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7 Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Backyard Living Space

Looking for ways to enjoy your backyard? Avoid these mistakes when designing a backyard living space. Create an outdoor living space you’ll use and enjoy all season long with these simple tips. (Post updated May 7, 2022)

Do you have a backyard living space you enjoy?

It has taken me years to perfect our outdoor living spaces in the backyard.

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.

But not anymore.

Here’s where I went wrong and how you can avoid making the same mistakes I did.

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picnic date with friends

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.

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.

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.

how to set a cozy fall harvest table
Bricks ‘n Blooms

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).
Backyard Living

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.

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 is my dogs getting their dark fur on my light cushions but I decided I was sacrificing that to get the look I wanted.

Koda in the zen garden

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.

backyard living on the lower deck at sunset
Outdoor Living Space on Deck at Sunset

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.

Outdoor living space with Summer Dinner Party Ideas

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.

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

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.

potager garden

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.

Backyard Living

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.

My black lab on the front porch of my 1850 farmhouse

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.

Planting flowers in the window boxes

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.

Nursery Trip

Read the plant tags.

And resist the temptation to purchase plants that won’t work for the light and watering conditions for 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.

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.

Lilac by the Fire Pit Garden

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 much quicker than larger containers.

As do ones made from terracotta.

Why You Need a Potting Bench

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.

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.

When we purchased a gazebo like this one, it was life-changing.

lilac in the backyard

The gazebo shaded the deck all day long.

So the deck could be used all the time.

Even when it’s raining.

how to set a cozy fall harvest table
Bricks ‘n Blooms

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

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 it!

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.

fire pit fall home tour

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
37 Backyard Living Space Ideas
Bodie in the zen garden

Shop for Your Backyard Living Space

Looking for More Backyard Ideas and Inspiration?

Wait until you check out these posts!

Looking for Backyard Garden Inspiration?

Here is a tour of my former garden.

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14 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.