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10 Expert Backyard Ideas to Build the Perfect Outdoor Oasis

Sarah Keenleyside from HGTV Canada's Backyard Builds

Sunny days are here, which means that it’s time to step into the fresh air and spruce up your home’s outdoor space – but how can you transform a basic backyard design or less-than-loved patio into a staycation-worthy outdoor escape? As the co-host of Backyard Builds, designer Sarah Keenleyside has plenty of smart – and stylish – ideas. From fun (and functional) fencing to clever ways to keep your yard lush and green (with or without grass), Sarah is sharing 10 brilliant backyard ideas to help you build your own open-air oasis.


1. Play With Angles
To fully enjoy any space with your friends and family – whether it’s in your backyard or in your SUV – design is key. On the road, Sarah’s Volkswagen Atlas comfortably seats seven adults, so there’s room for all. When creating outdoor spaces, Sarah uses design to ensure everyone has a comfy seat.

To make a more defined seating and conversation area within a larger outdoor space – like a low deck with no railing – Sarah suggests using more linear outdoor furniture to create a more intimate, room-like feel.

“A great option for a situation like this is a nice oversized outdoor sectional that is symmetrical,” she says. “The sectional will run along two of the sides of your deck, and in turn will create a more cozy border to the open lower deck. Add a square or circular coffee table and a fun occasional chair, and you are done.”

Related: 15 Outdoor Living Rooms You’ll Never Want to Leave


2. Plant the Right Seed (or Sod!) for Your Neighbourhood
It’s a common backyard landscape conundrum: seed or sod? When it comes to growing grass, however, there’s no one right or wrong way to go – your ideal choice really depends on what’s already in (and around) your backyard.

As Sarah explains, you can go with “sod for an instant backyard makeover, but know your neighbourhood!” Specifically, take the time to look into the local critters that could throw your plan off course. “I live in an area that is overrun with racoons, and they are notorious for rolling up the new sod looking for grubs,” Sarah says. “This can be a real pain! If you know you aren’t up for the racoon war then seed might be your best bet.”

Related: How to Grow the Best Lawn in Your Neighborhood

3. Embrace Overhead Lighting
On a tight budget for your backyard update? A little light goes a long way. Outdoor string lights are a simple and budget-friendly way to add a practical (and pretty) source of light to your outdoor space when the sun sets. “Think of using them zig-zagging across your yard overhead or throughout a tree in your yard for a romantic light source at night,” Sarah suggests.

Related: 15 Outdoor Lighting Ideas to Brighten up Your Backyard or Balcony


4. Get Laser Focused
Privacy is key to creating a relaxing space in your backyard or on your deck, but you don’t have to use traditional fencing. “For a deck, I love using laser-cut metal privacy panels,” Sarah says. “There are a lot of fabricators of these now and they add style and privacy without blocking air flow.”

Alternatively, for a backyard landscaping idea that also adds privacy, Sarah suggests planting cedars. “They can be more cost effective than fencing, and also don’t have a height restriction as they grow. Fences, on the other hand, can only be built so tall.”

Related: 7 Landscaping Ideas Designed to Increase Your Property Value

5. Garner Some Green
Even if your yard is compact in size, you can still find ways to add some greenery and grow a garden. The key, as Sarah suggests, is to keep things contained.

“For a small backyard, I am a big fan of built-in planters along the length of one side of the yard,” she says. “This keeps your garden nice and controlled and up off the ground – this way your garden can only overgrow so much and won’t take over the rest of your yard. Just be sure to insulate the planters with 3/4-inch ridged foam on all sides under the earth line to ensure the roots of your plants don’t freeze over our winters.”

Related: Container Gardening Guide: How to Grow Like a Pro

6. Paint it Black
Sarah’s top small backyard design idea to transform a space? “Address the ‘walls’ of your yard, because that’s what makes it feel small.”


Fencing makes a big difference when it comes to a yard feeling small or outdated. “You want to make the fences or perimeter recede back so your space feels larger,” Sarah explains. “You can do this by adding greenery on the fence with a vertical garden or creeping vines. Selecting a black fence or painting your existing fence black really tricks the eye into thinking the space is larger.”

Related: 10 Best Ways to Add More Privacy to Your Backyard Oasis

7. No Grass? Embrace the Shade
Grass keeps a yard looking beautiful and feeling cool, but it isn’t always possible – or the best choice – for every yard. To help your space feel cool and comfortable sans grass, bring in shade and greenery in other ways.

“I love a bohemian-looking white umbrella with tassels,” Sarah suggests. “Then, bring in the greenery with large potted plants. If you want to invest in some larger potted trees, just be sure to bring them inside during the winter months.”

Related: 12 Stunning Pergola Designs You’ll Want to Steal

8. Remember to Cover Up
Weather, wildlife and pests can seriously shorten the lifespan of your outdoor furniture. To keep your backyard oasis at its best, Sarah recommends being proactive with preventative measures.

“For a veggie garden, you really need to build or purchase a chicken wire hinged box that will cover your garden but let you still access the veggies. If you have a bird feeder in the yard this might be contributing to the other animals that come to feed on what has fallen to the ground.”


For outdoor furniture, Sarah suggests getting in the habit of bringing in your cushions at night and covering the whole piece of furniture with a weather cover. “This will also extend the life of your furniture and ensure it is always dry and ready for you to sit.”

Related: How to Clean Outdoor Furniture Like a Pro: Everything You Need to Know

9. Seek Out Storage
Storage is key to keeping the spaces in your life organized and welcoming, which is why Sarah appreciates details that look great, and also offer room to stow her and her family’s essentials – whether it’s the flexible cargo space in her Volkswagen Atlas when she’s on the go, or hidden storage in her outdoor designs.

For keeping your backyard oasis organized, Sarah recommends looking for underutilized spaces – such as the space underneath a raised deck or with outdoor furniture that does double duty. “If you are building a bench, make sure the top is hinged so you can use the interior for storage,” she suggests. “There are lots of coffee table options that provide hidden storage as well.”

Another tip when it comes to storage and outdoor spaces? “When selecting outdoor furniture, consider how you will be storing it during the winter. I always look for stackable chairs.”

Related: Granny Pods to Yoga Studios: 15 Ways to Makeover Your Garage or Shed


10. Splurge on Seating That’s Built to Last
When budgeting for your outdoor oasis, you don’t have to do everything at once. Instead, prioritize good quality outdoor furniture that will stand up to your area’s climate and last for many years. Cheap pieces may be tempting in the short term, but if they end up in the landfill by next summer, they aren’t doing anyone any favours. As Sarah says, “splurge doesn’t mean the most expensive, but it definitely means not the cheapest.”

“There is nothing more upsetting to me than outdoor furniture that lasts only a handful of years and then ends up in a landfill. This is a big problem and so wasteful. Be aware of our climate. Furniture that is in our extreme heat and then extreme cold gets very brittle over time if it’s not the right material. Invest in good quality and take care of it – it will pay off in the long run.”

Brought to you by VW

Images courtesy of HGTV Canada

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