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We all love our outdoor patios, but sometimes a courtyard can be an awkward space. Typically surrounded by 2-3 exterior walls, it can be hard to know how to use it, and so we tend to forget about these lovely little outdoor spaces. But maybe it’s time to give it an overhaul. It will add value to your home and just might become your new favorite hangout.

Here are the top ten ways to give your courtyard a new look and make it a part of your home that you can be proud of:

1: A good clean up. An untidy courtyard offers little in the way of stylish comfort and relaxation. Weedy garden plots, neglected plants and grubby tiles will all respond to a little loving care. This may be all you need to get your courtyard on the way to glory. If there is clutter in your courtyard, you can hide it out of sight in storage space disguised as seating.

2: Disguise the ugly spots. It’s easy to hide unattractive brickwork. You can put up a trellis and train flowering climbers to grow over it, or you arrange trees and shrubs in elegant pots to hide it. If you don’t want too much greenery to look after, try a mural painted on the brickwork or on a weatherproof board. Bamboo makes an excellent disguise for ugly bricks – either grow it against the wall or use bamboo screens.

3: Make an outdoor table setting. Courtyards are meant to be used, and there is nothing better that enjoying coffee in your own outdoor café setting. You can choose from a wide range of tables and chairs to suit your décor, from wrought iron to sleek modern designs. If your courtyard has no shade, you can add a wide umbrella to keep the sun off. Set a couple of pot plants near the table setting for extra chic.

4: Choose a theme and follow your dream. Perhaps you long to live near the beach, wallow in a tropical oasis or live in a country cottage? While you are waiting, let your courtyard reflect your dream. A mural can give you an ocean view, and you can fill your courtyard with shells and other treasures that remind you of the ocean. Used bleached wood for seating and decking, and decorate with white ropes and driftwood. Fill your courtyard with lush palms and delicious tropical flowers for your oasis, and add coconut matting and a palm frond umbrella. For a country cottage look, build up flower beds or pots with good soil and grow beautiful English flowers, Decorate with old fashioned garden ornaments like sun dials and bird baths.

5: Add a water feature. Your imagination is the limit here. Do you want one wall to become your water feature, lit up at night so the rivulets sparkle, or would you prefer a fountain, or a small pond with gold fish? A water feature will give a city courtyard the feeling of the outdoors, and adds tranquility and movement to your outdoor space. Plan the rest of your courtyard around the water feature and you will have the perfect spot to escape the city’s bustle and relax when you come home.

6: Furnish for comfort and style. You should regard your courtyard as another room and furnish accordingly. A deep hammock piled with cushions might be just the ticket for relaxing with a book, or perhaps you would prefer a day bed under a shelter or gazebo, where you can lounge with a bowl of fresh fruit and a pile of magazines? Weatherproof fabrics make luxurious furnishings an easy choice for the modern courtyard. If you want to keep it simple, deck chairs and banana lounges will suit a small space and can be folded up when you need more room.

7: Create sound. Hang wind chimes in the branches of any tree, or from your pergola or gazebo. Bamboo cut at different lengths and hung from another piece of bamboo with fishing line makes a stunning wind chime. Old spoons and other pieces of cutlery, shells, lengths of aluminum and crystals can also be used to make wind chimes that will fill your courtyard with tinkling sound.

8: Entertain a lot. Have a BBQ installed, and a small bar. If you want to keep it simple, you can have a hibachi, or a Chinese steamboat. The steamboat gives a great party atmosphere where guests can dip pieces of meat, shellfish and vegetables into steaming hot broth to create their own meals. Nothing makes your courtyard more attractive than the laughter of friends.

9: Think of your décor. Don’t just crowd stuff in, plan your courtyard carefully as you would a room in your house. Get paint swatches from the store, leaf through catalogues, block out your design elements on graph paper. Choose a color scheme that complements the room that leads out to your courtyard, or that provides the right setting for your chosen features, such as plants, water feature or furniture. Remember that the courtyard will be exposed to the elements, so be sure to choose materials that will survive all weathers.

10: Make it productive. Even a small courtyard can hold an herb patch, a couple of fruit trees and a little vegetable plot. Climbing beans and peas are excellent vegetable choices for courtyards, fruit trees can be grown in pots, and strawberries and herbs can spill out of hanging pots. One of the nicest things you can do is pop outside to gather a handful of fresh ingredients for your kitchen, and herbs will not only add fragrance to your courtyard, they will help keep insects at bay if you choose the right ones.

Gail Kavanagh 2007

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5 Things Not to Do on Your Staycation

Vacation or staycation? Many stressed workers are opting to save money and unwind at home. If you’re one of them, avoid the following five no-nos during your staycation to make the most of every precious moment.

Forget to Make Plans

If you don’t make specific plans ahead of time, your staycation will probably look like this: Wake up. Go back to sleep. Finally get up at 11 a.m. Watch TV for a while. Realize you are hungry. Eat leftovers while watching TV. Feel bored. Call friend to hang out, then realize everyone is at work. Watch TV. Play video games. Get dressed. Drive to mall to get take-out. Watch TV. Fall asleep in front of TV. Instead, make sure you have at least one or two specific activities planned for each day.

Eat Every Meal Out

There’s nothing wrong with eating out a few extra times during your staycation, but it can get boring. Plus, you can go over budget quickly. Wouldn’t you rather spend money on making memories? Pick a few local restaurants that you’ve been wanting to experience, then make plans to go with friends or family during your staycation. Make home-cooked meals more exciting by planning more adventurous menus and trying out unfamiliar grocery stores.

Answer the Door

If you work outside the home, your staycation will be a new experience for you in that you’ll be spending time at home during the week. This means that you’ll be a target for door-to-door salespeople, religious proselytizers, petitioners, and other strays. If you answer the door to every knock or ring, you’ll waste a lot of time. Instead, ignore the doorbell altogether or screen your visits–you’re not obliged to open the door even if they saw you peeking through the curtains.

Check Email Obsessively

Do not check your work email at all or answer work calls. If you were truly unreachable, your employer would find someone else to hassle, so don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of just because you’re accessible. You’ve earned your time off and you have the right to enjoy an uninterrupted staycation. If you really must check email, set specific days and times to do so and stick to your plan. Avoid overchecking personal email too.

Spend Too Much Time Alone

Although you might think that a week or so away from other humans is just what you need, spending your entire staycation alone can leave you feeling lethargic and distant. Take advantage of the time off to reconnect with friends and family. Meet up with local friends for lunch or on their day off. Spend some time writing emails or talking on the phone to those old friends you never seem to have time for.

While some of the five above items may not apply to you, you know the ones that do. Unless you want to head back to work feeling as if you’d never been away, pay attention to these tips and plan your staycation accordingly. You deserve it!

by Antonia Anderson

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