Find sanctuary from summer heat in the backyard

Story highlights

  • Decorators treat outdoor areas the same way they do rooms inside a house
  • Throw pillows are an affordable and easy way to create a cohesive decor scheme
  • Citronella candles offer moderate bug control and beautiful evening ambiance

Summer afternoons in Dallas, Texas, can cook up 100-plus-degree weather and swarms of mosquitoes that seem as big as the state itself.

Luckily, that's not when Tania Griffis ventures out into her backyard.

When it comes to outdoor living, the decor blogger and her husband are looking for comfort. "I usually spend every evening and most mornings out on our swinging bed, talking with my husband or reading a great book," Griffis said.

That swinging bed, pushed by gentle breezes, guarded by gauzy mosquito netting and shaded by 50-year-old pecan and oak trees, is her idea of comfort. She designed it herself and it took her and her husband two weeks to build, stain and seal, "but it is hands down my favorite spot," she said.

Outdoor spaces offer Griffis and homemakers like her something no faux finish or well-placed mirror can best: They combine the perks of home with the beauty of nature.

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"Seeing the sun come up in the morning with a cup of coffee behind the trees and seeing it disappear in the evening with a glass of wine is wonderful," said blogger Julia Konya of her Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, patio. "We don't really use our dining room at all in the summer. The patio is it for us and we love it."

    Cooking, eating, hosting parties and playing with family pets are common ways of using a home's outdoor space. Those are common ways of using indoor space as well, and home decorators use the same ideas to make living rooms or patios comfortable.

    For Laurie Jones of Indianapolis, Indiana, "decorating your outdoor space should be no different than your indoor space." Her backyard includes multiple, cushioned sitting areas that are decorated with side tables, rugs and throw pillows (a particular source of controversy in our Open House bedrooms installment).

    Does outdoor fabric really work?

    So what happens if all this comfortable outdoor furniture is subject to Southern summertime deluges?

    "When we first bought our patio furniture, I would run out to rescue the cushions every time it rained," said decor blogger Emily Cark, from Charlotte, North Carolina. Although she doesn't trust the durability of outdoor fabric, she finds that the sun dries her furniture's cushions well enough, and because she chose a light color they aren't faded. As for throw pillows, she replaces them about every year.

    Fellow Charlotte blogger Erin Cook has to wipe her patio's pillows and cushions after a rainy day, and admits that while outdoor fabric can repel water, outdoor furniture still needs maintenance to avoid soggy cushions. "I regularly flip the cushions to help them dry out," she said.

    Even with the extra maintenance, outdoor fabric is a tool decorators use to make the area more comfortable and inviting. As a design element, fabric can introduce color and reinforce a decor scheme. Throw pillows are the easiest and most affordable way to bring a room together, indoors or out, said Jones.

    "Yes, my name is Laurie and I have a pillow addiction!" she exclaimed.

    Opponents of these fluffy decorating accents need not worry: Outdoor fabric applications aren't limited to covering chairs and pillows. Sun sails, awnings, curtains and umbrellas are all ways Open House contributors brought mildew-free color and comfort to their backyards.

    Green thumbs add color

    "I've spent lots of time making sure I have enough plants with color," "Situation Room" producer and home decor enthusiast Jill Chappell said. "I live in a condo, so most everyone's backyards are the same. It takes a little thought and creativity to make it my own."

    Home owner association or rental rules can limit even the most ambitious decorator. For instance, Chappell isn't allowed to paint her backyard fence ("Which I'd do immediately!" she said,) so plants can be a powerful decor tool.

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    She adds flare to the yard with potted and hanging plants on her porch and the stairs of her back deck. Her latest plant project is an herb garden planted in a chicken feeder she recently purchased at an antique fair.

    "Simple things like this add texture and depth to a small garden and backyard," she said. Tucking succulents in with other decorating elements like lamps, rugs and even a dresser help Chappell create a cozy, room-like atmosphere on her back porch.

    Those pesky pests

    The threat of being eaten alive by mosquitoes is a real concern for many homeowners who want to use their backyard space, especially in the evenings.

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    Kelly Marzka, in Atlanta, Georgia, loves to enjoy the chirping crickets and lightning bugs when her family eats dinner on their deck at dusk. But natural bug spray and citronella candles are not always enough to battle the humid, Southern city's plentiful mosquito population.

    Citronella candles are the go-to insect control method for many decorators, thanks to the glowing ambiance they add to any backyard space. Little details like clearing cobwebs away and cutting down on food waste can help keep creepy crawlers at bay, but sometimes drastic measures are called for.

    "We started having our yard sprayed for mosquitoes on a monthly basis last summer," Clark said, "We can sit out on the patio and our kids can play in the yard without getting bites. It's been a great investment."

    Thankfully, backyards attract wanted critters, too.

    Konya's husband is an avid bird watcher, but so are their indoor cats, who dream of one day hunting and eating their feathery visitors. In order to provide the perfect outdoor situation for the whole family, Konya created a "catio."

    "I built them an outdoor area and tunnels that are connected along the fence to our living room window," she said. "We love watching them enjoy the outdoors."

    Are you obsessed with decorating your house? Show us your skills at CNN's Open House and your photo could be featured in next week's story. Our next focus: The kitchen.