Landscape architect Joann Schwarberg of Mission Hills, Kan., leads us through a weekend action plan for transforming our dead-leaf-riddled outdoor spaces into true retreats — including a celebratory drink at the finish line. She recently tackled her neighbors’ porch and patio so the couple will be all set to be hosts for a coming class reunion.
“Like many of our homes, these areas needed to be ready for adult entertaining and relaxing,” Schwarberg says. “They needed cleaning from the crud of winter. Furniture had to be upgraded, pots needed to be bigger and color needed to be added through cushions and plants.”
Friday after work: Make a plan
Determine the scope of the project. The good thing about a weekend makeover is that the change can be as simple as positioning furniture and redistributing accessories. Truly updating the space can cost a little more, says interior designer Stephen Saint-Onge in his book “No Place Like Home” (Wiley; $20). “This is something you could do alone, as a fun family project or with a group of friends,” Saint-Onge writes. “Instead of a book club, how about forming a makeover club?”
Take digital photos. Landscape architect Joann Schwarberg documents projects by taking photographs from different angles. The “before” photos help pinpoint problems. For example, even though her neighbors’ covered porch is attached to the house, it seemed a little removed.
“One way to give it more of a cocooning feeling is to use simple outdoor drapery panels,” Schwarberg says. “Fabric envelops the space, makes it more welcoming.”
Make a list of tasks and supplies. Schwarberg creates spreadsheets of tasks to be performed. She includes the fun: new pillows and plants. And the mundane, including cleanup.
EARLY SATURDAY: CLEAN LIKE MAD
Empty pots and clear out furnishings. “They need to be out of the way so you can clean the area and visualize something new,” Schwarberg says.
Christine Stephan, who assists Schwarberg, hoses off the rings of dirt outside of pots and washes the interiors with water and a drop of disinfectant. “You don’t want this year’s plants catching last year’s diseases,” Stephan says.
Spruce up. Prune nearby trees and shrubs. Clear the gutters. Add mulch to existing nearby landscaping. Power wash or hose down the area of the house getting the makeover, including the walls and pavement. If necessary, apply touch-up paint on the house. Make sure all the lighting works.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON: SHOP AROUND
Assess your furniture. “If the old stuff has to make it another year or two but looks pretty run down, consider painting it with one of the special spray paints made for metal or plastic furniture,” Schwarberg says. “This will shine it up and maybe add a new fun color. Remember to clean it thoroughly first, or the paint will flake and chip.”
Consider new cushions and pillows. For cushions, Schwarberg advocates a solid neutral color.
“That neutral could be a blue, lime green or whatever,” she says. “You want the cushions to be fine for any type of party, whether it’s a luau or fiesta. So the (accent) pillows can be the fun patterns, but you don’t want to get sick of the cushions.”
Or perhaps all that’s needed is a new umbrella.
Buy pots, plants and rugs.
SUNDAY AFTER BREAKFAST: RACE TO THE END
Plant pots. Schwarberg’s system: Place about an inch or two of gravel in the bottom of large pot. Smooth it out so a plastic liner sits level on top of it. Make sure pot and liner have holes in the bottom to drain the soil of excess moisture. Insert the plastic liner pot (about an inch smaller than the ceramic or clay pot) and layer the inside with an inch of gravel, filter cloth, organic potting soil and your main plant, tree or shrub; add annuals and herbs around edges. Use Styrofoam packing peanuts to fill in the gap between pot and liner — this prevents shrinking and swelling of soil that cracks pots. Add a finishing touch of sheet moss at the top to retain moisture.
Arrange furniture. Schwarberg likes to place club chairs on a diagonal to create outdoor conversation areas. If you also have lounge chairs, set them in the lawn facing the patio, she says. “This gives an additional view of the yard and extends your entertaining space beyond the paving.”
Eat, drink and have fun. Sit back, relax and toast your hard work. Your weekend makeover will pay off all season.
Rules of thumb
Before: Little pots tend to make the space feel cluttered.
After: Large pots help define space, even in small areas, and they soften hard edges.
Schwarberg’s rules of thumb:
Use only pots taller than 18 inches. “You can’t really get an impact or sizable planting in anything less.” Twenty-four inches is great for any space. A 30-inch pot will hold a large shrub or small tree.
Before: The delicate iron furniture looked dated.
After: Thicker aluminum furniture adds substance.
Schwarberg’s rule of thumb:
Use the style of your house as a guide. “The iron furniture was ornate and would look better at a Victorian home.”
Create an outdoor coffee table: Schwarberg used two woven plastic outdoor trunks from Pier 1 Imports to create a square coffee table. The pieces can store pillows.
Outdoor draperies might be the answer: They add coziness and make the exterior an extension of the interior. A simple bar was attached to the porch eaves, concealed by a pocket at the top of the draperies. Velcro ties on the draperies attach to the iron railing to prevent them from flapping around in the wind.
Give your patio front-door treatment: Flank your back door with a pair of large planters. If you have a single door, consider a wide mat to visually expand the space. “This combination makes the whole entrance look more generous in scale,” Schwarberg says. She often uses casters for massive pots.