How to Create an Awesome Outdoor Patio Space

I don’t know about you, but when summer hits, all I want to do is spend time outside. The sun is magnetic for me. There’s nothing better than taking my laptop outside on a beautiful, along with a nice iced coffee, and writing for Tip Hero out on my little deck in Boston. Or escaping within a book and lounging on my outdoor furniture (bought cheaply last year on eBay).

Whether you have a porch, patio or backyard, an outdoor “oasis” of sorts is good for the soul. And fresh air does the body good. Here are just a few reasons to create a space with what you have to work with:

  • Being outside lets you soak up that Vitamin D from the sun, which promotes healthy bones. Oh yeah, and the sun can actually make you happier.
  • An outdoor space is another place that you can entertain guests. So instead of going to hangout on a restaurant’s patio, you can sit in your outdoor space and serve up a pitcher or sangria or margaritas at a fraction of the price.
  • Tired of being in the house but don’t want to go out for fear of spending unnecessary money? Just head to your outdoor escape with a book or magazine and all of a sudden, you’re somewhere else.

Take a look at some of my best ideas for creating a great outdoor space that you can be proud of and enjoy to the fullest this summer. Please add your own ideas in the comments section below!

Updating the Old

Cleaning Existing Furniture

Maybe your outdoor furniture is still perfectly good, but it’s in dyer need of a cleaning. No problem! Patio furniture is bound to get dirty since it’s exposed to the elements. Even if you’ve kept it inside for the winter, dust is inevitable. Just set aside some time to give it some TLC. Here are some of the frugal ways you can clean different types of patio furniture:

  • White Plastic: this type of furniture is pretty cheap to buy and also cheap to clean. DIY Network suggests mixing up a solution of a gallon of warm water and 3 tablespoons of automatic dishwashing detergent (the bleach in this will help effectively clean the white plastic). Clean furniture with this mixture using a sponge or a soft brush, then let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing and drying.
  • Canvas Seats and Chair Backs: most canvas is machine-washable, so if the canvas can be removed, you’re in luck. If not, you can try this method, also from DIY Network:

    If the canvas cannot be removed, you’ll need a scrub brush and a bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap. Run the brush back and forth across the soap, and scrub the canvas. Rinse well and stand cushions up on edge. This method removes bird droppings and many stains.

  • Cushions: cushions that are specifically designed for outdoor use are made to last a long time (and are often made with water and mildew resistant fabric). However, help them last longer by storing them out of the sun and rain. When your cushions need a good cleaning, try this method from How to Clean Anything:

    Fill your tub, or a large rubber maid bin or garbage can with mild detergent and hot water. If the cushions are solid white add bleach for a 1:4 ratio, to help kill any mildew. Rinse thoroughly. For colored cushions, you cannot use bleach without damaging the color, so be certain to wash these more frequently. Dry, in the sunshine for a couple of days. This will lighten stains and help kill any remaining mildew.

  • Faded Colored Plastic Furniture: try spraying some WD-40 directly on your furniture and wipe with a dry clean cloth to bring back color and shine.
  • Wood Furniture: this one is from Reader’s Digest. Use a mixture of 1 cup ammonia, 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 gallon of water to remove mildew from your wooden furniture. Work this solution in with a sponge and use an old toothbrush to work the solution into corners and crevices.
  • Metal Furniture: this video shows you how to clean up any kind of metal furniture in a safe and frugal way:

Frugal Upgrades

  • Use Spray Paint on Canvas and/or Wood: these before and after shots are pretty incredible, and the project doesn’t seem all that difficult:
  • Make Your Own Cushions: add color and comfort to existing furniture easily with this method. This tutorial doesn’t even require sewing. All you need is a piece of foam (bought cheaply from the store, or maybe an old mattress pad) and enough weather-resistant fabric to wrap it with. Seal the deal with some safety pins and you’re good to go.
  • Make Outdoor Throw Pillows: these pillows can be made cheaply from existing tablecloth fabric, shower curtain lining and any sized bed pillows you’d like.
  • Paint Your Metal Patio Furniture: painting metal is a little more involved than painting other surfaces, but it can be done pretty simply. Here’s some advice from Pat at the Home Depot:
  • Paint Plastic Patio Furniture: just clean plastic furniture thoroughly and use a special glossy paint that’s made for this kind of job. As you’ll see in the video below, you can create a stunning new piece without buying new furniture:

For more ideas, head over to this older Tip Hero post: How to Update Old Patio Furniture.

(Cheaply) Bringing in the New

Don’t have any old furniture to make over? There are lots of options for getting patio furniture without spending an arm and a leg. Yard sales, flea markets and thrift stores are great places to start. You could also head only and check out places like eBay, Craigslist and FreeCycle for free or low cost pieces.

Even if you find furniture that’s not in fantastic shape, that’s ok. Once you’ve got your hands on cheap items, you can use the tips above to clean and revamp your finds, making them good as new on the cheap!

Check out some awesome tips from the Pool and Patio section of for further advice on buying cheap outdoor furniture.

Make it Green (or Even More Colorful)

Container Gardening

Flowers and plants can bring life and color to any space, whether it’s a large patio or a small deck. Here are some ways to be successful with your containers:

Use Unexpected Planters

You don’t have to be limited by plain old flower pots when preparing potted flowers or plants. Keep it interesting to make your outdoor space unique and special. Take a look at some of these cool ideas from Apartment Therapy. You can use anything as a planter, from old chairs to shoes, from colanders to old guitars. Only your imagination will limit you:

Inexpensive Ambiance

Hit the Thrift Stores

Thrift stores are the perfect places to shop when looking for cool odds and ends to make your outdoor space more inviting and interesting. I don’t have much of an outdoor space, but I found some really interesting colored jars to put candles in at my local thrift store. They look great on my patio table, even when the candles aren’t lit. I’ve also seen many pieces I’d love to take advantage of, like small benches or statues. All it takes is one or two small pieces to really make your outdoor space stand out.

Creative Lighting

Lighting can really set the mood of your outdoor area, especially when entertaining out there at night. You could try any of these candle projects or create your own tin can votives at essentially no cost. Or what about trying your hand at making your own wine bottle pendant lamps using empty recycled wine bottles?

A super easy idea if it works in your space? Pull out those white Christmas lights that you usually reserve for the Christmas tree and use them to light up your deck or patio area. If hung well and creatively, the twinkling effect can look really classy:

Make Your Own Fire Pit

Ok, so this one involves some DIY skill and some courage, but if you’re up for it, you can create a cool fire pit for yourself on the cheap. And you’re bound to get some great enjoyment out of it on those cooler summer nights when you’re entertaining outside. Here’s how you do it.

Looking for some more tips? has some more great ideas for creating a space that’s specifically and wonderfully “you.”

Your Turn!

Do you have a backyard space that you’re particularly proud of? We’d love to hear about what makes it so great! Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for being a Tip Hero!

Photo credit: Flagstaff Photo