Looking for ways to enjoy your backyard? Avoid these mistakes when designing a backyard living space and create an outdoor living space you’ll use and enjoy all season long.


Do you have a backyard living space you enjoy?

It took me years to perfect our outdoor living spaces in the backyard of our former home.

And now that we moved?

I’m starting all over again. Well, sort of.

See the bones are here, I just need to add my spin on them based on how we’ll use each space. And it requires careful thought and planning to achieve what works best for you and your family.

Here’s a good example why.

When my second daughter was a baby, we built a two-tiered deck in the backyard. You’d think with all the extra outdoor living space we’d use it. But for whatever reason, we didn’t use the lower deck all that often.

For years!!! Isn’t that silly?

We had this great space but rarely sat there.

Here’s where I went wrong and how you can avoid making the same mistakes I did so you can design a backyard living space you’ll never want to leave.

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Why You Want to Think Through How to Decorate Your Outdoor Living Space

Creating a backyard living space requires lots of planning and consideration of your lifestyle while balancing your needs and desires.

Maybe you already have the bones of a patio, deck, or porch to work with. If you do, this post will help guide you in designing a space that works for you and your family.

Here are some things to consider for pulling a cozy outdoor living space together.

  • Comfort
  • Functionality
  • Beauty
  • Privacy
  • Lighting:
  • Sound
  • Sustainability
Front porch decorating ideas in summer with fresh cut flowers from garden, vintage market sign, bistro set and porch rockers

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Backyard Living Space

Designing an outdoor living space can be an exciting project, but there are several mistakes you should avoid to create a functional and visually appealing space that you’ll never want to leave.

Here are some mistakes to avoid when designing an outdoor living space.

Mistake Number 1: Not Considering How a Backyard Living Space Will Be Used

The biggest mistake I made was purchasing outdoor furniture for a look or quick need instead of considering how we would actually use the space.

You know what I’m talking about right?

Have you done that too?

That moment you fall in love with furniture and buy it, but you haven’t totally figured out how you’ll live with it.

Yeah, I did that with the lower deck at my former home.

This is what my lower deck looked like for several years.

Outdoor Living Space Home Tour
Before we updated our lower deck furniture.

When we built the deck, I wanted to buy a white, all-weather outdoor wicker. It looked so quaint, cottage, and pretty.

So we bought a set with two rocking chairs, a settee, and a coffee table. And I thought we’d use it all the time. Well, if we sat out there 40 times since purchasing it 20 years ago, that might be a stretch.

But why?

It’s not because it wasn’t comfortable. It just didn’t work for our lifestyle at the time.

So you have to consider how you actually live before planning and spending money on a backyard living space.

Points to consider:

  • Do you want a dining space where you’ll sit at a table, eat and drink?
  • Or do you want a living space that is cozy, comfortable, and casual like a living room?
  • Do you want cozy nights in front of a fire? (Consider fire safety issues when planning an area for an outdoor fire pit).

Did I follow my own advice after we moved to our new home?

To some extent yes and to some extent no because we needed furniture that would fit two outdoor spaces: the pool and back porch.

close up of the conversation set on the back porch in my outdoor living spaces home tour with houseplants, flowers, sun hat, cozy blankets and mustard colored house

Mistake Number 2: Not Buying Comfortable Furniture

Here’s the thing.

If it’s not comfortable, you won’t use it.

Doesn’t matter how beautiful outdoor furniture is, if it’s not comfortable, you won’t sit there. We wanted to enjoy them this year, so making that purchase was a must.

Since I gravitate to all-weather wicker, I stayed with the same color family as above, opting for these pool loungers and this sofa set for the back porch.

It all looks similar so it is cohesive and goes with the overall vibe. I read all of the reviews and decided to go with it. And I’m so happy we did because both are functional, beautiful, and very comfortable.

