Those in temperate climates consider outdoor areas extensions of their homes, lounging and eating alfresco as part of daily life.
For people in colder climates, being able to move outdoors after a long winter is like a vacation in itself.
However, backyard bliss can be squashed by a nosy neighbor, subdivision rules, traffic and noise, or an encroaching view.
Maybe the family next door put in a pool and you constantly hear splashing and screaming. Or the neighbors added a tall deck off their split-level home for easy entertaining, and now you spot guests eyeing down on you.
Perhaps you want a place to escape from it all. A quiet, cozy corner for reading, bird watching or relaxing in a hammock. Or you are a city dweller and long to transform a patio or balcony into an outdoor oasis.
Transitional living spaces and outdoor rooms are hot decorating trends, with people spending big to add kitchens, fireplaces, and complete open-air rooms with weatherproof furnishings. Being in the outdoors also means dealing with bugs, heat, sun, rain and, of course, neighbors.
Curtains for you
One of the easiest ways to define a space is with outdoor curtains, which attach to porches, cabanas and gazebos for privacy and sun protection.
"Your outdoor space should be an extension of your home, so it's important to think about comfort, durability and privacy when choosing furniture and decorative accessories for outdoors," says Kendra Stewart, a spokeswoman for Pottery Barn. "Outdoor drapes are perfect to frame your outdoor space, and they filter light and create privacy."
Select marine-quality rods that won't rust, and pick an outdoor drape in a weather resistant fabric like the indoor/outdoor Grommet Drape, which can withstand the elements and remain outside all year, Stewart says.
Rich pinks and purples complement a variety of greens in the garden, says Gina Wicker, design and creative director for Sunbrella Fabrics. If your flowers and shrubs are particularly colorful, stick with a more neutral fabric for draperies that help ground your space rather than distracting from the landscaping.
"Consider fabrics that flow in the breeze for a romantic element," Wicker says, noting sheers are good for this application, adding a gauzy effect to your porch or pergola.
Portable tents and pavilions, similar to what you would see at an outdoor wedding, also are growing in popularity. They are available in high-end lines or at moderate price points at home improvement retailers across the country.
They create an indoor/outdoor private environment for dining and entertaining, along with backyard envy, says Erin Martin of Erin Martin Design in Saint Helena, California. "You will end up inviting everyone you wanted privacy from to come enjoy," she says.
FiberBuilt Umbrellas, which specializes in durable, fiberglass ribbed umbrellas for the hospitality industry but also sells to individuals, added a line of tents and pavilions this year, says Debra Maytidu, sales manager for the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based company.
They can be put in the yard or over a patio and have water-resistant roofs, legs that can be secured and optional side panels with mesh windows that zip, affording people more space and protection without the expense or hassle of a permanent addition, Maytidu says. Some are equipped with a fan and light kit.
"It allows people to have drapes that zip up, to create a real outdoor room that is portable or semi-permanent," she says. "They can use it to entertain or as a daily extension of their home."
Renters who have limited space or do not want to make a big investment should focus on accessories like furniture with canopies, umbrellas and screens. Large and small containers with flowers or herbs and vegetables offer portability, color and greenery. Hanging fabric as a canopy or on the sides of your balcony is another quick, easy ways to create more privacy.
Homeowners can make more permanent investments with fencing, landscaping or porch enclosures. Stone walls and water features are good for sound barriers. Free-standing structures like pergolas, arbors and gazebos create visual obstacles that can be decorated with climbing roses, morning glories or clematis.
Decks look best when decorated with some green, helping to define boundaries, add privacy and modulate noise, according to "Coastal Living Outdoor Spaces" (Oxmoor House, 2013), from the editors of Coastal Living magazine.
Plant a screen
Landscaping comes with a price tag, but there are many ways to add privacy with plants, from perennials and leafy plants in oversized pots to putting in a perimeter of hedges and shrubs. Those with mature trees can incorporate the leaf cover and natural shade into a patio or garden design.
Do-it-yourselfers and gardeners can handle some projects, like assembling a gazebo kit or adding raised beds around a patio, but it's worth calling in a professional for a complete backyard overhaul, Martin says.
"Hire a good landscape designer; the money is worth the results," she says. "A well-placed tree, or creeping vine, can give you all the natural privacy you want without looking like you're trying too hard. Add some natural waddle overhead cover for shade, and you're there."
Tait, the innovative Australian outdoor furniture maker, offers a GardenWall system to help the least skilled among us create an oasis in an instant. The plastic containers can be planted and stacked to whatever length and height required. Leaves and foliage peak out through geometric patterns in the container sides. "Impress your neighbors or hide your neighbors," Tait boasts. "GardenWall can help bring a bit of life into any environment."