Spiders, Weeds, Kiddie Pools & Beyond: Arlyn’s Patio Is Ready For a Major Upgrade – Emily Henderson

Spiders, Weeds, Kiddie Pools & Beyond: Arlyn’s Patio Is Ready For a Major Upgrade – Emily Henderson


I can clearly recall the days of sitting on a concrete step that overlooked my quadplex’s garages with my husband Charles during the pandemic, talking about how much we wished we had our own little outdoor space. We both agreed it didn’t need to be big, just something large enough to be able to have a bistro table, two chairs, and a little privacy. Fast forward to last winter when we were touring potential new places to live. I got so excited when we walked into where we currently live and saw that there was a patio. Yay! I could envision spring afternoons out there, the breeze blowing through the canopy of trees on our street, Evelyn splashing around at a water table.

And while yes, we did use it briefly after moving in (we even bought a blow-up pool for our toddler and she loved it), it quickly got forgotten after the spiders took over. And I’m really not kidding. Trees are wonderful for so many reasons, but what no one tells you about them is that THEY ARE MULTI-FAMILY HOUSING UNITS FOR SPIDERS OF ALL KINDS. I don’t mind an eight-legged creature hanging out, minding its own business in a corner, but these things were everywhere. Every nook, every cranny, all the plants, behind the screen, encircling our house. Nope. I was done.

Even my daughter stopped asking to go out there because she knew the answer was no (sadly). We didn’t want to kill the spiders since, as we all know, they are immensely beneficial to our ecosystem and help with the mosquitos and flies we were bombarded with last summer, so we tried other tactics to at least make our patio less hospitable including peppermint spray and a few other things the internet swore to us would work (they didn’t).

Long story less long, the spiders retreated on their own, likely because of the cold season (is that a thing??), and will probably be back come summer, but I’m SO tired of looking at this overgrown mess of a patio and am determined to reclaim the space *and* my family’s vision of how we would use it.

This patio sits at the front of our townhouse, through the sliding glass doors in our living room, so it’s just a sad sight anytime our curtains are pulled open. Neither my husband nor I have ever needed to know anything about gardening, so we’re both a bit blind to how to tame what’s out there. In typical form, I want to go the route of hiring someone to come out and make the greenery look great, while my “we can learn and do anything we want!” husband wants to watch YouTube videos and start getting his hands dirty. I told him he was going to get bitten by a spider but he didn’t appreciate my negativity.

Whoops, I was supposed to be making this story less long. Anyway, let me just get to why I’m writing this post today: This whole outdoor room needs to look better, and I may be ready to finally tackle it. Let’s take a look and then I can break down some of my design thoughts.

The (Very Sad & Kind Of Embarrassing) Before

Oh boy. This is the view of the patio standing from my living room with the sliding door open. I’m massively embarrassed to say that the down-and-dirty pool has been there since last spring. All the plants and the trellis were here when we moved in, and nothing has been groomed in the last year. Woof!

This is exactly what I see from my sofa, yes, including the old hose we don’t even use because I bought a better more flexible hose shortly after we moved in and we couldn’t be bothered to get rid of the previous one. ::eye roll at myself:: The tease of that vine climbing the stone wall gives me hopes that we could encourage the ivy somehow to take further hold and eventually fully cover the wall. Wouldn’t that be SO charming? Everything else here needs a serious trim, and some things could probably just be taken out and planted somewhere else. There are some terra cotta pots pushed into the overgrowth (also there before we moved in), which gave me an idea of maybe going more the potted garden route than whatever you would call this.

This is to the right of the steps up into the living room where the house is. This whole space has three different floors. Concrete slab, concrete pavers, and one is a section of weird brick. Like…what happened here?? If this were a place I owned, I’d definitely rip all this out and do something else, but we’re renting so a bandaid solution is more in line with what is appropriate. I’d love to add a pretty potting bench both to give me a space to re-pot things (I currently do it in the garage and make a big mess), but also it would aesthetically be pleasing to me. On the wall of the door, I’d love to have a dwarf Meyer lemon tree as citrus plants do really well in this climate and they are all over the neighborhood. Plus, lemon trees need good sunlight and this is the only spot in the whole patio that gets it.

