Maximising outdoor space

THE WASHINGTON POST – Steele Marcoux, editor of Veranda magazine, joined Washington Post staff writer Jura Koncius for a Home Front online chat.

Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: I have a small city balcony that’s getting more use than ever. What are some easy ways to make the space feel finished and cosy? We have a small bistro table and an outdoor rug.
A: The one thing I would add is something potted. Depending on how much light and space you have, you could try a small potted tree. We have a potted lemon tree on our deck. It has produced only one lemon in three years, but we love the foliage. We bring it indoors during the winter, and we love having something green inside during those months. You can also try plants that are better for shade and even opt for something artificial if you need to.

Q: We have a large deck with casual wood furniture overlooking a bay. Do you have ideas for small side tables that will withstand salty air?
A: You may want to consider something stone or treated with some sort of glaze. There are some really great options for garden stools that can double as small side tables.

Q: Outdoor upholstery doesn’t hold up well to sap from trees and bird droppings, but it looks so comfortable. How can I protect my outdoor furniture cushions without using those ugly plastic covers?
A: As wonderful as enjoying the outdoors is, it’s still the outdoors, which comes with trees, pollen, bugs, birds and the like. You could consider loose cushions that you can bring inside more often, but that can be a pain, too. Plan to clean them weekly. There are some fabric protectors out there, but with good outdoor fabric, you should be good to go with a lighter soap, such as dishwashing soap and water.

Potted plant can make a small city balcony feels cosier
Clean outdoor upholstery weekly

Q: Part of my patio is in deep shade where the sun never hits. The concrete is green with mildew. I power wash it in the spring and I’ve used concrete cleaners and Tilex, but I can’t get it clean. Help!
A: I had a similar situation at my old house. My husband always wanted to cut back the tree branches that were creating the shade canopy, but that’s what I loved about the patio. Can you trim back what’s creating the actual shade?

Q: Are picnic tables okay in the age of social distancing?
A: For safety, I would suggest only seating people who have quarantined together at a picnic table. If you would like to add others, I say just bring extra seating outside. You could also put down some blankets for couples or families who have quarantined together. This is uncharted territory for all of us.

Q: I have a 19-by-19-foot concrete patio outside my living room. It is in full sun on summer afternoons. I can’t afford a motorised retractable shade. What do you think of the cantilever umbrellas? Are they easy to open and close?
A: I think a cantilever umbrella sounds like a really smart and stylish solution. Unfortunately, I cannot speak personally to their ability to open and close. I would read reviews and explore the return policy should you be disappointed with the open and close mechanisms.

Q: How can you give a part of your yard up to your kids but still have an adult quiet space?
A: It depends on how old your kids are and how much space you have. We have an elevated deck off our living room and kitchen. My husband and I tend to hang there and let our boys run around in the backyard below. But for smaller and more level yards, I would consider either visual separation in the form of low hedges or even noise separation. Perhaps there’s even a corner of the yard that you can make an adult hangout zone with a fire pit or a small fountain.

Q: I’m considering a flagstone patio in my backyard abutting my house. How can I cover up the siding in a way that makes the patio feel like its own space? I’m thinking of some sort of wooden lattice structure.
A: A lattice structure on which you could potentially train a plant could be lovely. There are wooden options, but wire options may be lower maintenance. A vine that flowers with something fragrant will make the space even more inviting.