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Seven Tips for Enjoying Your Outdoor Spaces All Winter Long

We think embracing the outdoors is key to fully enjoying the winter season. If you live in Seattle, you might be scratching your head. Enjoying the outdoors in all this rain? In short, yes! There’s so much to enjoy this time of year, so take a leaf out of Scandinavia’s book and prepare to get cozy.

November 19, 2020

These crazy coronavirus times have upended the way go about socializing and living. A key to staying connected has been embracing the outdoors. Frankly, I’m glad this is finally happening. It amazes me how few outdoor living and dining spaces Seattle has, especially for, what I see as such a mild climate. Seeing streets activated with outdoor tables and activity seems, at least to this architect, like a far better use of our public spaces.

This post is a little love letter to the concept of lounging and dining outside, even when it’s cold, windy, or rainy.

Anyone who works with me knows I’m a giant fan of outdoor living spaces and making connections from your home to the outdoors for all months of the year. Of course, coming from me, there are a couple of side stories to provide a little background.

Getting an Education and Learning

A few years ago, some good friends were visiting us from Denmark with their new baby. When it was time for a nap, they just put the baby down in their stroller and then wheeled the baby outside. It was cold! You should have seen the looks on our faces! And they, rightfully, looked back at us like we were the unreasonable ones for thinking this tradition was odd.

This little observation has stood in my mind for years. Scandinavians have realized the value of fresh air regardless of temperature, and you’ll likely be reading a lot in the months ahead about how people in Nordic and other high latitude countries find ways to enjoy the outdoors in all temperatures.

Getting a Chilly Dinner and Failing

Recently, while my husband and I were taking a needed mini-vacation, the weather turned unseasonably cold here in Seattle. We’d been pretty seriously quarantined and hadn’t been inside any restaurants since March (though we had eaten outside a few times and were ordering as much takeout as we usually do!) and, so far, it hadn’t been a problem.

On this particular evening, we went to a restaurant with outdoor seating but found it was closed for the night. It was chilly – around 52 degrees – but it wasn’t raining and there was no wind. The restaurant had outdoor heaters and we were wearing hats and coats. We would have gladly eaten outside! Clearly, either the restaurant didn’t think guests would want to eat outside or their guests had made it clear that they wouldn’t.

Let me get to the point: we are doing this wrong.

We’ve got to get outside and change our mindset. Not just for our mental health during the long, dark winter ahead, but for the rest of our lives! There’s a great saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. I’ll agree and add that there’s no such thing as bad outdoor spaces (within reason), only inappropriate design for the seasons.

What can you do today to get your outdoor spaces ready to live and dine in tomorrow?

This long winter ahead of us will be a chance for many of us to find comfort in being outside. The fresh air alone is an incredible benefit and with some proper preparation, you can find great comfort even in the cold and wet months.

Keep Your Body Warm

Think like a skier: dress in layers and make sure your body is kept nice and toasty. (It’s amazing how something so simple can change your entire outdoor dining experience.) Then, get some blankets and drape yourself in them. I remember during one of my first dining experiences in Seattle where the host brought us wool blankets as we were seated outside. Brilliant!

To keep them handy, arrange blankets in a pile or a basket by your door. When you head outside, wrap yourself up!

Make Sure Everything Else Touching You is Warm

In addition to all the blankets and layers of clothes (and perhaps more important to many of us), anything touching your body needs to be warm, too. Dressing up like the poster child for hygge autumnal excellence only goes so far when you’re sitting on a freezing cold stone bench. In short, if your butt is cold, you’re going to feel cold no matter how many layers you have on.

For your own house, invest in some cushions or thick blankets, or repurpose some from inside. If your seating is wet, throw a tarp down, or maybe a thin slab of foam insulation, and throw cushions on top of that. Et voila!

Keep the Air Around You Warm

Here’s a great excuse to invest in some quick solutions for keeping the air around you warm! There are all sorts of outdoor fire pits and heaters on the market. Do some research and find out if there’s a style that works for your space and lifestyle. If you’re going to buy one for the season, make sure it’s something you would want to keep and use for years — we don’t want to create a glut of waste with an impulse purchase.

Ideally, you want to put these heat sources in spots where the heat gets trapped as efficiently as possible. Safety first, obviously. Don’t put a wood fire under a covered porch, but do consider another heating element. If you’re working with an existing porch, now is a great time to consider site-built storm windows to trap that heat in.

Keep the Wind at Bay

The air temperature can be perfectly reasonable but if there’s wind you’ll not want to be sitting anywhere for long. Find a way to block the wind. Get creative! This could mean a sun tent with a side wall or some instant hedges in some planters. If you have any protected spots in your yard that are already relatively wind-fee, plan around those areas.

Keep Yourself Dry

Now, I’m in Seattle, so maybe this should be first on the list for winters here. But it’s so obvious, I almost forgot to include it. For a short-term solution, rig up some decent-looking tarps or get a collection of great sun tents you know you’ll love to use on your camping trips for years to come.

Now, remember, this is for the immediate future only. Long-term solutions might not be possible to get in place in time for you to enjoy your yard this winter, so think about what will work, for now. In the meantime, you’ll learn a lot about what works for your space so you’ll be ready when the time comes to invest in something permanent.

Make it Magical

It doesn’t matter how much utility this space has: you have to want to be there. The key to all of the solutions mentioned is to make a desirable space that you just can’t imagine not spending any time in. Lighting will be one of your biggest friends here. Twinkly lights, candles, lanterns – pretty much any light that adds layers to the space will create a more welcoming ambiance.

Add Some Personal Touches

Many of these solutions might be temporary while you figure out the next step in making a permanent outdoor space for you to hang out in. But even if they are temporary, there’s so much you can do to make the space and your personal style shine. We’ll paint you a picture.

A great outdoor carpet (to help insulate your feet) centers your space with a dining table (you can use your indoor one if it can stand the damp), decorated with some candles. There are cushions on the chairs (keep your butt, warm, remember!) and a heating element is nearby. The ceiling is draped with twinkle lights and some awesome outdoor fabric curtains shield you from the wind. A fire pit or portable gas fire ring (which – as an aside – we have and love using when we late-summer camp during the yearly burn-bans here in the Northwest) stand at the ready for when the sun goes down. You grab a fleece blanket from the pile by your door as you head outside to enjoy a snug evening outside with your family.

It’s totally possible to embrace your outdoor spaces, even after summer has passed, and truly succeed in getting your hygge on. Though these suggestions slant toward urban homeowners, many of these concepts can apply to apartment balconies, businesses, restaurants, and rural homeowners, as well.

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