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5 Outdoor Ideas & Hacks That’ll Instantly Add Style (& Save You Money)

While we were staging and styling a recent project for my next book (you’ve seen a few rooms of this sick house so far here and here), we noticed a lot of clever hacks and ideas in the backyard that seemed share-worthy. It’s those things that make you say “ooh, that’s a good idea.” So today, we’re walking you through 5 outdoor hacks, a.k.a. clever ideas, that you can steal for yourself.

1. Candle Chandelier

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Okay how genius is this? Lighting without having to wire anything up. It’s basically a plank of wood, a handful of pillar candles, and chains attached to the beams of the patio roof. This version here uses metal hanging planters as the flat base to set the wood on, but you could absolutely hack with either just more of the same chain, some dowels or flat pieces of wood attached by hooks to the chain. We don’t suggest lighting this on a windy night for obvious reasons, though. Ha.

The drippier the candles get, the better they look. Vary your heights and widths to get that effortless, magical look, like this:

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2. Distressed “Upholstered” Bench

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Dining Chairs via Article

“Effortlessly cool” usually involves doing something that makes people go “huh? ohhh, I would have never done that/made that look good.” Kind of like this rough bench that’s nothing but weathered wood screwed together. Next to the vintage butcher block table, the terra-cotta tiles and the bistro chairs, it’s just one of those things that works in the coolest way possible.

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It’s not pristine, it’s not fussy, in fact, it’s the complete opposite. Outside of this scene, it might look like it belongs in a back alley, awaiting trash day, but adding a nubby textured rug over it (i.e. skip any fancy, expensive upholstery), and boom, you have yourself an “upholstered” dining bench. It was SO easy honestly…it’s just a matter of taking a spare rug (something smaller like a 4×6 works) and throwing it on.

3. A DIY Makeshift “Fire Pit”

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Gray Pillow via Serena & Lily | Throw via Lulu and Georgia

That “fire pit” up there is actually just a repurposed flea market find. It is a large iron cauldron that has rusted over and patinaed and now is a pretty rad pit. The hack here is to think outside the box with what you can use outside. Instead of seeking out a specific fire pit (which can be very expensive) either second hand or new, look around for something that’s large, deep and able to handle high temps and, well…fire.

The planters here (which, hot tip, can be found for SUPER cheap at places like estate sales) also create intimacy and a sense of a “room” without actually having to do hardcore in-ground gardening. You can go with either all the same plants in the same pot for a more modern look or go more “lived in” and eclectic with various sized pots and plantings. It adds a lot of warmth, texture and makes it feel like its own “enclosed” space for conversation and lounging.

4. Wired Tree Pendants

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Chairs via Article | Pillow via Lulu and Georgia

Okay, this one takes a tad more effort than slapping some planters down, because it involves wiring and whatnot. Basically, William (the homeowner) hung a vintage iron pendant light from the tree over the firepit conversation area, which adds both serious charm and also light for after sunset. You could, of course, go the route of twinkle lights in the branches, but if you’re looking for something a little bit more simplified (because honestly, stringing lights in trees is not our idea of a Friday night well spent) or just unique, go on the hunt for something with some visual interest the next time you’re hunting down flea finds.

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Once you have your light picked out, all you have to do is string it up and run an outdoor-safe wire or extension cord through the branches to your power source.

5. Use Pebbles to Cover Dirt or Bad Grass to Create “Zones”

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Want to know the secret to a “magical” outdoor oasis that actually is just a coverup for dirt and/or bad grass? PEBBLES. William created zones in the backyard, which was just dirt prior, by laying out a barrier of larger rocks, then filling in with small smooth beach pebbles. It’s an instant solution that you don’t need to water, let grow in (like sod), and frankly, it looks pretty dreamy, don’t you think? Masonry, decking, grass…it’s all far more expensive than some bags of pebbles that you can get at your local hardware store like The Home Depot or Lowe’s.

