How to Set Up the Best Outdoor Living Room for Gatherings

outdoor living

Consider this: you have a day off from work and want to spend it in front of the television, binge-watching your favorite show. However, it’s also a really nice day and you want to spend some time outside. To paraphrase a favorite internet meme: why not do both? If you have an outdoor living room, you can enjoy the nice weather while also enjoying the comforts of home. Unlike just hauling the TV and the couch outside, an outdoor living room is an outdoor space that still feels like a room when you’re in it. While it will take some work, and even possibly some investment, an outdoor living room is easier to put together than you think. 

As with any project a homeowner undertakes, you have to make the decision between doing it yourself and hiring contractors. On one hand, doing it yourself is the cheaper option and one that will give you a sense of pride when you enjoy the finished product. However, if you aren’t an expert in construction, electrical work, and landscaping, you might want to leave that to the professionals. Whatever method you ultimately decide, our handy guide about how to build an outdoor living room will help you along the way.

If you’re confused about what an “outdoor living room” even is, don’t worry, we’ll explain. Essentially, it is a comfortable gathering space outside where people can hang out from the warm early days of spring to the crisp nights of early winter. Let’s talk about what they are and what they are good for before we get into how to build one.

It might seem ridiculous or unnecessary to build a space outside that has a television, a fridge, and other such amenities. Of course, 40 years ago, the idea of having a television in your bedroom was seen as the height of excess and luxury. Without an outdoor living room, you can certainly enjoy time outside in every season, but not as comfortably as you would with one. These are spaces that make the yard feel like truly a part of your home. Which means that even though you have to maintain them (and break down or protect them during harsh weather), the time you spend there makes that effort worth it. It’s a great place to host a party or just lounge on the weekends with family or by yourself. Once you have one, an outdoor living room makes perfect sense. 

If you are thinking about installing an outdoor living room, there are many benefits you may not be aware of. Sure, there is the obvious upside in that once an outdoor living room is built, you get to spend time there. But it’s more than that. Hosting a party and want to send the kids outside? A television and their own comfy couches can help sell that idea. Want to get away from your partner’s book club or football buddies? Send them to the outdoor living room (or use it yourself). Also, depending on how much permanent infrastructure you build in, an outdoor living room can increase the value of your property. The only real downside is that there is no way to truly secure it if you have an open yard. (Though you can use security cameras to keep an eye on it when you are away and make sure you include it on your homeowner’s insurance policy.)

Planning to construct an outdoor living room is not unlike planning to do major home renovations. If you don’t do proper planning, you could end up costing yourself money or an outdoor living room no one likes. Follow these ten steps to make sure your outdoor space is one everyone can enjoy. 

First, you have to make sure your property can accommodate an outdoor living room. You will need a relatively large area, at least enough to comfortable seat a group of four to six people. You will want it to be close to the house, but not so close that it’s just like an extended porch. So, before you start picking your favorite patio furniture cushion pattern, block out the area you plan to use for your outdoor living room. If your yard has fencing or some other kind of barrier, consider using that as the starting point for the space. We’ll get into how you can enclose the outdoor living room, should you want to, later.

Still, using the edge of your property as one of the boundaries of the area will help make the finished product look more like a part of the property than a haphazard gazebo out in the middle of the yard. Mark off the section you wish to use, and even if you just eyeball it at first, take precise measurements. As you add the infrastructure of the outdoor living room and start selecting furniture and appliances, you will need to know these sizes. As every good wood shop teacher said for time immemorial: “measure twice, cut once.” The implication being that by taking exact measurements beforehand saves time because you don’t have to go backwards.

What makes an outdoor living room tricky is, well, that it’s outdoors. This means that while you and the family are sitting back watching movies or cooking out, you could suddenly be hit with a wind and rain storm. So, you have to consider the elements when planning your outdoor living room. If you live in area that gets a lot of rain or snow, consider building your outdoor living room on a raised platform. If you live in an area where you get a lot of sun, make sure your enclosure spaces are reflective colors, otherwise you’ll cook your guests. Still, no matter what weather you face, there are solutions for it.

