way to define a social space, but you want to avoid the airport runway look,” says Lehmann. Consider illuminating key circulation routes or trickier spots to navigate. Strategically placed uplights ensure you don’t sprain an ankle and add a subtle glow to walking paths. If you’re looking to go more high-tech than a timer, a smart controller connected to your phone allows you to control each individual light.


Bring the Heat

A steel or powder-coated fire pit can serve as a visual draw and a natural spot to socialize; if you’re deciding between wood or gas, try an inexpensive wood burning version first. You’ll also want to test out locations—wood packs more charm, but don’t forget about the smoke that can waft inside when the wind changes. Placing the fire pit farther from the house, says Lehmann, keeps smoke at bay and casts it as a destination. For small yards or spaces closer to the house, natural gas or propane might be a better fit (they can also be used during state or local burn bans). 


Plant Swap

Using planter boxes or ceramic pots adds another layer to your design and makes it easy to trade summer blooms for fall seasonals (think mums, kale, ornamental chards, or cabbage). For less maintenance, surround a focal plant with hardy perennials and fill in gaps with annual plants, 0r pick flora that’s still aesthetically pleasing when dormant. “I don’t mind seeing seed heads or leaves turning on black-eyed Susans or grasses. It speaks to a seasonality that evergreens don’t,” says Lehmann. If you have a veggie garden, plant a winter cover crop like clover or fava beans.

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