What's Your Dream Outdoor Space? Research & Plan!

Apartment Therapy's Guide to the Perfect Summer

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Between sleeping, working, going to school and more, most of us spend 90% of our time indoors. That's why cultivating and maintaining an outdoor area — your own tiny spot of connecting to nature — isn't a luxury, it's a necessary component of having a healthy, enjoyable home. We might not all have the luck of scoring a huge, ready-made outdoor dream space, but we all have the ability to transform and improve what we do have. A dreamy outdoor space is well within reach; find out where to start after the jump!

We want you to create — with whatever space you're starting with — an outdoor area that will be your mini-retreat from the hectic world. A place you can reconnect with nature or enjoy the outdoors with friends and loved ones. A spot where you can get some fresh air or grow healthy food and plants. And the first step to creating a dream outdoor space is giving yourself the time to really consider what your dream outdoor space would not only look like, but also how it would function for you.

This week, gather inspiration and nail down function:


1. Do the visual research and take notes on style
Gather some images of outdoor spaces that seem insanely dreamy to you and notice what they have in common. Consider favorite outdoor places you've seen in person, too, like hotels or stylish friends' backyards.

Is there a certain "style" you can see in common with your dream spaces? Specific design elements that come up again and again? Bold colors and modern lines? An ivy-covered English rose garden? If you think there are some descriptive style words that describe these inspiring-to-you dream spaces — write them down. And then also jot down specific elements you see and love in these dreamy outdoor spaces. From "hanging lanterns" to "koi pond," don't worry this week whether it's something you can fit or afford in your space. You're only gathering inspiring images and ideas right now. Translating these elements you love to your space comes later!

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2. Consider the function of your space
What's your outdoor enjoying style? Do you want a place you can garden? Lounge around with a cup of a tea and a good book? Do work? Entertain guests? You don't have to pick just one, but you do need to have a good idea of the primary and secondary functions your outdoor space will have. Your primary function is how you will use it most days — which for many might be dinner al fresco or enjoying the morning paper. A secondary function example might be throwing a monthly cocktail party. Not sure how you want to use your space? Go back to your dream spaces and observe what they seem best for — that should give you a hint.

3. Have an idea of a budget
Look it's summer — you don't have to have any excel spreadsheets to decide how much you want to spend, but do think about it a bit. And even if your budget is next-to-nothing, don't worry; we'll have plenty of elbow-grease and DIY ideas that won't cost much.

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4. Take some before photos!
We're going to want you to share your new dream outdoor space when you're done, so be taking before photos throughout the process, please!

By the end of this weekend, have:

  • A handful of images of outdoor spaces that take your breath away
  • A list of style "terms" that seem like they fit your dream space images (Morroccan...modern, etc.)
  • A list of dreamy decor elements you love
  • Your primary and secondary outdoor area functions decided

Start here for inspiration:

Visit the Guide to the Perfect Summer main page for links to all of the posts published so far or sign up to have them delivered directly to you each weekend.

More posts in this series

Whip Your Outdoor Area Into Shape

(Image credits: Thayer's Modern Beachy Apartment; Adrienne Breaux; Janel Laban)