7 ways to bring the outdoors in

Living room furniture, big windows

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Bring the outdoors in

After a cold, snowy winter, who isn’t anxious to open the windows, dust off the deck and usher in spring?

But these days, many homeowners and apartment dwellers want to welcome spring on a budget.

One way to get the most for your money: Focus on the area where inside meets outdoors — whether it’s a sun room, porch, patio or just a room with a great view, says Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, author of “Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure” and contributor to HGTV’s “Small Space, Big Style.”

“That’s where the impact is made,” he says. “The effect you want is the melting away of your walls.”

Blurring those indoor-outdoor barriers can be easier and less expensive than you might think. Here, three top decorators share a few of their favorite tips.

Wash the windows, change the curtains
Smiling woman holding a bottle spray

“We do it here at the office a couple of times a year, and I’m always amazed at the impact,” Gillingham-Ryan says. “It’s about the most affordable thing you can do for your house that makes such an impact.”

“In the daytime, it makes a difference because you can see more of your outside,” he says. “It makes you feel more connected to the outside. At night, clean windows are more reflective. They act as mirrors.” And that gives you a “lovely effect” when you throw a nighttime party and use soft lighting or candles, he says.

Rather than deep-sixing curtains entirely, selecting the right curtains can bridge the indoor-outdoor connection, he says.

Go with something billowy in a sheer or natural fabric, Gillingham-Ryan says. It filters the light “and shows that beautiful balance of how the outside melts into your room,” he says.

Pro tip: Use floor-to-ceiling curtains, even if the window doesn’t extend that far, “to make the wall look taller and the window look bigger,” he says.

Blur the borders between inside and out
Potted flower plants by the door

First, target the entryways. Whether it’s a porch or a doorway, “the area outside your door is a good place to refresh,” Gillingham-Ryan says. Some options to get you started: a new mat, some plants or a table with chairs.

If you have a view of your porch from the inside, “it’s a great place to set up tables and chairs,” he says. “A little cafe-style table and chairs. You can get them in all price points now. Folding bistro chairs are good because you can put them away easily.”

Another trick that blurs the line: Use indoor-outdoor fabrics in your living areas inside as well as outside, says Cortney Novogratz, co-host of the TV series “9 By Design,” and co-host of the upcoming “Home by Novogratz” on HGTV. Fabrics are available in a host of colors and patterns, including brights, geometrics and stripes.

Her favorites: “I love to go with bright colors: orange, yellow. I’m a big fan of yellow.”

One pro secret: Use the same fabric on your deck, terrace or patio and the adjoining room. “Then if you have your door open, everything is one,” she says.

Experiment with paint
Young couple painting the walls

“If you really want to get adventurous and put some labor into it,” painting a room is “the most inexpensive way to freshen things up,” says David Bromstad, host of HGTV’s “Color Splash.” He estimates the cost at roughly $100 for a typical room.

Hot colors this season include ice blue — “Looks good with everything,” Bromstad says — and light grays and taupes.

And if you like strong colors, paint a feature wall, he says. And “when you’re sick of it, paint over it” for around $25, Bromstad says.

Give old or worn furniture the same treatment. “Paint it whatever color you want,” Bromstad says. Use white for “a really fresh look.” Or, if you’re feeling brave, “paint it a color to match your decor,” he says.

Another option: Paint window frames a neutral color, Gillingham-Ryan says. “When the window frames are more neutral, and darker, the outside is brighter and your eye focuses on looking out the window. It’s a better frame for the outdoors.”

Window boxes outside, fresh flowers inside
Boxed plants on the porch

Window boxes “draw your eye through the window to the outside,” Gillingham-Ryan says. So put them right outside your window, either in the windows or on a deck or patio. It visually extends your room out to the window boxes.

For a little extra verve, plant herbs, which are typically green and low-maintenance, he says. Or you can plant flowers for color.

Tip for success: Window boxes can get dry quickly. So if you often go away for the weekends, opt for something that doesn’t need regular watering — typically something green and hardy, rather than colorful and delicate, he says.

“Be ambitious, but be realistic,” Gillingham-Ryan says. “If you overshoot and get disappointed, you’re likely to give up.”

Inside the home, flowers and potted plants add color, joy and warmth. The price is a barrier for a lot of people. Bromstad’s pro trick is to buy from a flower wholesaler. “You don’t have to be in the trade,” he says. You just have to be willing to pay cash.

Switch up bedding and pillows
Wooden bed

“New bedding will freshen up your space and make it look spring-like,” Bromstad says. “And you can change them without breaking the bank.”

Look for “anything in a natural fabric or with a layered look,” Bromstad says. “Ruffles that have a lot of texture, or something that’s natural and unbleached.”

Or look for a print that includes natural elements, like tree branches. “It can bring the outdoors in in a graphic and fun way,” Bromstad says.

Can’t afford bedding? A colorful or natural throw or blanket is an inexpensive way to refresh the room, says Bromstad.

Hot colors for your home this season include pinks, purples, turquoise and yellow — especially shades with a “more golden tone,” Bromstad says. Also neutrals such as grays, taupes and chocolate brown.

Another cheap, quick way to change up a room? Throw pillows. They’re “easy, simple and inexpensive,” Bromstad says.

Lights, seating, action!
Patio furniture

A favorite way to extend your home to the great outdoors? Outdoor lighting, says Novogratz.

Brightening outdoor living spaces with exterior lights, like a string draped across a railing or around a tree, “makes it cozy and decorative,” she says.

And that goes double for seating. “Create sitting areas on your patio or in your grass, so that you feel like you’re in the living room outside,” Novogratz says.

Pro tip: Think in terms of clusters — a seating group with a table and enough pillows to make things comfortable, she says.

“It’s just treating your outdoor space as though it’s a room,” Novogratz says.

Use natural materials inside and out
Indoor garden

One way to bring the outdoors into the home is to use natural materials, Bromstad says.

One option: bare birch or other tree branches, he says.

Want to give it a more modern look? “Grab yourself a spray can” and paint them in a bright color such as fuchsia or lime green. Painted branches can “carry you through the seasons,” he says. Paint them pink for spring and repaint in white, blue or green for Christmas.

Another way to enjoy nature is to install a water feature just outside the house.

“My mother-in-law found a fountain and installed it right outside her kitchen,” Gillingham-Ryan says. “You hear it trickling in the background all day long, and it’s lovely.”

Place it where you can see and hear it from inside the house.

In most climates, you’ll have to put it to bed before winter comes, Gillingham-Ryan says. “But it makes it all the more lovely when you wake it up in the spring.”

Additional resources
Additional resources