How to Turn Porches and Patios into Living Spaces - dummies

How to Turn Porches and Patios into Living Spaces

By Katharine Kaye McMillan, Patricia Hart McMillan

Using basic interior design strategies, you can make your porch and patio into a second living room. To maintain continuity with the interior, use the same style, especially if a porch or patio is visible from the living room or family room. On the other hand, you may create a completely different mood, making your secluded porch or patio an exotic retreat.

Weather drastically and rapidly affects your porch and patio furnishings, so buy outdoor furniture. Outdoor summertime furniture can withstand moisture and extremes of temperature. Wicker needs the protection of a porch roof in summer and must be stored indoors in winter. Metal furniture can withstand light summer rains but needs protection from winter weather in most areas. If in doubt, ask your furniture salesman.

When decorating your porch or patio, keep these tips in mind:

  • Accessories: Potted plants — especially those that bloom — are a natural outdoor accessory. Pile a bunch into a child’s red wagon, antique wicker pram, or old wooden boxes. Hang lanterns (they look like paper but are made of weather-resistant plastic) surrounding electric light bulbs or votive candles. Painted wooden fruit and vegetables, dried or painted gourds, and marble fruits and vegetables are also festive for this outdoor environment.


  • Flooring: Stone floors are a natural for the outdoors and usually need only an occasional hosing down to look great. Slate is a popular patio and porch choice, laid with grout or with moss or grass. Wooden floors on porches benefit from a good coat of paint (and perhaps a couple of coats of polyurethane). Choose a color that’s compatible with the color of your house’s exterior walls — maybe a color that matches the existing shutters. Area rugs create an unexpected but desirable indoor ambiance for outdoor areas.

  • Furniture for seating: Don’t put indoor upholstery on a porch because sun, rain, and dust will damage it. Instead, use wicker, teak, aluminum, wrought iron, or any material that can stand up to the elements. For comfort, choose cushions covered in special outdoor fabric. It’s washable and, stuffed with fiberfill, designed to stand up to the weather. The new versions of outdoor cushions are plush and comfy, adding a certain luxe look to porch, patio, terrace, or balcony.


    Arrange seating just as you would indoors, in close conversational proximity. Add tables for snacks, beverages, books, and magazines. If your children play here, provide a toy box for storage. Consider a hammock for extra seating and a great place for a nap.

  • Lighting: Porches have protective roofs and come equipped with overhead lights or wall sconces for evening use. Make sure your porch and/or patio is adequately wired. You’ll need to plug in floor and table lamps (choose those engineered for outdoor use, with heavy-gauge cords, shatterproof bulbs, and shades made of outdoor fabrics).

  • Shelter: On porches, treat openings between porch posts with hangings that block sun and rain. Consider installing louvered shutters, painted to match the walls or other shutters on the house. Custom awnings are another option (but they can be a bit expensive). Or substitute wash-and-wear sheets for awnings. You can add cotton tiebacks, held by cup hooks, which secure the curtains when you don’t need privacy or shelter from mild breezes. When it rains, you can undo the tiebacks and let the sheets blow dry.

    Shelter for open patios and terraces may come in the form of umbrella-covered tables, awnings, or freestanding tents to shield the area from sunshine or showers.

  • Walls: Porch and patio walls are usually the same color as your house’s exterior walls to keep continuity. But you can decorate them with hanging planters, ceramic tiles or plates, painted wooden plaques, a collection of decorative bird houses, and other appropriate items that neither sunshine nor rain will damage.