Create an outdoor space that's restful and inviting.

By Samantha Lande
April 28, 2021
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In the coming months and over the next year, we all might find ourselves spending more time outdoors with friends and family. It is not only the safest space to entertain, but also one of the most enjoyable. Reconnecting under the stars, around the firepit, or dining al fresco are delightful ways to make up for lost time and reconnect after what has been more than a year of distancing and separation.

But as we approach warmer temperatures again and the type of weather that makes backyard entertaining so tempting returns nationwide, many people are rethinking those outdoor spaces. Whether it be a small city patio or a lavish suburban backyard, the outdoor areas we call our own may need to work a little harder for us. After all of the stress we have endured, these spaces need to be more than a place for the occasional sundown sit or impromptu outdoor meal. They need to be inviting, warm, and, above all else, relaxing.

The good news for people staring down a blank slate of a backyard or porch: It doesn't take a ton of time or money to slowly transform an outdoor space into one that is peaceful and restful. We chatted with Emma Beryl, a New York interior designer, about the changes she would make to create a relaxing backyard perfect for entertaining or a solo respite.

1. Focus on Lighting

If Beryl were to pick one thing to do to make a yard feel more relaxing? It would be the lighting.

"Lighting is a very effective tool to evoke a relaxing feeling in a space," she says. "In an outdoor space I love to use a mix of overhead string lights, candle-lit lanterns, and tabletop votive candles."

You can find overhead string lights in a variety of styles, sizes, and light warmth, from vintage Edison bulbs to more of a starry look.

Candle-lit lanterns can be perfect to set the mood, and you can even put in citronella candles to help with the bugs. They can quickly be moved around too so creating the right ambiance is easy.

Tabletop votives are great for entertaining, but if you are worried about kids, there are flameless versions.

Accent lighting along fence, garage and landscaped areas; Friends sitting by burning fire pit at patio against illuminated fence
Credit: Meredith

2. Greenery Goes a Long Way

You're outside, so plants and greenery are a must, no matter the size of your space. Even patios or terraces the size of a postage stamp (proverbially, of course) can give greenery a go. Beryl loves aromatic greenery; think fragrant plants like lavender or roses, herbs like mint, lemon balm, eucalyptus, and jasmine.

"Anything you can plant that is especially fragrant will make you feel relaxed because you are experiencing your backyard through another sense, this makes you more immersed in your surroundings, keeping you present and relaxed," she says.

Don't have room for a full garden? Potted plants work well, especially in smaller spaces. Gardenias are great to grow in pots, and geraniums in hanging baskets. Herbs work in small pots, too.

3. Get in the Zone

If you have the luxury of a bigger outdoor space, Beryl likes to create "zones," defined spaces that have a different feel from one another. This can help set up a flow of traffic, and also invite guests to move from zone to zone and mingle.

"For example, having a living room 'zone' where furniture is set up to be more social and a separate, distinct dining area where people can congregate to eat," she says.

Look to create cozy setups in the living room zone, like by adding a firepit that chairs can be set-up around, or comfortable outdoor furniture made for lounging and conversing. If you have space for a full dining table, great. If not, you can set up smaller tables where people can put their drinks down and have a bite to eat.

Have a smaller space? Don't fret.

"In a smaller space I think it's important that you don't skimp on comfort for your furniture, even if the pieces are smaller," she says. This way, even the smallest of spaces are every bit as luxurious as anything you'd expect from a truly top-of-the-line spa or outdoor oasis setting. And that will likely draw you outside to the comfort and peace the await you.

4. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

You are finally ready to put the space to use with a few friends or family members. But as we know entertaining can be stressful at times. Don't let the stress kill your serene setting. Be "in the moment" instead of running around the kitchen.

"Having simple grazing boards you put out when your guests arrive is an easy, beautiful, laid-back appetizer that you can set up ahead of time," says Beryl. They even make individual boards if you don't want to serve communally and keep close contact limited.

Have a few go-to drinks or an easy bar set-up, and make a handful of simple recipes (like these no-cook appetizers) that you know are home runs. This way you can spend time enjoying your company and relaxing in the outdoor space you've so lovingly created.