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Extending a welcome mat for friends and neighbours

Wouldn’t it be great to be friendlier with your neighbours? I don’t just mean the people on either side of your home. Community spirit is important. It is enriching. I think, here in the Atlantic Provinces, we are rather fortunate to have more of that neighbourly interaction, but it is dwindling.

Instead of hanging out in front of our homes, chit-chatting with people as they come and go, many of us seem to be in search of quiet solitude. In today’s busy world, when we create an outdoor space, we gravitate to the privacy of our backyards; sheltered from the street and passersby, we take refuge in our concealed sanctuaries. There is definitely a time for that, but I think back to my childhood days when it was commonplace for neighbours to stop by and catch up on the news while sitting on the sunny porch.

These memories transport me back to a time when we felt more connected to the people around us. Somehow our grandparents seemed to have more time to take it slow—before the advent of modern-day conveniences meant to save us time.

Outdoor living space

Why not use your outdoor living space to its fullest potential? After all, being outside makes us feel alive! Maybe it’s the view, the chirping birds or simply the fresh air. Spring is in full swing and we are heading into summer. So, let’s focus on how to extend your living area into the exterior; bringing a little of the inside out!

One thing is certain; the more visible we are, the more approachable we seem. So, if we want to create contact with others in our community, this is a great place to start! If you have a veranda, it is the perfect spot to build an “outdoor room.” Even a small, welcoming area in a front garden can be formed with the thoughtful placement of a couple of chairs. A front veranda, however, gives great character to a house and adds architectural interest. It is a traditional feature that has been prevalent for many years, yet we still see them included in many new homes to this day.

Porches and verandas should be decorated with the homeowner’s style preferences in mind. Approach the project the way you would for a room inside your home—except take care to make sure that the materials and fabrics you select are appropriate for our unpredictable climate.

You will be more likely to use your veranda if the seating is comfortable and weather resistant. A variety of outdoor wicker chairs are available (see photos.) Traditional wicker is made from natural fibre that can deteriorate in our climate unless it’s very well taken care of. Most wicker furniture sold for outdoor use now is actually woven from synthetic vinyls and resins. These are robust and stand up well against weather fluctuations and humidity.

Because of our damp, salty air, the frame of the furniture is equally important. Try to find pieces that have rust-proof aluminum frames instead of steel frames, as these will corrode quickly. An alternative to wicker is the Adirondack or Muskoka chair, readily available from stores and local craftspeople alike. Whether you prefer them au natural or brightly painted in primary colours, you will love to linger a little longer in these laid back chairs.

But our outdoor update doesn’t end with the seating.

If you have a veranda, it is the perfect spot to create an "outdoor room." Personalize your space with accent pillows, pretty potted plants and outdoor rugs.

Accent lighting

Since the veranda forms part of the entry to your home, adequate lighting is important. Be sure that the sconces or overhead lights are in good working condition and complement your personal style. Accent lighting can also be used, particularly if you will be using the space into the evening. Add some hurricane lanterns. Citronella candles can be used to keep pesky mosquitoes at bay. If you have the space, incorporate a small table; a spot to place the lanterns, a plate or a coffee cup.

Add plants

Colour can be included with the addition of accessories. Include some pretty potted plants. Add a leafy fern and some colourful blooms to bring a bit of life to a shady porch (see “after” photo.) Feel free to experiment with tropicals. Think of them as you would an annual plant; they will thrive throughout the summer, but be sure to bring them in for the colder months if you don’t want to have to replace them next year. It is uncommon to incorporate unexpected, exotic flora like a palm tree or flowering hibiscus on a veranda. It would be a great conversation starter for neighbours who might be walking by.

Colourful fabrics

Outdoor rugs are abundantly available and are a fantastic way to anchor the space and really set it apart as an outdoor “room.” It gives pets a spot to curl up too! Although your comfy chairs may already encourage relaxing, they will be even more inviting with plush seat cushions and accent pillows (see the vibrant colours in our after shot). There are scores of ready-made, outdoor decorative cushions, and endless collections of custom fabric options. You can even include a throw blanket or reading shawl to make the veranda appealing on those fresh mornings before the sun (and the coffee!) has had a chance to burn off the fog. Personalize your outdoor space with personal items like natural collections, or a basket of wooden games like dominoes or Jenga.

In the “before” photograph, the veranda space was pretty basic; nothing wrong with it, but it was not overly alluring. With the simple addition of a few elements, it’s a colourful and welcoming spot to quietly watch the world go by and maybe even shoot the breeze with some of those neighbours!

Kimberley Eddy owns Evolve Interior Decorating.

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