Ambience is the mood or atmosphere of a certain environment and many factors contribute to it when you are talking about the outdoors surrounding your home.
Patios or decks, flower beds and plantings, lighting, water features, different means of cooking (grills, smokers, pizza ovens) and outdoor furniture all set the stage. So do accoutrements such as outdoor rugs, one-of-a-kind pottery for those plants and even unique tableware, our local experts say.
"I believe in making 'zones' in your yard. Make seating areas, the fire pit and barbecue areas different. With the increased demand for outdoor living spaces, it is difficult to fit everything in a typical patio," said Matt Mlynski, owner of A Garden Guy Landscaping of Glenview.
"Creating walkways or curved patios help in creating these zones. Water features and lighting are also very important," he said. "Lights keep you outside when the sun goes down and extends the time you enjoy the outdoors. Our backyard season is short enough. Lights help you get the most out of your yard."
Mlynski believes water features are a great way to make your yard an escape, regardless of size and location.
"It helps dull out noises and creates a nice ambience. They are also becoming much more affordable and easy to maintain," he said.
Scott Goczkowski, general manager of Lurvey Garden Center in Des Plaines, agreed. "Come home and sit on your patio and relax by a soothing water feature or fountain. It is sure to reduce stress, whether it be day or evening."
Adding an outdoor rug to your patio, deck or porch is another way to convey a mood and to define, as well as add color and pattern, your outdoor space, he said.
For instance, you can place an outdoor rug beneath a dining table or seating area to define the grouping, or layer several outdoor rugs for an eclectic look. Generally, outdoor rugs are made of weather-, fade- and stain-resistant materials that will hold up to all types of conditions.
Adding a rug is also a way to protect the deck wood or patio pavers beneath it and to keep your outdoor space clean.
But be sure to pay attention to pillars, fireplaces and fountains when choosing a rug. Experts generally suggest that round patio tables look nice over round rugs, while outdoor seating groupings can be nicely defined by a square or rectangular rug. And when you are deciding on the size, keep in mind that you should be able to pull out all of your dining chairs and have the chair legs remain on the rug. So, generally speaking, the rug should be at least 2 feet wider than the table all around. And there is nothing wrong with having an oversized outdoor rug cover most of a deck or patio.
Most outdoor rugs are made of either polypropylene or acrylic so they can get wet and dry quickly. They are also generally lightweight and inexpensive and usually come in vibrant colors.
But if you buy one, remember to wash both sides of it two or three times a season using a hose, scrub brush and diluted dish soap. Then let it dry thoroughly in the sun. At the end of the season, clean it, let it dry and then roll it up (don't fold it) and store in your basement. If you must store it in the garage or under your deck, roll it up in plastic for storage.
Pottery is a great way to soften other elements. Planters can be used during at least three seasons and many can be easily moved when entertaining. You can also use planters to add color and drama by including other elements such as branches and bamboo in the outdoor containers.
One of the favorites at Lurvey Garden Center is the pots made by Michael Carr Designs. They are generally very colorful, lightweight and weather-resistant and they are handmade by skilled craftsmen. Each piece is individually glazed, giving it unique color and it is then fired in an old world kiln, which also contributes to the one-of-a-kind finish.
For instance, the Michael Carr Vietnamese Collection is entirely handcrafted by skilled artisans, and includes glazed, terra cotta, natural clay and light cement pieces. The glazed pottery is fired for eight days to make it among the most weather-resistant pottery in the world.
Lurvey's also carries Michael Carr pots made from "liconfiber," a cement-based composite reinforced with an alkaline-resistant fiberglass netting. The netting makes the product much lighter weight but gives it a strong structure like steel-reinforced concrete. These pots are also frost- and UV-resistant.
Outdoor tableware can also add flare and complete any outdoor space. It is the details that bring it all together.
If someone suggests you consider melamine tableware, don't think that it is the stuff that your grandparents had. Tablestyle uses the same durable, BPA-free, break-resistant melamine plastic that was popular in the 1960s but it has now mixed in flair, texture and high design.
Today's sturdy, scratch-resistant melamine plates are designed by award-winning artists whose finished products resemble real china. Each unique collection is dishwasher-safe, but not recommended for microwave use. But the best part about melamine is its durability. You don't have to worry about breakage.
Lurvey's is carrying the new Floral Sketchbook heavyweight collection of intricately sculpted plates and bowl designs available in multiple color options. Straight from an artist's pallet, the poppy-shaped designs are available in four vibrant pastels. You can coordinate colors, mix and match or stand alone, according to Goczkowski. Incidentally, this was on Oprah's "favorites" list.
Another popular design features hand-painted succulents. The scalloped plates feature the four most popular succulents found in modern landscaping. Lavender and mint mix and match on these plates with solid periwinkle, buttercup and mocha.
Lurvey's also carries a tropical-patterned melamine set.