In 1969, my family left a suburban Long Island home with a grassy yard and an above-ground pool that was usable only 30 days a year. We headed west and settled into the most recently constructed house of a new development that backed up to a mountain in Phoenix. We had no fence at that point; the desert and mountain were our backyard. A blank slate.
And, like most every 1960s landscape and patio designed for Southwest living, the space quickly was walled in and filled with a swimming pool that left only catwalk-sized patches of ground on its perimeter. The remaining area was landscaped with vicious, spiny, and most likely toxic botanical specimens; cluttered with iron chairs that doubled as human grill pans; and lounge chairs that looked like the winning entry in a reality show where contestants were asked to design furnishings using old broom handles and reinforced packing tape. It wasn’t a space that invited you to stay for a while.
Decades later, Phoenicians have reinvented their outdoor living spaces. We embrace our nearly 300 days of sun. We design new houses to include outdoor space as a viable living area. We remodel older homes to welcome back patios that had been uninviting, glorified storage areas. We enthusiastically push our interiors outside (think backyard TVs and fully functioning outdoor kitchens), artificially adjust the climate to suit our comfort level (with misters, fans, and, in the winter, heat lamps), and create common areas that become some of the most frequently used parts of the home. This summer, our recreational covered patios have become necessary COVID retreats.
So while sheltering in place remains a duty, how we do it remains a choice. Phoenix businesses offer many ways to shop with minimal contact, so updating your patio with personal touches is within your glove-protected reach.
For the style-conscious crowd, shops like For the People offer customizable, luxe furnishings and accessories that will change the way you think about outdoor seating areas. This forward-thinking shop’s artful displays will inspire you to ditch your Rubbermaid chairs (just because you can hose furniture down, doesn’t mean you should) and put some comfort and style back into your al fresco spaces.
While you’re in the neighborhood, stroll into Practical Art for some locally sourced artisan pieces to accessorize your space and lend some whimsical focal points to your new conversation area.
Sheltering in place also has inspired us to consider DIY projects. Look for deals on vintage and antique pieces at eclectic shops like Michael Todd’s Treasures.
Aside from a selection of actual outdoor pieces, look for items that can withstand our mild climate. With a little preventative maintenance and careful placement, you’ll be amazed at how many objects and furnishings we associate with indoor living can successfully be used outside. An antique dresser with a coat of marine varnish or enamel from your local ACE store can hold a set of melamine dishes and tumblers dedicated to poolside dining. Retro Lucite and resin-molded chairs can endure the elements while easy-to-sew homemade cushions and pillows using indoor/outdoor fabric from SAS Fabrics bring color, comfort, and style to your patio. An antique quilt rack or coat stand ensures that wet towels and swimsuits have a stylish spot to dry while keeping them off the backs of chairs.
As temperatures rise (outside, not yours – keep yours down by continuing to practice social distancing), it’s a good idea to bring your green thumb skills closer to the house with shade-loving plants and planter gardens. The knowledgeable staff and beautiful inventory at Berridge Nurseries, nestled at the entrance of the Arcadia neighborhood in the shadow of Camelback Mountain, can help make your patio a true living room. With curbside pickup, detailed online ordering, and delivery available, Berridge is keeping up with the times. And they can help you avoid the pitfalls of my childhood backyard.
I’ve moved on. People often remark that the outdoor spaces in my current home are so inviting and livable, and I have to agree with them. The reason is simple: I’ve set aside notions of what a patio space should look like and haven’t strictly limited myself to furnishings and accessories that are marketed as “outdoor.” So my outdoor space reflects my indoor space.
And in this uncertain and quarantined time, I need all the space I can get.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.