And you can’t see it here, but high above the hose is a broken outdoor sconce, which means there is no light out here, leaving it useless after sunset. To be honest, we probably wouldn’t do much out here at night anyway, because my daughter’s bedroom window faces out to the patio and she’s a light sleeper so it would be more for daytime use though the idea of some kind of lighting would be nice as an option.

A (Rough Estimate) Floor Plan

I realize the photos don’t do a great job of making visual sense of the space, so I went out one day during my daughter’s nap and did the world’s laziest measure. Mostly, I just didn’t want to get too close to any of the plants because…spiders. I don’t think these numbers are too far off, but let’s not call it an exact model, mkay? It’s a “close enough” floor plan.

The bottom is the wall that houses the sliding glass doors and leads inside. There is a set of concrete steps down. All the green area above is the planter area. While it’s not a sprawling oasis, it’s definitely large enough to accommodate a small bistro set, the potting bench I mentioned wanting, another tree, some pretty pots and some kind of fun outdoor activity for my daughter like a water table or even her pool (if we can muster the energy to deflate it and put it away when we’re done…can’t make any promises).

Let’s Get to the Design Part, Shall We?

Okay, now it’s time to talk about aesthetics. I’ve shown you the skeleton in my figurative closet, and now it’s time to clean it up and redesign the closet. Buh-bye skeleton. TBH, I’m completely at a loss as to what I want the room to look now, but I can tell you how I want it to feel: charming, happy, calm with a little bit of Parisian balcony-meets-English-garden vibes. I don’t want anything too designed or overly polished. Oh, and I also do not want to spend a lot of money on this. You know…in case the spiders come back in full force and we have to abandon it for another year.

One of the first things I ask anyone who requests my help with designing a space is: “How do you envision using the space and how do you want it to feel?” Since I already have the second part of that question answered, I’ll chew on the first part. Charles and I would love a little spot to sit, have a marg or coffee/tea, and watch Evelyn blow bubbles or make a whole mess with water and sidewalk chalk. That’s kind of it. Simple, surely. The tricky part is this is visible from my living room as I mentioned, so it has to vibe with what’s going on in there (or will eventually go on in there since I’m mentally working on that room, too). It needs to be neutral enough to play nice, but punchy enough to make sense with my design aesthetic.

Since I didn’t really know where to start and I didn’t have a backlog of inspiration photos as I normally do to pull from, I went back to study some of the outdoor rooms some of my EHD crew has put together over the years. And they all have one thing in common: they’re pretty neutral. In fact, after I found a hidden Pinterest folder of mine with pretty outdoor spaces, I realized I mostly Pinned patios and balconies and backyards where the furniture fell back stylistically (meaning, it didn’t steal attention) and the nature surrounding them was the star. There is plenty of greenery where I live, and I certainly want that to be prominent.

designed and styled by emily henderson with velinda hellen and erik staalberg | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: 5 outdoor ideas & hacks that’ll instantly add style (& save you money)

I loved this outdoor space since the first second I saw the photos roll in years ago when I still worked full-time at EHD. There’s something very Nancy Meyer’s 1998 Parent Trap about it for some reason. All it’s missing is Lindsay Lohan as Hallie and Lindsay Lohan as Annie up to some antics, and Chessy offering someone a bowl of chili with cornbread (by the way, I ALWAYS thought it was Jessie, and only realized deep into my 30s that it was Chessy…who’s with me??).

design by emily henderson | photo by tessa neustadt | from: the finished patio (with the tile!) + shop the look

Ahhh…America’s patio. UGH, this outdoor room in Emily’s old Los Feliz house was absolutely magical. It was even better in person. Sure, the encaustic tiles played a huge role but in general, I just love how eclectic, charming, and not overly groomed it feels. All the furniture is neutral, there are some pretty string lights, and the roses and trees are the stars.

design by jess bunge | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: jess’ long and skinny balcony reveal!! + the diy ikea floor tile hack that was well worth the blood, sweat, and 2-6 tears

Jess’ beautiful little Parisian-inspired balcony is just perfect and I’d be happy with something similar. I love the mix of pots, the vintage bistro set, and the checkerboard deck tiles.

