Design Budgeting 101: Outdoor Rooms

Professional designers know how to stretch a buck. Joan Grabel and Katie Z. Leavy share some of their best ideas for decorating an outdoor space for less.

Sunny Covered Porch With Outdoor Dining Area

Sunny Covered Porch With Outdoor Dining Area

Paint a pergola and other architectural elements a bright color. Add coordinating Spanish tile to one wall to bring everything together. Design by Joan Grabel.

Decorating beautifully on a budget can be challenging. We asked top designers how they stretch their clients' budgets.

Question: If a DIY decorator had only $100 to beautify an outdoor space, what would you suggest he or she buy to get the biggest bang for their buck?


Katie Z. Leavy, owner of Capital Design LLC, says, "A brightly colored market umbrella."

Question: What should you not buy with $100? “Tacky yard ornaments like gnomes,” Katie says.

Landscape designer Joan Grabel, owner of Park Slope Design, says, "Do not buy things that have a short life span or that do not enhance the style that you are going for, or that is small and will not be noticed."


Add a large planter that goes with the style of your home. Design by Joan Grabel.

Question: If a DIY decorator had $500 to beautify an outdoor space, what would you suggest he or she buy to get the biggest bang for their buck?

Joan suggests “buying three to five fabulous, large planters with large plant materials that correspond with the look you are going for. Have a theme.”


Create a focal-point wall in tile. This technique is especially effective when designing a Mediterranean-inspired space. Design by Joan Grabel.

With a $500 budget, Katie says, "There are some wonderful outdoor fabrics that can be made into cushions, pillows and tablecloths that will add a great splash of color to your space. Investing in a set of transitionally styled planters is smart as well," she says. "Plants can be changed out seasonally and your planters will last forever."


Paint the front door, and add a matching set of chairs for budget pop. Design by Joan Grabel.

Question: What are your favorite decorating tips?

Joan's favorite tips involve moving or refurbishing existing pieces. “Rearrange furniture; add pillows; move planters," she says. "Transplant to have a harmonious plant design; look inside your home and see what will work outside, and paint something you have outside to give it a new look."


Look for existing plants that are hidden in your yard. Transplant them, and add accent light. Design by Joan Grabel.

"Outdoor sculpture and focal water features will surely get a bang for the buck," Katie says. "Large plants and grasses with uplighting will also act as sculpture, adding interest and natural beauty to all settings. Once you determine your focal point, break up large outdoor spaces by varying landscape materials such as colorful gravels, natural and synthetic pavers; flagstones and refined wood chips; and planted beds.


Add stones to a garden landscape to create texture. Design by Joan Grabel.

"Drapery panels will add drama and softness to exterior and lanai spaces as well," Katie adds. "Use full-height panels of breezy, lightweight fabrics on weatherproof metal structures to frame and define exterior 'rooms.' Keep an open mind about what qualifies as 'artwork.' Architectural salvage, metal components, maritime accessories and wall-hung planters will all add unique interest and a finished feel to your outdoor rooms."

exquisite outdoor entertaining space

Dreaming of an outdoor kitchen? Start a savings account, and plan to tackle the project DIY-style. Design by Katie Z. Leavy.

See more of Joan Grabel's and Katie Z. Leavy's work in Designers' Portfolio.

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