The only regret I think I’ll have are my dogs getting their dark fur on my light cushions but I decided I was sacrificing that to get the look I wanted. For me, I’m all about feeling comfortable, cozy, and enjoying my backyard living spaces every day.

So resist the temptation to buy something just because it’s pretty. Sit in it, lay on it, and read reviews before you buy.

Koda in the zen garden
Koda enjoying the backyard zen garden

Outdoor Dining Space

For years we wanted to buy one of those gorgeous wrought iron sets. But because they were outside our budget, we never purchased them.

And looking back, I’m thankful we didn’t because several friends had these sets and I never enjoyed sitting in them. Yet, if we had the budget I would’ve bought them anyway because I loved the look.

Well, fast forward through the years and my tastes changed so we bought these wicker chairs with thick seat cushions instead. And because they are so comfortable, I can sit out here all day long.

The Dining Space at Our Former Home

Outdoor living space with Summer Dinner Party Ideas
Backyard Ideas for the Deck - Summer Dinner Party Ideas
Outdoor Living in Summer Home Tour

Our Outdoor Dining Space Now

And now that we moved?

I still love these chairs! They are really comfortable and we have them in the new potager garden.

We are slowly decorating this space, so this photo is a work in progress, but you get the idea of where it is going.

This furniture is still comfortable, we enjoy sitting in and has lasted for several years. To help it last, we bring it indoors for the winter.

The farmhouse table took a beating without the cover from the gazebo, so my husband rebuilt the top for us.

view of the potager garden dining table that is decorated for a hawaiian party theme on a farmhouse table on an outdoor area rug with wicker chairs and white cushions
close up of hawaiian party theme dinner table with pinapples, lenox fine china, candles and flowers in the potager garden
Bricks ‘n Blooms

Mistake Number 3: Not Finishing Off a Backyard Living Space

In my defense, there weren’t as many options to finish off a backyard living space 20 years ago.

But today, there is!

Be sure to get an outdoor area rug to define the outdoor living space. Add mood lighting with string lights, lanterns, and outdoor decor.

I am still using both of these outdoor area rugs here at the new house. For now, I’m using one on the front porch under the swing and the other in the potager garden under the outdoor dining table.

I’ve had these for a few years now and still love them. So invest in some outdoor area rugs because you’ll use them for a long time.

Backyard Living with outdoor wicker conversation set with fire pit and outdoor area rug on deck with white railings
Outdoor area rug on former deck
flea market finds potted up with heucheras on the front porch with porch swing, fall pillows and cozy blanket in autumn
Same outdoor area rug on front porch

Mistake Number 4: Not Using the Plants in Container Gardens for the Backyard Living Area

Every backyard living space needs plants and flowers. And if you haven’t been incorporating them because you think you kill everything, then these tips are for you.

Before purchasing plants and flowers, ask yourself:

  • Is this space in full sun (6-8 hours), partial sun/shade (4-6 hours), or full shade (fewer than 4 hours)?
  • Is it close to a water source? How will plants be watered?
  • How much time you can reasonably devote to watering plants
  • What size and type of container will be used.

Once armed with these answers, it is time to shop for plants. And make sure you read the plant tags so you know where to plant things in your garden.

Nursery Trip

Resist the temptation to purchase plants that won’t work for the light and watering conditions of your backyard living space. When we first moved to our former home 23 years ago, I was a beginner gardener.

I gravitated to plants I wanted versus plants that would work with my light conditions and lifestyle. And as a result, lots of plants didn’t make it.

So the short of it is, do your research, understand your soil and light conditions, then plant accordingly.

view of the back porch seating area and deck with rounded shape in my outdoor living spaces home tour
Fire Pit Garden
Zen garden with round concrete pavers, stairs with white railing that leads to container gardens fill with pink superwave petunias 'bubblegum pink' and the backyard garden with black labrador retriever standing on stone wall with koi tree sculpture in the background
Zen Garden and Backyard Gardens

Mistake Number 5: Not Choosing the Right Container for Plants

In the early days, the biggest mistake I made was choosing the wrong size and type of container. Small containers dry out more quickly than larger containers.