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Gray Vase via The Citizenry | Pillow via Louise Gray | Throw via The Citizenry

Make sure to put down a weed barrier before laying the rocks unless you’d rather spend your nights and weekends pulling weeds instead of actually enjoying your backyard. Oh, and another tip from this same sweet little area is the table and chairs. The base here is just a found piece of metal that has patinaed in the elements and the top is stone. The chairs are not specifically “outdoor” seats, but they’ve weathered nicely and frankly look pretty cool. I’m not suggesting just bringing anything from indoors out and letting it get destroyed by nature, but in California specifically, where it doesn’t rain often and there really isn’t any kind of “weather,” it’s a lot more sensible to do this. The soft goods like the throw and pillows, only come out when you need them.

This is probably not the last time you’ll hear about this house outside of my book because it was a goldmine of cool spaces and architectural details. Thank you again to William for letting us do our thing on your property, and call out in the comments what here you want to steal for your own home (or if you have other super easy, affordable ideas and hacks for outdoor spaces).

Outfit Details: Top | Shorts (similar) | Shoes

***photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp  for EHD, produced and art directed by Emily Henderson, designed and styled with Velinda Hellen and Erik Staalberg


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55 thoughts on “5 Outdoor Ideas & Hacks That’ll Instantly Add Style (& Save You Money)

    1. Totally agree, I’ve declared this the year of the backyard at our home and am always looking for styling ideas for outdoors!! My parents also have an old cauldron from my great grandparents home that they literally just drilled a hole in the bottom to insert a gas burner with pretty fire safe glass inside, it was super easy and looks so nice!

  1. This is great! I would LOVE a similar post about how to style a balcony, especially for renters who can’t make big or permanent changes/additions.

      1. Hooray! I just requested similar, for balconies flooded with street lights. Think you can work that in?

  2. This is great! I would LOVE a similar post about how to style a balcony, especially for renters who aren’t able to make big or permanent changes.

    1. I agree – I was looking forward to this but most of them don’t apply to my terrace in NYC.

    1. patinaed adjective
      pat·​i·​naed | \ -nəd, -ᵊnəd\
      Definition of patinaed
      : having a patina
      a leather snap purse patinaed like old silver
      — William Faulkner

  3. Great post! I think you’re missing links to previous posts in the first line and I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out which sick house this is.

    I love the wired light from that tree!

  4. Love these ideas! Going to have to try the rock trick because the dogs have destroyed our grass 🙁

  5. Gorgeous home!
    We use pebbles to create zones in our garden. This connects to your earth day post as one of the best weed barriers one can use under pebbles is sheets of corrugated cardboard or undyed brown paper such as from paper grocery sacks. Save those shipment boxes and you are good to go!

    1. Thanks for this tip! I have some cardboard boxes lying around and some garden beds in need of weed barriers. Win-win! 🙂

  6. Love the rock/pebble situation. I’m trying to talk my husband into doing something like that in the parts of our yard where the intense shade destroyed all hope of grass, but our dogs are also big fans of running away with rocks and breaking their teeth on them (that’s a miserable vet bill).

    We’re looking into using either wood chips or mulch instead of pebbles for the same effect, but less broken dog teeth. Other suggestions welcome!

    1. I’m planting ajuga in with what little grass is still there. It’s spreading nicely in year two. And the lawn guys can mow right over it. Hopefully by next year it will blend in nicely. I do love the pebbles, too.

  7. Great ideas, for sure! Love the ‘wired’ tree light idea.

    Funny, but you actually look photo-shopped into that pebble area shot where you’re pouring a jug?! Huh?!

  8. I want to steal that candle chandelier…it’s just brilliant! Turning bad grass into a pebbley patio is a great idea, too. What a great way to create an outdoor room. Love it.

  9. So how does one go about making their bench look like that? I have a bench on my terrace that I was thinking of staining but not sure I could acquire a look like that. Any helpful DIY’s out there?

