“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”-Khalil Gabran
The importance of being in nature and getting fresh air cannot be understated. Research has shown that people who regularly spend time outdoors even just socializing or relaxing tend to have lower stress levels and generally experience better health. Peter James of the Harvard School of Public Health explained that “biophilia—our innate human instinct to connect with nature—may be why being outdoors helps us feel better. The ability to recover from stress is better in natural settings, because that’s where we are meant to be. Just the idea of getting out, being in nature, looking at a tree—the theory is that this helps you to recover from stress, improves your mental health, and improves cognition. It’s just a direct pathway.”
It’s no secret that the pandemic heightened the value of outdoor spaces, and it seems it wasn’t just a passing fad. In Seattle, our restaurants and bars have, for the most part, kept the outdoor dining spaces that they installed in order to follow the local regulations during the Covid-19 crisis. The outdoor dining options in our city have vastly increased since 2020 and despite the reason why it happened, it’s a welcome change. Even in our dreary, rainy winters, people enjoy covered, heated spaces all around the city.
Home-bound folks became creative and focused on outdoor spaces at home, as well. At my house, we added outdoor heaters on my covered front porch and regularly gathered with neighbors and friends even during the inclement weather. We also installed heavy duty rods and outdoor curtains on the porch to provide a little break from the rain. They still remain today and create a cozy ambiance when they’re closed, and nicely frame the porch when they’re open and tied back.
There are so many great options for bringing the indoors out, especially with the use of weather-proof area rugs, cushions and accent pillows. Firepits of all sizes, shapes and styles are available and can enhance the gathering experience.
The same rules apply to outdoor spaces as they do to designing indoors. How will the space be used? What do you like to be surrounded by? Think about layering, texture, height and lighting. Accent pillows and throw blankets can be used for layering on patio furniture as well for adding the cozy factor. Outdoor lighting is a key to setting the stage for entertainment. Uplighting in gardens and around feature plants or trees offers dramatic effect. Torches and candles can fire up the romance. Task lighting can allow you to play games or cards and strings of party lights can jazz up your outdoor dance floor.
Of course, plants and trees are the spotlight steelers on patios and in gardens. Think of layering and height when you are mapping out your garden design. Don’t forget about the power of scent and the allure of welcoming wildlife. I have the most beautiful honeysuckle vine that takes me right back to my childhood when it’s fragrance wafts through my yard. My lavender plants invite bees for pollinating and salvia and fuchsia attract hummingbirds. Fresh herbs provide beauty and scent and can be harvested for cooking and making tea.
Water features, sculptures and whimsical art can make your space unique just like artwork on the walls of your living room. There are so many great options for outdoor speakers that can bring the party to life or chill the evening with relaxing tones.
All of the comforts, coziness and character that make your space HOME can translate to your outdoor spaces, as well. The outdoors awaits and it can be your oasis away from the stresses of the world. Just think about what makes your heart sing and PLANT IT, LIGHT IT, FIRE IT UP!