Caitlin’s balcony manages to feel eclectic and quirky (just like her!) without adding too much of any color or pattern. The cabana stripe curtain is bold and I would love to find an opportunity to bring that into my space, too.

This is no one’s space I know, but speaking of cabana stripes!!!!!!!! I’m dead at this. I love the mint contrast piping, the pink and red bench cushion, the wild plantings, the overhead trellis. Obsessed. It’s hard to know whether seeing something in this style adjacent to my living room would make sense, but thinking of adding a small cushion to the chairs or bench I decide on. Hmm…

A Trio of Ideas: Neutral Vs. Playful Vs. Modern(ish)

While I could quickly decide on some neutral pieces and pull the space together, my mind couldn’t help but toy around with some other options. Three, to be exact. My heart is split between quiet and natural, something a little more playful and colorful, or something kind of modern and cool. I love all three of them, though I am leaning in a direction. Let’s take a look at what I found:

Potting Bench | Decking Tiles | String Lights | Table Lamp | Table | Bench | Rug

I really do think this setup is something that reads kind of boring on paper but would be very pretty and calm and serene in real life. Especially if I can get those vines to cooperate and grow along the wall. String lights strung along the stone (or hung overhead), warm teak decking tiles to unify the ground, and maybe even an outdoor rug (though I’m not totally convinced). And can’t forget the lemon tree and potting bench on the other side. I could even mix in a cabana stripe lumbar pillow for when we’re out there using the bench (but then I’d have to figure out where to store it and I kind of don’t want to).

Potting Bench | Deck Tiles – Beige | Deck Tiles – Dark Gray | Umbrella | Table Lamp | Water Table | Table | String Lights | Chair

This moodboard has “Arlyn” written all over it, don’t you think? I love it. It’s a little funky, a little vintage, a little cool, and modern. And just look at that gorgeous water table! We have one already in the garage that our dear friends found for us for free, but I couldn’t help but pull this adorable version into a moodboard. Let’s talk about what I love here: the yellow metal chair, the pedestal bistro table that begs to have thick hot chocolate with bowls of whipped cream enjoyed on it, and the vintage potting bench that I envision having dripping pothos all over. The red stripe patio umbrella is subtle in comparison to a cabana stripe, but the fringe keeps it flirty. Also, I think this is a beach umbrella, so…I might have to go back to the drawing table.

Here is a question for anyone who lives in spider territory and also has a patio umbrella: Will this inevitably just become a penthouse apartment for black widows?

IKEA sells cream and dark gray deck tiles that I could easily pair together to create a checkerboard floor (without the headache Jess gave herself of having to paint hers), and I love this. I wouldn’t want to cover any part of it with a rug, I don’t think.

Potting Bench | Rug | String Lights | Terracotta Pots | Table Lamp | Table “https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/blog/” Chair | Deck Tiles

This one took a while to come together for me. I fell in love with those Sarah Sherman Samuel for Lulu & Georgia outdoor chairs, and I knew I wanted to try something with more red mixed in, but I couldn’t get it quite right. I’m not convinced this is quite right either, but I do love it and think it would make a lot of sense as an extension of my living room. I went with a solid floor here to not compete with the chair fabric or the lovely rug and I think it’s pretty sleek looking. I also have the idea of sourcing a bunch of vintage terra-cotta pots and sprinkling those around rather than having everything in the planter space.

I realize that I would be fairly happy if any of these moodboards came to life. Any of these would be leaps and bounds of improvement over what’s happening out there now (which is nothing but weeds). So it’s just about choosing a direction and then bringing it to fruition.

For anyone out there reading who knows me aesthetically, and can remember my home—though you would be correct if you said you haven’t seen much of my new one—which do you think is the best style direction to go in? I’d love to hear from you, and also, if you have any beautiful small, charming patio inspiration you are hoarding, could you drop them into the comments for me to see? Maybe I’ll start from scratch, maybe I’ll keep playing with one or two of these, maybe I’ll just go vintage shopping and see what I find. Designing a room without totally knowing what you want is like trying to decide on takeout and not craving anything. I can let it simmer a little longer, but I also don’t want to miss the shopping window of outdoor retail season, you know?

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

See you next time!

Your friend in indecision, Arlyn

Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: 5 Outdoor Ideas & Hacks That’ll Instantly Add Style


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