As do ones made from terracotta.

If you live in a place where the winters are cold and wet, terracotta does not overwinter well outdoors and needs to be brought indoors to avoid freezing and thawing.

If you don’t want that kind of hassle every season, there are lots of other container options to choose from.

Why You Need a Potting Bench

Since changing from small terracotta pots to larger, all-weather planters, my container gardens have thrived in my outdoor living spaces.

If I don’t plan to leave a container out all winter, I use beautiful pottery and terracotta planters.

But I always buy larger sizes.

Yes, they are more expensive, but it’s easier to care for the plants in bigger pots.

For more information about container gardens and their care, CLICK HERE.

front yard garden in spring with flowering crabapple trees

Mistake Number 6: Not Offering Enough Protection From the Sun

For several years, and I mean at least 10 years, we were not fully utilizing our deck. It was pelted with full sun all day long and was just too hot to enjoy in the dead heat of summer.

We tried market umbrellas but they did not provide enough shade to cool the space down They were never large enough.

When we purchased a gazebo like this one, it was life-changing. It created a totally different microclimate that was like 10 degrees cooler.

lilac in the backyard

The gazebo shaded the deck all day long. So the deck could be used all the time.

Even when it was raining.

There are so many options out there to shade an outdoor living space that you can build or buy. So make sure you don’t waste time not enjoying an outdoor living space because it’s not shaded enough.

It’s an easy fix.

how to set a cozy fall harvest table
Bricks ‘n Blooms
how to set a cozy fall harvest table
fire pit fall home tour

Mistake Number 7: Not Taking the Time to Enjoy It

And the biggest mistake we made with our backyard living spaces is not taking the time to enjoy them!

For years, we hopped from one activity to the next, barely passing go. From school and sporting events to scouting events, to friends and family gatherings, we rarely kicked back to enjoy our own backyard living spaces.

With my kids getting older and recent events, we’ve been home a lot more. And you know what?

It’s the best!

Especially, when you have a cool, beautiful place to hang.

Stacy Ling and Christopher Ling in the gardens

7 Easy Tips to Design a Backyard Living Space You’ll Never Want to Leave

Now that we know what not to do, here’s what you SHOULD do when designing your outdoor living space to ensure that the space is functional, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing.

Purpose

Consider the primary purpose of the space. Is it for dining, lounging, entertaining, or a combination of activities?

This will help you determine the furniture, appliances, and amenities that you need to include.

And if it seems like it will be a larger project than you want to take on in one season, consider breaking it up into phases to keep it more budget-friendly.

Location

Look at the location of your outdoor living space and consider its proximity to the sun, wind, and other elements.

You may need to consider adding shades, screens, or other structures to protect the area from the elements and make it more comfortable.

If the space gets full sun all day long, invest in a gazebo whether you make one or buy it. From my own experience, you’ll never use the space if it gets pelted with sun all day long.

37 Backyard Living Space Ideas

Size

The size of your outdoor living space will determine the number of people it can accommodate and the types of furniture and features that you can include.

Who’s going to be sitting there with you? Is it for entertainment? Or just you and your family?

It’s essential to consider how much space you need to create the desired ambiance.

Choosing Furniture

Outdoor furniture and accessories play a significant role in the look and feel of the space. Choose high-quality, durable, and comfortable furniture that can withstand the elements so you get your money’s worth.

We’ve had our outdoor dining furniture for several years now. Although it’s made for the outdoors, we take precautions when extreme winter weather arrives by covering them or bringing them into a shed or garage.

backyard living space with an outdoor dining area that is set for a garden party with fresh cut flowers such as zinnias and celosia.
garden party table decorations with fresh cut zinnias and celosia in glass vases and vintage ball jar glasses

Adding Plants and Flowers

Landscaping elements such as plants, flowers, shrubs, and trees can add color, texture, and depth to your outdoor living space.

