Let’s face it: we could all use a getaway from the stresses of daily life every now and then – but you don’t necessarily have to travel far or spend a lot of money to capture that vacation feeling. In fact, with the right setup, a trip out your back door can be the start of a mini staycation. From fun-filled backyard inspiration to easy ways to create a comfier outdoor atmosphere, here are a few budget-friendly ideas to make staying home feel like a vacation.
Brian McCourt is a contractor, design expert and co-host of HGTV Canada’s Backyard Builds.
Have a Seat
It doesn’t matter how great your backyard looks – if there’s nowhere (or nowhere comfortable) to sit, you’re not going to spend a lot of time out there. When it comes to outdoor seating, make sure it’s set up for maximum ease and relaxation: adding pillows or cushions (made in durable outdoor-ready fabric) to metal or hard-surfaced seating can make a huge difference.
Want to enjoy your backyard after the sun goes down? Upgrading your outdoor lighting is a quick route to transforming your space for evening entertaining and there are plenty of options for every budget. From string lights to solar lanterns, deck out your backyard with some lighting so you can spend more time under the stars.
Bring the Heat
A wood-burning fire pit – like the circular brick design that Sarah and I created for this Backyard Builds space – is a low-cost addition that makes a big impact when it comes to upgrading the retreat-worthy feel of your backyard. The bonus? A fire pit is also a great way to extend the outdoor entertainment season, bringing light and warmth to cooler days and nights.
Turn up the Tunes
You’ve got to have a good soundtrack to your vacation, right? Set up an outdoor music system to pump up the ambiance of your backyard time. Portable outdoor speakers are a small investment or you can go for more of a DIY DJ station like this fun space Sarah and I put together.
Go With the Flow
What is it about water that brings on that zen feeling? A water feature – which could be as simple as a bird bath or small pond or more complex (and cool) like the pool-side waterfall we added to this Backyard Builds design – instantly amplifies that oasis-inspired feel.
Don’t forget: what’s old can definitely be what’s new again – and it can save you some cash along the way. Whether you’re on a tight budget or you just love a more rustic look, salvaging antique furniture or materials and upcycling them into outdoor furniture, garden containers or other backyard treasures is an awesome way to add personality to your space. Never tried it before? Follow my tips for successfully sourcing from salvage.
Be a Bit Shady
As much as you love your neighbours, having their prying eyes peering into your backyard can totally derail the relaxed staycation feeling you’re going for. A fence around your yard can give you a good return on investment in general, while giving you privacy. You can also use a fence to create separation between different zones in your yard, like this unique curved fence we used to divide one family’s entertainment area and shed.
Step up the Comfort Level
Adding a rug (or a few!) to a deck or entertaining area is an inexpensive, no-reno way to transform the look and feel of your outdoor space. Just as you would with outdoor furniture, be sure to choose durable rugs that are designed to be outdoors.
Related: 58 Beautiful Backyard Ideas
Set the Table
When you go on vacation, one of the best parts is eating out at cool restaurants with great food, atmosphere and views, right? While I can’t help you become a better home chef, I can make some suggestions for turning your backyard into a next-level dining experience. For example, leave the random mismatched plates and cutlery inside. Instead, choose a set of dishes to be used for outdoor entertaining and pick them to match the look of your outdoor space (like Sarah and I did with this rustic table setting here) to create a restaurant-worthy feel.
Lower Your Profile
Sometimes, it’s the little things can make the biggest difference – especially in a small space. If you’re dealing with a compact outdoor area, choosing lower-profile furniture, like the pieces we used in this family’s outdoor living space for Backyard Builds, allows you to play with proportion to make a tight yard feel like a spacious retreat.
Play up Your Passion
If you have a shed that’s packed with old junk that you’re never going to use, but that you haven’t gotten around to taking to the dump, give it another look. Is there a way to use that real estate to create a special space for your favourite activities? Whether it’s assembling a simple rainy-day reading retreat, a hip-hop dance hangout or even a one-of-a-kind backyard cake studio, cleaning out the junk can open up plenty of cool possibilities to customize your yard into a daily getaway.
Make it a Movie Night
What’s a vacation without a little entertainment? Make summer movie nights a new tradition with your own backyard theatre. This could be as simple as setting up a DIY screen and projector in the backyard or you can go big (and make the setup more permanent) with an outdoor amphitheatre – complete with cushioned seating and a snack shed – like Sarah and I did for this Backyard Builds family.
A cluttered yard isn’t one that you’re going to be dying to spend time in. Adding simple storage for items like kids’ toys and outdoor accessories keeps things looking tidy. If you’re short on space, you can also double up: smart pieces – like the outdoor benches we used for this family’s Backyard Builds project – give you plenty of places to stash things not in use and double as seating while you’re entertaining.
Nothing says “vacation” better than “nap,” and nothing says “nap” better than a “hammock” – which is why a hammock is the perfect downtime essential for your backyard or outdoor space. Choose a freestanding model if you want the flexibility to switch locations or hang one for a zen, breezy feel.
Think back to being a kid – if you’re like me, a lot of your favourite childhood memories probably involve running around outside with your siblings and friends. Make your backyard a fun zone for kids to explore. Something as simple as a rope swing – like the rustic, repurposed tree swing Sarah and I added to this family’s backyard – can lead to lifelong memories.