by Tony Pallone

You’re probably spending more time than ever at home these days, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend it cooped up indoors. Warmer weather is here, presenting greater opportunities to bask in your back yard or perhaps to plan small, socially distant gatherings with friends and family. Here are five-plus ideas that can help you transform whatever’s on the other side of your back windows into a space for outdoor living. 

1. Put the patio concept into perspective.

The word “patio” comes to us from Spanish, where it was first used simply to mean an inner courtyard. You don’t have to think of it as an elaborate structure. The important thing is to claim your outdoor space and supplement it with things that will make you comfortable spending time there. Things like:
  • Upgrade your outdoor funitureFancy furniture. Best Fire Hearth & Patio in Colonie has a selection that is a step above the utilitarian stuff you’ll find at big-box stores. Owner and General Manager Lucas Stritsman deals with domestic manufacturers like Telescope Casual Furniture, based in Granville, which makes pieces that can be customized with a choice of colors, fabrics, frame finishes, and the like.
  • Superior shading. Cantilever umbrellas, which can rotate 360 degrees are perfect for placement over a seating group. Retractable awnings and tension shades can also offer a sleek roof aesthetic to cover an existing structure such as a pergola.
  • Supplemental sun. Maybe you’ve tried to heat an outdoor space with a freestanding propane heater. “That’s a losing battle,” says Stritsman. A better option is to install infrared lights that can shine down from overhead, heating objects in their path in much the same way as the sun.

2. Hire a hardscaper.

if you need something built from the ground up, hire a professional. David Lawler of #1 Stonescaping in Guilderland says a number of factors go into the cost of a new piece, whether it’s a fire pit, outdoor kitchen countertop, or a whole patio. Among the most important is whether a customer opts for natural or precast stone. The latter, made from concrete aggregate, is less expensive and quicker to install; components can be assembled as a kit rather than laid as individual stones requiring painstaking tolerance adjustments.
You might also consider:
  • Fabulous FirepitFabulous fire tables. These are the easiest way to create an outdoor fire, Stritsman explains, as they run on a concealed propane tank, just like a grill, and come in different styles and finishes. Because they use gas instead of wood, they turn on and off with a simple switch.
  • Phase 2 fire pit. A true fire pit offers a far more dramatic design, and although it will be more expensive it can also be part of a longer-term plan. Lawler always designs with that type of phased-in approach in mind. “If people are agreeable to do it in phases, it’s much easier to plan that on the front side,” he says. Make the big impact on your property just once, he suggests. Get your patio in position first. Accessories can come later.

    3. Create a corollary kitchen.

    Outdoor Kitchen
    Photo courtesy of Faddegon’s

    Upgrading your grill is one option. Another is building your appliance right into a hardscape countertop. Lawler says that one popular look for outdoor kitchens is created by stuccoing bluestone atop a metal-braced framework.

    4. Plan your plantings.

    Planning your plantingsAlong with providing hardscape services and building outdoor kitchens and fire pits, Jack Faddegon of Faddegon’s Nursery in Latham works with clients to plan out trees, shrubs, flowering plants, and much more. “The project you end up with depends on how much effort and thought you put into it in the beginning,” he says. Foundation plantings and shade gardens can greatly enhance outdoor living spaces; potted plants are especially helpful for breathing life — literally — into smaller spaces.

    5.  Don’t delay.

    If you’re feeling stuck at home, you’re not alone — and the demand for space-transforming services has skyrocketed over the past year. “When the pandemic hit, we expected a real drop in business,” Faddegon says. “The exact opposite is what happened.”

    At the same time, people are canceling their usual travel vacation plans and ending up with more money they can invest in their homes. “Instead of putting $8,000 toward the beach house, they’re looking to small family events — and to creating something permanent,” Lawler says. The takeaway message is not to wait to get on your builder’s list: “If you’re thinking about a project for this year, you want to jump on that now.”

  • Here are a few places to begin your journey into better outdoor living.
  • Best Fire Hearth & Patio, 1760 Central Ave., Colonie, (518) 869-9600,
  • Faddegon’s Landscaping, 1140 Troy Schenectady Rd., Latham, (518) 785-6726,
  • #1 Stonescaping, Guilderland, (518) 857-3127,