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9 Ways to Add Fun to Your Backyard or Patio

Games, lighting, fire features and more create inviting spaces

spinner image friends playing croquet in backyard
monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

With warmer weather kicking in and the pandemic ebbing, many people are looking for fun outside this summer. From inexpensive mood lighting to luxury items, those looking to embrace alfresco entertaining are investing in their backyard spaces.

Last year, Marisa Pollak of Nashville, Tennessee, began hosting weekly musical jams with 25 people on a stage and a dance floor in her backyard. She strung mood lights from the trees.

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The jams have grown to include up to 40 people this year, prompting Pollak, 56, to invest about $6,000 in a bigger, enclosed stage for year-round use. “I created a magical fairyland for adults,” she says. “If you create something that's fun, other people want to come over. It was a way of creating community” during COVID-19.

Many consumers like Pollak are continuing the outdoor living trend into summer in an even bigger way. As more people get vaccinated and restrictions lift, “we have a need to socialize and the safest way to do it is to entertain outside,” explains Howard Wiggins, an interior designer in Nashville. People want to beautify and upgrade their backyards, patios and decks and extend their interior living space outside.

If last year saw more home DIY efforts, this year is all about comfort and luxury, according to the inaugural summer trends 2021 report released May 18 by Riverbend Home, a furnishings website. From simple decorations to big-ticket purchases, people are making their backyards, patios and decks more inviting.

"I'm stunned by how much people are willing to spend,” says Mark Feldman, chief home officer and general manager of Riverbend Home. “People are saving money as they work from home — they don't have to commute, pay for gas or buy work clothes — and they're investing in higher-end furnishings. They're looking at it as an investment for the long term."

Here are nine ideas to enliven your backyard, patio or deck this summer.

1. Outdoor televisions

People are amping up their outdoor entertaining with big-screen, weatherized TVs. When Riverbend Home added these to its offering this year, Feldman wasn't sure they would sell, but these TVs are flying off the shelves even at a cost of between $2,200 and $5,000, he says.

2. Yard decorations

Inexpensive items — from wind chimes to copper birdbaths to rooster weather vanes — can add a personalized touch to a backyard.

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3. Fire features

Fire pits are still popular but now there are a whole slew of other fire products for backyards as people opt to entertain at home and at night when it may be cooler. Options come in various sizes and prices, including table-top fireplaces (using liquid fuel), tall outdoor patio heaters that warm up a large area and tables with a fire pit in the middle.

4. Outdoor lighting

The type of lighting helps provide brightness and set the mood for night-time entertaining outdoors. Up lights or down lights can showcase your home and garden in a dramatic way, suggests Wiggins. Also popular are pathway lights, string lights and outdoor table lamps.

5. Water features

spinner image  Hendrie Grant looks at blueprint for his pool
Homeowner Hendrie Grant reviews the design plan for his backyard, which includes a fire pit and waterfall.
Photo credit Sheryl Jean

Maybe this is the year you splurge on a swimming pool. Choices range from in-ground pools and lap pools to less expensive aboveground pools. And if you simply want the calming sound of water, plug-in waterfall products are popular and easy to install, or consider a goldfish or koi pond.

6. Yard art

Enliven your backyard or patio by adding a statue or piece of art. Wiggins recommends items that match the style of the house, such as contemporary art for a contemporary house.

7. Outdoor cooking

People are getting smokers and outdoor pizza ovens to take “grilling to the next level,” Feldman says. Indeed, backyard dinner parties made Riverbend Home's summer trends report.

8. Shade features

As temperatures rise, it's nice to have a cool retreat. Shade sails are an inexpensive option plus they add color to your backyard. Patio umbrellas help people working outside see their computer screens. Get creative: For shade and privacy on his condo deck, Wiggins strung rows of driftwood on string and hung them vertically.

9. Games

Don't forget to have fun. Set up some games, including bean bag toss games, croquet, outdoor tumble tower blocks (think Jenga for outside), a ping-pong table or an outdoor pool table, to draw family and friends together.

Hendrie Grant just incorporated several of these features in his St. Paul, Minnesota, backyard. He hired a design firm to create a large patio, including a built-in fire pit and a fountain that flows into a long narrow decorative pool and cascading waterfall, and to relandscape the entire yard.

"I want to have people over in a more casual way,” says Grant, 58. “And I thought it would be fun to have a fire feature — and it will be nice in the winter, too."

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