With longer days and warmer nights arriving, along with plenty to celebrate this year, your outdoor living space will become more important than ever. By focusing on the essentials, you can create an entertaining and relaxing extension of your home outdoors. Read on for our favorite elements:

1. Comfortable Outdoor Seating

You wouldn’t select an uncomfortable sofa for your living room, so keep those same standards when choosing seating for your patio. Your outdoor furniture needs will depend on your space constraints, climate and lifestyle.

Choose durable outdoor materials like teak, steel, powder-coated metal, resin wicker and anything that can handle exposure to sunlight, moisture and outdoor temperature changes. If you have the space for it, creating multiple seating areas — some for groups, others for quiet retreats — can make a yard more dynamic.

2. Outdoor Table

Nothing beats enjoying a meal at an outdoor dining table on a warm evening. As with choosing any outdoor furniture, getting the scale right is key. As a general rule, allow at least 2½ feet from the edge of a table to the end of a patio or any other obstacle to allow space for a chair and circulation.

Bistro tables (which range from 2 to 3 feet wide) are often best for the smallest outdoor spaces and can provide a private seat for two.

If you have room to accommodate a more generous table to seat four to six people, choose among various table shapes and sizes to best suit your space and allow for clearance.

As with selecting any other piece of outdoor furniture, choose durable materials for your dining table and chairs so they will hold up to the elements.

3. Source of Shade

If you have a sunny outdoor space and enjoy spending extended periods of time outside, you’ll appreciate some shade protection. Shade sources can take all forms, including shade trees, pergolas draped in vines, shade sails mounted on wires, retractable awnings and more.

Freestanding umbrellas can be the most effective option (and the most budget-friendly) if you want the flexibility of being able to move a spot of shade where you need it.

4. Outdoor Lighting

Nothing quite sets the mood in a garden like soft lighting. While installing an outdoor lighting system is a larger investment and takes the help of a lighting professional, adding freestanding solar-powered lights or battery-operated LED lights along pathways is something easy to do on your own. Hanging string lights over a seating area adds instant atmosphere and is also easier than it may seem – even if you don’t have a pergola or tree branches just where you need them.

When purchasing any outdoor lighting, make sure to choose ones specifically for outdoor use, which will often have seals to keep out moisture, among other advantages. Those marked as “commercial grade” are the most durable and often come with a warranty.

5. Grilling Station

If you don’t have a grill, or if you’d like to upgrade your setup, it’s helpful to know that grills generally fall into categories based on fuel type and overall style. While gas-powered covered grills and freestanding charcoal grills may be the most common types out there, don’t let that limit your imagination.

Maybe you’d like to try out cooking low and slow over a smoker, searing skewered meats on an uncovered Southeast Asian-style grill or half-grilling, half-roasting meats in a rotisserie grill. Many grill fanatics swear by kamado-style cookers, like the Komodo Kamado and Big Green Egg, which benefit from the radiant heat of their ceramic side walls.

6. Pergolas

Pergolas, sometimes referred to as arbors, make a visual statement in your yard. Not only are they functional and practical, they are also beautiful. Redwood, Douglas Wood, and Ponderosa Pine are popular choices for the material of the pergola and can be paired with any outdoor space or deck to ensure you get the perfect look. You can transform your current yard and add a focal point that makes a statement. The result is a stunning patio or dining area that draws attention.

A beautiful pergola also helps accomplish another goal – privacy. If you choose to build a pergola on a raised deck, adding a trellis can deter prying eyes. This way, you and your guests can enjoy your time together grilling, chatting, and telling stories around the fire.

7. Fire Pits

With an outdoor fire pit, you can enjoy your patio throughout the year. But a fire pit will warm you up during those cool nights. Like candles and bistro lights, the glow of a fire pit adds a visual warmth to your space. It creates a sense of closeness between those who gather around its flames. Fire pits provide entertainment. This is especially true of wood burning fire pits. From stoking the fire to watching logs burn, the simple act of keeping the flame lively can be a source of entertainment.

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