Of course, you can’t plan for all things and strange weather can happen anywhere in the world as it is today. So, how far you go in planning to secure your space is up to you. Then there are things you can’t plan for nor combat. For example, there is no outdoor living room standing today that could survive hurricane-force winds. So, take all the precautions you want, and you’ll most likely be fine where the elements are concerned. But if something more serious does strike, well by then you’ll probably have bigger concerns than the outdoor living room.

What makes an outdoor living room different from just a furniture arrangement on the lawn is that it feels like a “room.” Ensuring that some part of the space has walls or a ceiling helps that illusion. Plus, this gives your guests places to get warm on those cool nights or shade during those hot days. How you create the enclosure is up to you and your ultimate desires for the space. Ideally, you could create a way to almost fully enclose the space but be able to remove those enclosures when you wanted. There are ways to do this, and it all depends on what you are willing to accept. 

You could do some serious construction by building a roof and some walls around your outdoor living room space. With some clever engineering, you could make the panels in those walls removable, so you can open the space up on nice days. Of course, this would likely take some effort to achieve. The other solution is to use foldable walls, typically made from a tarp-like material. You can get them with clear “windows” in them or you could just use clean tarps in a neutral color. This will provide less insulation than more permanent walls but should be enough to keep out the elements on the nights you need to. This you could probably do yourself, while the construction option might require a contractor. Yet, done right, this bit of infrastructure will increase the value of your property. 

One difference between a fire pit or party tent and an outdoor living room is, usually, that it has power. You can charge your devices, watch TV, and maybe even have something out there to keep the drinks cold. Even if you are a dedicated do-it-yourself-er, you need to make sure that this work is, at least, approved by an electrician. If the power lines aren’t properly insulated, your outdoor living room could turn into an electrical shock trap. Still, this is worth the expense, because it makes your outdoor living room really feel like an outdoor part of the house. You can have a Christmas tree out there during the holidays or run fans during your August parties. 

You definitely don’t just want to run extension cords from the house to the outdoor living room, though. Invest in electrical equipment for outdoor use, so there’s no unsightly wires or hazards from electric shock to tripping over the cords. If you’ve set up your outdoor living room near a fence or other barrier on your property, run the lines around the edges back to the house. Or, if you don’t mind a little light landscaping, you can run the powerlines underground from the house to the outdoor living room. This sort of electrical (or even water, if you want it) infrastructure also adds to making an outdoor living room feel like a permanent part of the property.

No outdoor experience, whether roughing it out in the wilderness or chilling in your outdoor living room is complete without a fire. Of course, especially in residential areas, there are very specific rules and regulations governing fires. This makes sense because an out-of-control open fire risks not just your home but your neighbors’ homes as well. Make sure to check with your local ordinances for fire safety rules. Then, using that information, build a fire pit that meets those regulations or get a stand-alone, enclosed one that works mostly anywhere.

For example, your area might have a regulation that stipulates the fire pit be a certain distance away from all structures. If you’ve built up walls and a ceiling for your outdoor living room, that could count as a structure. So, either use a camping stove or enclosed fire stand or build the pit as an extension from the outdoor living room. If your fire pit can’t be in or too near your outdoor living room, you can make up for the heating loss by adding space heaters. From the little ones you can fit under a desk to the large, metal ones designed for outdoor use, there are plenty of safe options to keep your outdoor living room warm when it’s could out.

Now, you are ready to install the appliances you are going to use in your outdoor living room. You’ve run the power and built what infrastructure there is, so the next step is putting these items in. For things like televisions or other media devices, you will want to both make sure they are secure in their place and can be protected from the elements. When it comes to appliances like stoves or fridges, those can be more difficult to install and protect. Still, you will be glad to have them when you sit down for a party or to watch the game. It may take a little extra work, but it will give your outdoor living room that extra-luxury feel. When purchasing these appliances, consider springing for installation package so you can get experts to come help ensure the set-up is correct and secure. 

