Creating Outdoor Rooms from Scratch, on a Budget!

by Kathleen Wilson

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Creating an outdoor living space is no longer just about increasing property values or impressing the occasional guest. It is about creating a warm, welcoming, nurturing place to come home to. It's a place that soothes the stress of out daily life, and brings us closer to nature and spirit. And we have to remember that decorating our home should not stop inside our front door!

It doesn't have to be complicated to create your own outdoor haven, and it doesn't have to cost a lot of money! Follow my step by step instructions to create a personal outdoor space from even the smallest nook, the tightest budget, and with beginning skills.

Step one: Find a spot in your yard that could provide privacy, a view, warm bathing sun or whatever most appeals to you for your special place. This could be as little as your overhang near your front door, a slice of ground in your side yard, to a corner on top of your apartment roof! If space is at a premium, look for areas where a shrub could be removed, or a BBQ stored, or even a privacy screen erected to provide your "room." A small space is actually easier to decorate, and more intimate!

Step Two: In order to give the sense and security of a "room", you need to provide some structure in the form of walls. No, this isn't the construction phase! In fact, no construction is needed for this room, just some creative ideas! Walls can be created out of a row of planters, existing wood fences or walls, living plants in the garden, or a lattice panel supported by two posts. These walls need not be solid structures, just the mere illusion of a wall to stop the eye is enough. Use the patio or porch structure as your walls, and add potted plants as needed to create intimacy. Plant a trellis in a rectangular planter with some morning glories or other fast growing vine, and you have portable walls that can easily be moved to expand, or enclose the space, depending on the occasion or use. If your special place is away from the walls of porch or house, cement two four-by-four posts into the ground with quick setting cement (no mixing required, you do it right in the hole!), and attach a simple lattice panel found at your home improvement center.

Step Three: Add a floor and ceiling! Floors in your outdoor room can consist of anything from gravel to decking to concrete! If your outdoor room just has dirt floors and money is tight, add a bag of pea gravel or mulch to dress it up. Nylon throw rugs hold up pretty well to the outdoors if they are out of direct sun, but no fabric will last forever outdoors, so go for the cheap ones you don't mind throwing away at the end of the season. If you have concrete floors, paint an area rug right on the concrete! Use foam brushes, mask out your shape with tape, and try to choose natural colors that go with the surrounding or your home's colors. Use stencils on top of the base coat for a custom look. Use the chisel edge of the foam brush to tap "fringe" at the end of each rug. Seal with polyurethane formulated for outdoors, and it should last for years!

As far as ceilings go, the sky works for me! If you have an overhead structure, consider growing a fast covering vine for shade and ambience. Morning glories are a great annual that fits the bill! You can also hang light fixtures from beams or hooks. Look for old chandeliers at garage sales that you can strip and transform to hold candles instead of electricity!

Step Four: Now, we need to furnish the space. Consider what you will be doing in your space. Will you need a table for dining, will it just be a private retreat for one, or will you be entertaining guests here? If the area is covered such as a porch or patio, feel free to bring out some interior items, provided they are not too precious. This would be a great place for thrift store finds. If all you can afford is the cheap plastic stuff, never fear! Krylon makes a new spray paint called Fusion that adheres to plastic without priming. Use that to customize your colors, and then add accessories to dress it up!

Step Five: Have fun accessorizing! There is no reason to treat your outdoor room much different from the indoor ones, except you have to make allowances for weather. Benches and seats cry out for fluffy pillows and cozy throws for those cool nights out star watching. Outdoor fabric is available, but I just use cheap twin sheets on sale, and stitch up accessories I don't have to stress about! Use ties for your pillows if you live in an area with wind! Candles are ideal, or you can make your own firepit by simply lining a debris free area with sand or gravel, then edging it with stone or bricks. Remember to never leave a fire unattended, and always have a water source nearby. Make paper mache sculptures and coat with linseed oil to waterproof them, and use them on tabletops or hang from ceiling beams. Containers of plants gathered in corners, windchimes from the dollar shop hung off a branch, and birdhouses are affordable and ideal for outdoors. I pick up wooden birdhouses from the craft shop and decorate them myself in different themes, then cluster them on tables, or hang them in groups on garden walls.

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The key here is to remember that creating a space to enjoy Mother Nature is not only easy, but also it can be inexpensive and fun! We all need that time to absorb what the outdoors has to offer us, and no one should or needs to be deprived of that based on their income.

Kathy Wilson is an author, national columnist, and editor of The Budget Decorator. For hundreds of free budget decorating ideas and to sign up for her free online newsletter, visit her at

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