You know those people who love summer and want to spend every waking minute of it outside? I am not one of those people. I hate being in the sun and the closest I ever get to a tan is when my freckles start to close in on each other. Even worse, mosquitoes find me irresistible. But since the pandemic has forced me to embrace outdoor entertaining, I’ve tried to make my deck feel like an extension of my home.
Just like with an indoor space, the secret to a great outdoor space is creating an inviting ambience, whether you’re working with a deck, porch, or tiny patch of lawn. This means the right lighting for when sun goes down, cozy-enough seats, soothing sounds, and (ideally) no mosquitoes. Luckily, this can all be achieved without a lighting designer, landscaping budget, or new patio furniture.
Here are eight items that can instantly improve the ambiance of any outdoor space. You might already have some of them in a closet. If not, everything I’ve included costs less than $50, though many of the items come in at under $25.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Lighting is everything. And the easiest and most cost-effective way to improve your backyard ambiance is to hang string lights. These affordable options from two of Target’s house brands are zig-zagged in my garage, hung across my front porch, strung across my backyard, and draped on my deck. The incandescent bulbs cast a wonderful warm glow, though some reviewers have complained they’re too fragile (um, they are glass). If you do shatter one, they’re cheap and easy to replace. And if you manage to blow a fuse, there’s a spare stored inside the plug.
Incandescent Outdoor String Lights
Project 62 10-Count Incandescent Outdoor String Lights with Frosted Bulbs
Everybody knows candles add a warm glow to an indoor space, but the same is true for a deck or patio—especially when you’re setting up for dinner al fresco. If wind or or rambunctious pets are a concern, opt for weather-resistant flameless candles. You can mix and match different styles and sizes for an effortless romantic look (minus the fire hazard).
3-Pack Waterproof Outdoor Flameless Pillar Candles
Set of 10 Flameless Votive Candles with Remote Control
Project 62 12-Inch Outdoor Flameless Candle
GODAFTON Set of 2 LED Block Indoor/Outdoor Candles
Turning an outdoor area into a lush garden is easier said than done, especially if you don’t have a green thumb or the budget for a gardener. While it might seem counterintuitive to use fake plants outside, synthetic greenery is a great option for busy people on a budget because it won’t die if you forget to water it during a particularly hot week. Dead, spindly ferns might make for a good Halloween decoration but they aren’t doing much for your summer deck decor.
Better Homes & Gardens Faux Boxwood Plant
2-Pack Artificial Boston Fern
FEJKA Artificial Potted Plant
Textiles are a great way to cozy up any space, and lightweight cotton throws are perfect for an outdoor seating area. I put them over the back of metal patio chairs and benches for comfy dinner seating, and use them to cover up when I’m enjoying outdoor cocktails on the rare cool summer night. In a pinch they can even be used as a tablecloth or picnic blanket.
100% Natural Cotton Turkish Towel
Colorful Striped Serape Blanket
A tiny fountain
Is it a bit much to have a personal water feature in your DIY outdoor space? Probably. Is it worth it to hear the soothing sound of trickling water every time you step outside? Absolutely.
Bamboo Accents Indoor/Outdoor Water Fountain
Bernini 6.75″ Outdoor Resin Piccolo Fountain
Nothing kills a mood quite like mosquitoes. I’ve tried just about everything to repel them and for a while, I was burning regular incense (in conjunction with citronella candles) and the minimal smoke it created really seemed to help. Discovering citronella incense, however, was a game changer. I find it works much better than the candles—especially if I place it in a few spots around my outdoor seating area.
Yield Citronella Outdoor Incense
Murphy’s Naturals Mosquito Repellent Incense Sticks
A powerful fan
If you don’t want the smell of citronella wafting through your dinner under the string lights, a fan will keep the bugs away and give the illusion of a nice breeze on a muggy summer night. While certain fans are engineered to be used outside, they’re pretty pricey and often require hard-wiring. A powerful indoor fan will do just fine—as long as you use the right extension cord and remember to take it in for the night.
Comfort Zone High Velocity 12-Inch, 3-Speed Cradle Fan
Pelonis 16″ 3-Speed Oscillating Pedestal Fan
An outdoor speaker
If it still feels like something is missing from your outdoor setup, the answer is probably music. I’ve been using this cute little bluetooth speaker from JBL to set the mood for outdoor dinner parties and drinks on the patio with friends. The sound quality is amazing for a waterproof speaker at this price point, and I don’t hate that it drowns out the incessant chirping of the 17-year cicadas that have descended upon us.
JBL Go3 Wireless Speaker
Originally Appeared on Epicurious