A weekend patio or porch makeover is one of the best ways to welcome the warmer weather.
Landscape architect Joann Schwarberg of Mission Hills, Kan., leads us through a weekend action plan for transforming our dead-leaf-riddled outdoor spaces into true retreats — including a celebratory drink at the finish line.
"Like many of our homes, these areas needed to be ready for adult entertaining and relaxing," says Schwarberg, who recently tackled a neighbor's porch and patio so it would be ready for a class reunion. "They needed cleaning from the crud of winter. Furniture had to be upgraded, pots needed to be bigger, and color needed to be added through cushions and plants."
The time line
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Friday after work: Make a plan
Determine the scope of the project. The good thing about a weekend makeover is that the change can be as simple as positioning furniture and redistributing accessories. Truly updating the space can cost a little more, says interior designer Stephen Saint-Onge in his book No Place Like Home (Wiley, $20).
"This is something you could do alone, as a fun family project or with a group of friends," Saint-Onge writes. "Instead of a book club, how about forming a makeover club?"
Take digital photos. Schwarberg documents projects by taking pictures from different angles. The "before" photos help pinpoint problems. For example, even though her neighbors' covered porch is attached to the house, it seemed a little removed.
"One way to give it more of a cocooning feeling is to use simple outdoor drapery panels," Schwarberg says. "Fabric envelops the space, makes it more welcoming."
Make a list of tasks and supplies. Schwarberg creates spreadsheets of tasks to be performed. She includes the fun (new pillows and plants) and the mundane (cleanup).
Early Saturday: Clean like mad
Empty pots and clear out furnishings. "They need to be out of the way so you can clean the area and visualize something new," Schwarberg says.
Hose off the rings of dirt outside of pots and wash the interiors with water and a drop of disinfectant. "You don't want this year's plants catching last year's diseases," said Christine Stephan, who works with Schwarberg.
Spruce up. Prune nearby trees and shrubs. Clear the gutters. Add mulch to existing nearby landscaping. Power wash or hose down the area of the house getting the makeover, including the walls and pavement. If necessary, apply touch-up paint on the house. Make sure all the lighting works.
Saturday afternoon: Shop around
Assess your furniture. "If the old stuff has to make it another year or two but looks pretty run down, consider painting it with one of the special spray paints made for metal or plastic furniture," Schwarberg says. "This will shine it up and maybe add a new fun color. Remember to clean it thoroughly first, or the paint will flake and chip."
Another option if you have a patio set worth keeping — or if you find a great set at a flea market or estate sale — is to take it to an auto body paint shop, she says.
Consider new cushions and pillows. For cushions, Schwarberg advocates a solid neutral color.
"That neutral could be a blue, lime green or whatever," she says. "You want the cushions to be fine for any type of party, whether it's a luau or fiesta. So the (accent) pillows can be the fun patterns, but you don't want to get sick of the cushions."
Or perhaps all that's needed is a new umbrella.
Buy pots, plants and rugs. You might already have an outdoor-grade rug in your house that you can use on the patio.
Sunday after breakfast: Race to the end
Plant pots. Schwarberg's system: Place about an inch or two of gravel in the bottom of a large pot. Smooth it out so a plastic liner sits level on top of it. Make sure pot and liner have holes in the bottom to drain the soil of excess moisture. Insert the plastic liner pot (about an inch smaller than the ceramic or clay pot) and layer the inside with an inch of gravel, filter cloth, organic potting soil and your main plant, tree or shrub; add annuals and herbs around edges. Use Styrofoam packing peanuts to fill in the gap between pot and liner — this prevents shrinking and swelling of soil that cracks pots. Add a finishing touch of sheet moss at the top to retain moisture.
Arrange furniture. Schwarberg likes to place club chairs on a diagonal to create outdoor conversation areas. If you also have lounge chairs, set them in the lawn facing the patio, she says. "This gives an additional view of the yard and extends your entertaining space beyond the paving."
Place the pillows and pots. At her neighbors' house, Schwarberg added a pedestal with a potted bear's claw fern in one of the corners, which softened the severe squared angles of the brick porch.
Eat, drink and have fun. Sit back, relax and toast your hard work. Your weekend makeover will pay off all season.