While you might have decided to invest in some permanent infrastructure when setting up your outdoor living room, it should not be a static feature on your property. This is why things like easy-to-move furniture, removable walls, and other easy to adjust accents should be used to fill up your space. Not only will this variety keep the space interesting to you and your guests, but it will also ensure that you can make the most of your outdoor living room. Making sure it is easy to rearrange the space will both ensure that you are able to adapt the space for any situation in which you want to use it.

For example, let’s say you have a child’s party planned for Saturday and a football party planned for Sunday. You can clear out an open area for the kids to play and eat. Then the next day, you want to have your friends over to watch the big game or whatever talent show is currently airing on the broadcast networks. With a static set-up for your outdoor living room, you’ll spend Sunday morning trying to get sticky-hand stains out of your cushions in time for your other guests. But, if you can move the furniture around or switch things out, both groups can enjoy that space like its their own. 

If the issue was just having movable furniture and a clear space, you could just use your porch instead of building an outdoor living room. Remember, as we mentioned above, what sets an outdoor living room apart from other outdoor gathering spaces is the level of comfort. The furniture, the atmosphere, and everything else should be just as comfy as it is inside your home. If you are able to achieve this, your outdoor living room will be a place you frequent often rather than just on special occasions.

One way to ensure that your outdoor living room is as comfortable as possible is to make sure that you address your specific needs. If you have elderly friends or family, or folks with chronic pain issues, you will need soft, comfortable sits situated high enough that they don’t struggle to get up and down. Even if you and your guests are in your prime, and even have children, you might want a more spartan space suitable for more active pursuits. Either way, you will need comfortable places to sit, but not so many that they overcrowd the space. Whether standing or sitting, your outdoor living room is a place that should scream luxury and comfort.

One thing that can ruin your outdoor living room experience has little to with your planning and everything to with the fickleness of Mother Nature. Setting up a large flat screen TV will be a losing proposition if the first strong wind can knock it over. So, when you assemble your outdoor living room set-up, make sure that all of the items out there can be secured when not in use or the weather kicks up. By anticipating these problems when you are still designing it, you can ensure that what you end up with will keep things safe when you aren’t there.

Yet, there is a second kind of security to consider, especially if you have an open yard. While people are unlikely to sneak onto someone’s property to make off with a patio chair, they may be a little more motivated to score a set of sweet speakers or that flat screen television. So, you will want to consider using things like wireless security cameras or other smart home security tools to help protect your property. Also, make sure that your homeowner’s insurance policy will cover outdoor spaces and appliances. If it doesn’t, dump it and find a policy that does. Also, consider using steel cables and locks to secure items in place, because criminals are lazy and will look for an easier target. 

There are some people in your family, perhaps your own parents, whose homes look today almost exactly like they did 20 or 40 years ago. Sometimes the furniture or appliances change slightly, but most of their things are static. Even if your home is like this, you don’t want your outdoor living room to be. One other benefit of making sure the things inside are easy to shift around depending on need is that it allows you to mix things up, keeping that space feeling fresh and new. Otherwise, it will become just another place in your home that catches junk and is overlooked more than its enjoyed. 

How you do this depends on your tastes and your needs. Perhaps you turn your outdoor living room into a hibachi are or make it more media friendly. Maybe you switch out the furniture every few years or are constantly updating the colors and style. However you do it, this will make sure your outdoor living room stays a vibrant and active place in your household. Whether your living room looks the same as the day you moved in or totally different, your outdoor living room is the place to try new things and change up when things start to feel stale.

How you choose to outfit and design your outdoor living room is a personal, subjective decision. Maybe you don’t want a television, because your outdoor living room is meant to be a respite from the constant barrage of screens. Maybe you want your outdoor living room to be a more fluid space, were people linger for a time and then move on, rather than settling in for a whole day or night. However, you want your outdoor living room to function as a part of your home, you can find the right way to make it happen. Like any part of your home, it will take work to keep it clean and make sure things are protected, but it will be worth it. Watching the sun set or lounging with a good book will be extra-special in your outdoor living room. 

What do you think? Are there any suggestions for setting up an outdoor living room we missed? Share those and your thoughts, reactions, and experiences in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article on social-media if you enjoyed it, so your friends can get in on the conversation.

This content was originally published here.