• Melissa Sanabria


If you’ve been following along for awhile, you might remember this patio from such blog posts as “Our Big Little Patio Makeover” or perhaps “5 Tips for Making the Most of Your Tiny Patio.” As we turn our attention to the outdoors and prepare for three beautiful weeks of spring in DC before we have to retreat back inside to hide from the mosquitos and sweltering heat, I thought I would share some recent updates we made to our patio including what we changed, what stayed, and what we would do differently so you can learn from our experience as you attempt to fulfill your patio fantasy this spring.

It’s been four years since we completed that project and while we love the space so much, it was time for some tweaks. Check out how our patio looks today:

We are so happy with the way it looks now (although I would still love to add more greenery). So what exactly did we change? Scroll down to see what we did!

We Ditched the Shade Sail

We loved the idea of the shade sail, but in reality it wasn’t working for us. We found that we mostly use the patio early in the morning or in the evenings anyway so we didn’t really need much for shade.

Plus there were other things we were not loving about it: (1) it retained heat and made the patio feel oven-like, (2) water pooled in it when it rained which means even more mosquitos, and (3) it was rust colored. Why on earth did I choose that color? Oh yes, I was on maternity leave and was sleep deprived and I should not have been making any meaningful decisions. Nothing else in my house is rust colored – I’m a cool / neutral colors gal – so it wasn’t working with the rest of the house and I honestly am not sure what I was thinking when we made that decision.

Do you guys think it looks better with or without? I feel like our little patio can breathe! I love it now.

We Added an Outdoor Play Kitchen

Bea is the luckiest! We collaborated FortyThirdPlace to design and build this cute little play kitchen. I might actually love it more than Bea does. This was one of my favorite projects last year (we actually completed this last fall). Bea loves to garden out back (i.e., pour water into dirt and vise versa) and I wanted her to have a dedicated space where she could spend time outside getting her hands dirty. She loves her play kitchen that we have inside the house and I thought it would be awesome for her to have something similar outside. We built it using bleached white oak and black (my love language) and we gave her two simple little bowls that she can use for “gardening”.

We took a corner of the patio that we weren’t really using to carve out a little spot for Bea. We added a cute and functional peg board for all of her tools and we added an awning for an extra layer of protection from the weather and the sun. Finally, we made sure it has wheels because we all know that flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to small spaces.

We Don’t Use the Built-in Storage Space Like We Thought We Would

Built-in storage is another concept that is great in theory. We love our built-in seating because it does save space, but what doesn’t work so well is the storage beneath the seating and the storage beneath our grill area. It seems so obvious now, but, duh, it’s outside. You can’t really store much and expect that it won’t get moldy or gross. We were only planning to keep our gardening tools out there and maybe store a small kiddie pool…but that didn’t work so well. To be honest I am terrified to open the bench and see what I find inside every spring let alone reach inside to look for anything. The only item we have been able to keep out there with success is our snow shovel, which is actually super helpful.

We Invested in Quality Outdoor Furniture

We finally invested in some forever furniture for the space from Design Within Reach (here are the table and chairs) and stocked up on outdoor pillows from RH (RH has an excellent selection of outdoor pillows). Outdoor furniture can seem pricey, but it needs to be durable to withstand the weather and it’s a place that I have found is worth the investment. Our hope is that we’ll have these items for years to come rather than buying furniture every couple of years. After 5 years of outdoor furniture that looked pretty terrible, we finally decided to spend on nice pieces that are easy to maintain and simple yet modern and timeless.

We Are Letting the Fence Go Au Naturale

You can see in the photos from a few years ago that our cedar fence was freshly stained and it had a lot of orange in it. In person, it doesn’t look quite as intense, but we definitely wanted it to look quieter. As the stain has begun to fade over time, I started to like the way it looked more and more. We played around with the idea of staining it or painting it black so that it recedes into the background, but we decided to simply let the orange-y cedar stain fade naturally and we decided that we’re not going to restain it. Instead we’re going to let it start to go it’s natural gray. In the future, we can always sand and stain it to freshen it up, but for now we’re happy with the way it looks. If we did it over again, we would skip the stain altogether.

What do you think of the refresh? Do you like it better now or do you like how it looked 4 years ago? Let me know what you think in the comments and feel free to send any questions my way too!

All “after” photos by Erin Kelleher Photography.

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