5 ways to turn your backyard into an outdoor living room

Landscaping an outdoor living room is the ultimate form of alfresco luxury

an outdoor living room
(Image credit: Jennifer Hughes. Design: Richardson & Associates Landscape Architecture)

After what felt like the longest winter in history, warm weather is here at last. With it, we begin to emerge from inside our homes to spend more time outside and make the most of the sun's rays. Before you brush off your backyard furniture, however, you'll want to know the biggest backyard trend we're noticing this season: carefully curated outdoor living spaces. 

Outdoor living rooms are the ultimate in alfresco luxury. Whether used as a spot to relax while you lounge in the sun or as an area to entertain guests on a balmy summer's evening, a stylish space that goes further than standard outdoor furniture is the secret to maximum comfort as well as a design-forward backyard. Knowing how to create one however is easier said than done. 

Luckily, we have an experience landscape designer on hand to explain just that in the shape of a handy five-step guide. From cozy textiles to layered lighting, here's all you need to know to get started on creating an exterior chill out zone that's just as beautiful as your interiors. 

1. Start with outdoor furniture with soft textiles

a sofa in an outdoor living space

(Image credit: David Duncan Livingstone. Design: AMB Design)

For an outdoor living room that promises cozy comfort, soft textiles are a must. That means more than just the odd throw pillow or blanket; we're talking padded sofa cushions, plush outside rugs, and pretty tablecloths. For an outdoor area that is every inch as stylish as the rooms within your four walls, you should also spend just as much time picking the perfect pieces as you would for your indoor living room. 

'When choosing outdoor furniture there are three critical factors: style, durability, and comfort,' says Kat Kat Aul Cervoni, landscape designer and founder of Staghorn NYC and The Cultivation by Kat. 'My advice is to select pieces that vibe well with whatever style pieces you have indoors. That way your outdoor space will feel like a true extension of your home.'

Of course, there's still the question of practicality to bear in mind. Outdoor furniture needs to be durable so it can withstand the weather, which can sometimes limit your decisions. 'If you’d prefer to keep your furniture cushion free, but still want to up the comfy factor, add a cluster of pillows with outdoor-grade fabric,' says Kat. 'Always invest in furniture covers to help with longevity and, if possible, store your upholstered items somewhere waterproof for the winter.' 

Mod Desert Outdoor Rug, Target
Editor's pick

Mod Desert Outdoor Rug, Target

With a distinct, geometric look, this patterned rug from Target is right on trend. It has a Kilim style with a flatweave making it perfect for high-traffic areas and muddy outdoor shoe soles. Use it to zone your outdoor space by placing it under a dining table. 

2. Bring in a firepit for a convivial centerpiece 

a firepit in a moroccan backyard

(Image credit: Jess Isaac. Design: Jessie Lane Interiors)

There's no addition to a living space quite as conducive to a convivial feel as a fire. Since a built-in fireplace is out of the question outside, a firepit is the next best thing. In fact, their typically circular shape is all the better for gathering around with guests.

Not only do they offer that cozy campfire feel after dusk, but a firepit also helps extend the usability of your space into the cooler months. When dealing with outside spaces that lack any permanent structures, they help create a centerpiece for you to build your furniture and other outdoor accessories around as well. 

For a permanent, built-in look, Kat's a fan of a circular stacked stone fire pit. 'For a less expensive and more flexible option, I recommend a metal design such as the Solo Stove or a metal fire bowl,' she says. 'Arrange comfy lounge chairs like Adirondacks around your fire pit for a cozy evening with friends or family.'

3. Add some shelter overhead

A rooftop garden with garden furniture under a pergola

(Image credit: Staghorn Living NYC)

The only factor you can't control in your outdoor living room is the weather. To offer some shade from intense sun or protection from wind and rain, an overhead cover will keep you sheltered while also helping to act as a transitional space between outdoors and in. 

'Whether it’s a pergola situated over a dining space or a generous umbrella over a lounge area, the shade will ensure that you feel cooler and more protected even on the hottest summer days,' Kat explains.

For a budget-friendly solution, Kat says a parasol is your best option. 'Cantilever parasols offer the most flexible type of shade since their tilt and location are the most adjustable while market umbrellas are great for dining tables that come prefabricated with a central hole,' she says. 'The most permanent shade solution, however, is a pergola. When budget allows, I love designing these with retractable awnings so clients can enjoy varying levels of shade and privacy.'

You could also add some privacy trees in pots to add some natural shade to your outdoor living area, but they might take a few seasons to grow tall enough to offer any practical benefit. 'What I like about all of these options is that they make a space feel more cocooned, or enveloped, which is a similar feeling people often want from their living rooms,' adds Kat. 

Cantilever Umbrella, Amazon
Editor's pick

Cantilever Umbrella, Amazon

For ultimate protection come rain or shine, try this cantilever umbrella from Amazon. With easy rotation to alter the positioning and solar-paneled paneled LEDs built into the structure, you'll be prepared for every eventuality. 

4. Introduce layered lighting 

modern urban courtyard garden with lit trees

(Image credit: Detail Lighting)

The number one rule of any living room lighting? Never rely on the overhead light alone. The same applies to your outdoor living room. For a cozier space that feels more like a living room, layered lighting is a must. 'Not only does it add an inviting, warm glow to your space, but it also extends your garden or patio’s usability beyond daylight hours,' notes Kat. 

Popular modern garden lighting options include lanterns on table centers and string lights hung on a wall or wrapped around pergola beams, but don't let your ideas stop there. 'Low voltage uplights nested amidst plantings give a beautiful, glowy feel to your space that can be enjoyed from indoors and outdoors,' Kat suggests. 'I like shining them up into trees to give some dimension as well as ornamental grasses for a gorgeous shadow effect.'

Standing floor lamps shouldn't be out of the question either since many modern options are battery or solar powered, making them wireless. Opt for one that extends overhead for practical lighting come nightfall. 

5. Create some privacy with a screen 

backyard with steel fire pit by Kathy Taslitz

(Image credit: Kathy Taslitz)

Living spaces are personal, private, and secluded. To create an external sanctuary space that mimics just that, consider investing in an outdoor privacy screen. Not only with this landscaping idea help you to zone a separate outdoor living area within your wider backyard, but it will offer a private place away from prying eyes so you can enjoy your lounge area in peace.

'Adding privacy to your outdoor space ensures you’ll feel comfortable kicking back and relaxing just as much as you would indoors,' explains Kat. 'A custom or prefabricated privacy screen can be just the ticket for blocking of unwanted views into your space. A wooden skinny slat style adds some warmth and a contemporary flair, while metal mesh or panels give a sleeker more modern vibe and are great for spaces short on square footage.'

For a more natural approach, Kat also recommends a “green” screen alternative through vertical gardening on fences or planting some privacy trees. 'Evergreen shrubs or hedges are a classic choice and you can choose from boxwood, yew, laurel, or juniper depending on the amount of space you have, sun conditions, and how much height you need,' she says. 'Fastigiate hornbeams are another personal favorite although they're not evergreen.'

NÄMMARÖ privacy screen, IKEA
Editor's Choice

NÄMMARÖ privacy screen, IKEA

Perfect for creating a comfy living room feel outdoors, the wooden slatted NÄMMARÖ screen is a beautiful addition to your backyard. Whether you have a small terrace or a large garden, this free-standing screen is perfect for offering a shady, secluded spot. 

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.