  10. This could not have come at a better time! I was literally on Pinterest yesterday searching “rustic backyard ideas” and “dirt backyard ideas”! We have a beautiful backyard (Southern California) that looks Mediterranean with Italian cypress trees, eucalyptus trees, citrus trees, etc., but it’s all dirt! Pebbles are genius!!!!

    1. Ohh that sounds so pretty. I bet pebbles to cover the dirt in winding paths would be magical.

  11. The candle chandelier is so much bang for the buck! But what about your top??? Is it still available because I need it – super cute!

  12. The bench looks cool, but it’s pretty narrow, and there doesn’t seem to be enough room for legs to comfortably fit under the table apron. I’d snag one of those bistro chairs if I had to sit at that table. Leave the bench for the kids!

  13. I would like to know the brand of those chairs. They look pretty awesome with those two colours!!

  14. This could not be more timely! I’ve been eyeing a large cauldron my elderly neighbor says is “trash” but couldn’t figure out what to do with it because it has a small crack. Perfect. My new fire pit! Thanks!

  15. So many decorating tips involve lighting. Our space is on the south side of the building. It’s the front, so we get sidewalk lights flooding in, even the red & green glows of a stoplight. How can I do up our balcony to look “special” in ways that don’t involve candles or lighting? So far it’s just a hammock & some plants.

    1. Outdoor rugs, possibly layered? Pillows on your hammock? Something fun and unexpected to place your plants on…maybe a small step ladder, or some cool small tables or stools? Some bigger palms, etc. for varied heights in fun planters or baskets? Hang a mirror? BAM!!

    1. It’s so simple but yeah, just one of those “oh! I didn’t think of that moments”

  16. This has got to be my favourite home of all time. Amazing! I love every single thing, inside and out. What an extremely talented couple that renovated this home with such love and poured their souls into it. I wish I could move to LA and buy it!

  17. I improvised an outdoor sitting area for my unporched house in a porch-sitting neighborhood with some similar ideas after being wildly inspired by Emily’s beautiful and ($$$) terrace. I used mulch over the bad grass because I have some shade plants I wanted to keep, scrounged a 4×6 piece of slate from my dog club, added planters, and two trellises for morning glories up against the house, together with a metal table and chairs I already owned.
    I do wonder whether the “fire pit” could actually be used for a fire without having draft holes drilled out?
    Anyway, before the articles about the terrace, I had never thought I could have an outdoor sitting area unless I had the money to build a proper porch, and I knew that would never be in the budget. You guys gave me the inspiration, and every time I sit out there with coffee and a book, and nod to the neighbors I’m grateful.
    So think outside that box, folks.

  18. Speaking of fire pits–years ago I saw a magazine article where they used an old wheelbarrow as a fire pit. It has the added benefit of being able to wheel it to another part of the yard if you so desire.

  19. Love this! Can you also do some posts about pools/spas? Landscaping around them, tiling etc?

  20. Ideas for styling a stone terrace which is against the house with straight edges and has sweeping curves on the other side next to the lawn.

  21. Love the “upholstered” bench! What color paint/stain is on it? SO beautiful! I just picked up a 60 year old redwood picnic table and would love to give it this same look.

  22. I wanted to leave a word of warning on the pebbles- yes they look great and are inexpensive, but they won’t save you from pulling weeds. Putting a weed barrier underneath won’t keep them away, unfortunately. I know from experience- the seeds land on the rocks and they actually love to sprout there because the drainage is optimal.

  23. I would check your county code befoe using a wood burning fire pit in California, especially after the wild fires last year.

  24. Amazing space! Would love to see this garden photographed at night to see what the light looks like and the fire pit in action.

  25. MMH,
    My wife and I lived in an apartment with a balcony for several years. As a landscape designer I wanted the place to feel enclosed and private.We grew a variety of flowers and vegetables in pots, hanging baskets and window boxes attached to the railing. We had a nice sitting area with rug and lighting. It was our favorite spot! It all went with us when we moved.

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