8 Outdoor Essentials to Make Your Backyard Feel Like a Living Room

Why should inside get all the attention?

April  6, 2021

Can you feel it? Can you feel the creeping warmth of summer settling in? The sun lasts until 7 p.m. now, and cracking the window open at night doesn’t offer the same numbing quality as it once did. If you’re one of the lucky ones with an outdoor space to set up for the season, it’s finally time to start thinking about filling it out.

Now, we spend a lot of time deliberating over how to best reflect ourselves in our homes, but what about our outdoor spaces? While you certainly could create a perfectly functional outdoor setup with some cobbled-together items, we propose looking at it through the lens of designing a living room. And just like a living room, any truly cohesive outdoor “room” contains a specific group of items that make it feel cozy and lived-in. Would you design a living room without a couch? A few mood lighting options? Without a rug? We think not, so we sought out some help determining the core pieces needed for a backyard oasis.

And who better to turn to for advice and inspiration than Justina Blakeney, founder of the brand and blog, Jungalow? Justina‘s style is admittedly more boho than modern, more maximal than minimal, more abundant than restrained, but with these qualities, she’s crafted some pretty amazing outdoor living spaces, full of plants, and full of life. “I believe that good design increases quality of life,” she’s written. “I believe in vintage, organic and handmade. I believe in the healing power of plants, good light and fresh air.” Well, so do we.

We spoke to Justina about the top eight essential outdoor pieces to create a truly magical place to gather this year, so go ahead and get started.

1. Ground the Space with an Outdoor Rug

Rugs: they’re not just for inside spaces. “A rug can work some serious magic in any outdoor area,” says Justina. “It can anchor and define the space, add color, and give your feet a softer surface to walk across. You can even try layering rugs to for a more eclectic and collected look. Vintage kilims or round jute rugs are great for adding in texture and global vibes.”

2. Add Ambience with Lighting

“Dining al fresco is one of my favorite activities,” she says, and you know we agree. “In our backyard, we have soft ambient lighting coming from our market lights and our rattan pendant light. If you're into statement lighting, try a Moroccan lantern with a pierced metal pattern that will cast pretty shadows and mimic the stars in the night sky.”

3. Add Polish with an Outdoor Tablecloth

Most outdoor tables have weathered their fair share of the elements, leaving them worn or unpleasantly rusty. If shabby chic is your thing, skip this one; for everyone else, get yourself a tablecloth. “I love bringing bright, bold textiles into every space I design. An outdoor space deserves the same love,” says Justina. “A vintage textile, such as a suzani or mud cloth, makes a great tablecloth. Adorn your outdoor dining table with a textile to really make the space feel warm and inviting.”

4. Plant Plants for...Everything

Plants were meant to be outside (that’s where they come from, after all). “I'm all about bringing the outdoors in with my use of indoor plants in home decor,” says Justina. “but this maximalista isn't going to pass up a plant on plant opportunity. Depending on your climate, you can find a few good outdoor plants (succulents love the Los Angeles sun!), pop them into macrame or rattan hanging planters or planters with feet that provide some room for drainage and dot the space with plants to bring it to life.” Whether in pots or boxes or planted directly into the ground, plants can be used to cover unsightly fences, add a contained feeling to a space, perfume the air if you’re growing aromatic herbs, and add color to any drab spots.

5. Gather Round the Fire for Cozy Camaraderie

Ending an evening around a fire just feels so good: the light, the heat, the smell. “A fire pit is usually the center of any outdoor space at night,” Justina says. “It's a great way to get everyone together, cozy up under a blanket if the weather is brisk, and get your s’mores on. There are lots of affordable portable fire pits available if you don't feel like messing with propane.” Oh, let’s have just one more round...

6. Welcome Guests with Ample Seating

When you want to say “Pull up a chair,” you gotta have a chair—or at least something people can sit on. “If you're planning on entertaining in your outdoor space, think about creative ways to maximize your outdoor seating options,” says Justina. “Bench-style seating is great because you can load it up with comfy pillows and don't have to worry about moving chairs or heavy furniture around.”

7. Maximize Space with Multipurpose Poufs

Don’t forget the poufs! These flexi babies have so many uses—is it a table? Is it a chair? Is it a footrest? Yes! Yes! Yes!—making them truly indispensable. “Poufs are a great way to provide additional seating and add a little flavor to your outdoor lounge. They can be stored easily and are a great transitional piece that can be used inside or out,” says Justina. Plus, there are so many options in terms of material and design, so you can achieve whatever backyard vibe you’re going for.

8. Create Space in the Shade

Not only does having a shady area provide respite from the unforgiving summer sun, but a large umbrella can also divide a space into multiple areas. “The summer sun can be intense, so if you're planning on spending a lot of time outdoors this summer, there are a few easy ways to create shaded areas where you can just chill—literally,” Justina says. “Balinese ceremonial umbrellas come in so many rich hues and have a tasseled fringe that sets them apart from traditional outdoor umbrellas. They are used in Bali to adorn temples and shrines, but they are also a wonderful way to create shade and vacation vibes in your outdoor space.”

How do you create a welcoming space outdoors? Share your tips with us below!

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Bunny Schulman

Written by: Bunny Schulman