Consider adding landscaping elements that complement the overall design and theme of the area.

But also keep in mind how much maintenance you want to do to care for them.

close up of front porch swing with vintage flower pillows, potted plants and an outdoor area rug on the front porch in my outdoor living spaces home tour

Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor lighting can make your outdoor living space more functional, safe, and inviting.

Choose a lighting design that complements the overall design of the space and highlights its key features and elements.

And if you lack electricity, consider adding solar string lights or lanterns to create mood lighting and ambiance.

Lilac flowers by the Fire Pit Garden at night lit with solar lanters and surrounded by hostas and twinkle lights
7 Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Backyard Living Space

Keep It Budget Friendly

Set a budget for your outdoor living space and stick to it.

You can get creative with your design and choose affordable materials and features that fit within your budget.

That table we bought for our outdoor dining space was $50 on the Facebook marketplace and it lasted for years under that gazebo. We needed to make it more outdoor-friendly here at the new house but it was a great inexpensive find nonetheless!

Bodie in the zen garden

Add a Water Feature

Want your backyard living space to feel even more relaxing? Add the soothing sounds of a water feature.

No matter the size, there’s a water feature to fit any size and budget.

Shop for water features by clicking on the picture below.

More Backyard Living Ideas

What is your favorite outdoor living space? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? I would love to know more in the comments below.

And don’t miss joining my Gardening DIY and Decorating Community on Facebook for more chatter. And follow along there and on Instagram as well. There are behind the scenes daily things that I share on Instagram that don’t make it on the blog. Would love to see you there too!

If you prefer to binge watch Bricks ’n Blooms on TV, we go more in-depth with tours and posts on my YouTube channel. Would love to hang out with you there!

Shop for Your Backyard Living Space

Looking for More Backyard Ideas and Inspiration?

Wait until you check out these posts!

Click here to shop my vintage farmhouse with close up of the front porch with flowers
close up of creme caramel coreopsis

Looking for Backyard Garden Inspiration?

Watch the tour of my former backyard garden from the spring of 2021 where you’ll see my raised garden beds, the vegetable garden, and the newly designed cut flower garden near the shed.

YouTube video

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backyard living space with Adirondack seating, string lights, and purple flowers
7 mistakes to avoid when designing backyard living spaces
mistakes to avoid when designing a backyard living space wording over a picture of a lit backyard garden path
Bricks 'n Blooms at the NJ home and garden show booth

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chinese evergreen and white amaryllis flower with a clock

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Thank so much for stopping by.

Enjoy a beautiful day! xo

stacy ling logo

Want to learn more about me?

I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. With a deep passion for gardening, I enjoy helping others find their inner green thumb with all things plants and flowers, as well as finding ways to bring the outdoors inside their homes.

Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging here.

stacy ling cutting dahlias in her garden
Home and Garden Blogger Stacy Ling cutting zinnia flowers in her cottage garden with wood picket fence in front of garden shed

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potager garden
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Bricks ‘n Blooms
My black lab on the front porch of my 1850 farmhouse
Planting flowers in the window boxes
terracotta planter container garden with assorted plants including pink petunias
picnic date with friends

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20 Comments

  1. Your back yard is a dream and, if you are like me, I want to do all the work.
    Had to sell my big home with a huge garden as it became too much for me. I now live in a condo with a small lovely patio but I do miss having a wonderful paradise but just not all the work it took.
    You are incredible!!!!!
    Blessings to you.

    1. Thank you so much Diana! We used to live in a condo so I know – it’s much less outdoor space to work with. I’m sure you miss working in your garden! xo

  2. These are such great tips to avoid! Thanks so much for sharing your tried and true advice for creating an outdoor space. Sometimes it’s just hard to think of everything, but your have!!! Thanks:)

  3. How do you manage mosquitos?? I spend so much time making a beautiful outdoor space and end up not utilizing it when the bugs get bad.