Outdoor Decor: A Checklist – The New York Times


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The lushly planted outdoor space at the Central Park West home of Josh Sapan and Ann Foley.

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Juliana Sohn for The New York Times

Not every outdoor space needs the full designer treatment, but many could benefit from a little help. Amber Freda, a New York landscape designer, suggested a few basic elements to consider.

First, Choose the Furniture

“Furniture is probably the most important thing, so you can start using the outdoor space even before you get the plantings figured out,” Ms. Freda said. Your choice should depend on the size of the space and how you plan to use it: If it will be for lounging, simple chairs (for less than $100 to about $300 each) and small drinks tables (from about $150 to $300 each) may suffice. But if you plan to eat outdoors, you’ll need a dining table (which may cost between $500 and $2,000). Think about custom built-in wooden benches with storage underneath (about $3,000 to $7,000).

Then Get Some Planters

Almost any elevated space will benefit from planters arranged around the perimeter (about $50 to $600 each). Just be sure that whatever you buy is intended for outdoor use. “Machine-made terra cottas are prone to cracking in the winter,” Ms. Freda said. “Handmade terra cotta is better, and the thicker it is, the longer lasting it will be. Fiberglass will last forever, and you can get it in any color imaginable.” Or you could go with metals or frost-proof ceramics.

Don’t Forget to Water

“People think they can keep up with the watering, but if you go out of town for one weekend in July or August, your plants are dead when you come back,” Ms. Freda said. That’s why she thinks automatic irrigation systems “pay for themselves.” A landscape professional can install a basic system with a battery-operated timer for about $1,000, she said, or you can do it yourself for about $500 — “but it takes a lot of trial and error.”

Lighting Is Key

“If there’s not enough ambient lighting already, look at doing uplighting — low-voltage landscape lighting in the planters,” Ms. Freda said. Unlike hard-wired fixtures, it doesn’t require an electrician to install, and an entire system can plug into an existing outlet (expect to pay about $1,000). Outdoor globe string lights are a cost-effective alternative (about $300): “It doesn’t have to look like holiday lighting; it can actually look high-end.”

Define Space with a Rug

An outdoor rug (about $500 to $1,000) is “a nice way to break up a space, and make it feel like an outdoor living or dining room,” Ms. Freda said, and you won’t have to remove the existing flooring. Made from materials like polypropylene, these rugs are “usually very porous and dry really quickly.”

And Make Sure There’s Shade

A quality umbrella (about $500 to $1,000) can make a sunbaked terrace much more enjoyable. “Some are rated for wind resistance, with vents in the canopies,” Ms. Freda said. “And the bases can be a few hundred pounds,” so they don’t blow away.

Shade sails (between $200 and $500) “are very elegant, and more organic looking,” she said, but usually require the installation of posts for mounting (which adds another $500 or so). And “custom pergolas are a beautiful look, and create a sense of intimacy and enclosure,” but they come at a higher price (about $5,000 to $10,000).

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