Whether you’re a new homeowner setting up your outdoor space for the first time or in the midst of downsizing — or you’re just hoping to streamline your outdoor setup — this guide is a good place to start.
If you own only the 10 items on this list (we’ll assume you’re starting with a grill), you’ll be in good shape to host gatherings all season long.
1. The Right Furniture for Your Space (and Your Life)
The key word here is your. If you have a spacious yard with multiple zones in which to put furniture, perhaps you’d like to set up one zone for dining and another for kicking back. But if you have room for only one or the other, consider your lifestyle and the type of entertaining you tend to do most often. Love catching up with friends over a glass of wine? A lounge zone with room to set down a few nibbles, like the one shown in the foreground here, would serve you well. Prefer gathering around a sit-down meal? Invest in a quality outdoor dining set with comfortable chairs.
Flies and mosquitoes tend to stay away from moving air, so if these pesky critters are a problem in your backyard, a fan can help keep them at bay during gatherings. Have an electrician install a ceiling-mounted model, or plug in a standing or tabletop outdoor version.
3. Patio Umbrella
Baking in the blazing sun is no fun — so unless your outdoor space has a roof, pergola or other built-in shade structure, you’ll want to bring in something extra for daytime get-togethers. Freestanding umbrellas are more flexible than the table-mounted type, allowing you to bring the shade exactly where it’s needed. Look for one that is a little bigger than you think you’ll need. Your (nonsunburned) friends will thank you.
4. Outdoor Speakers
Aside from lighting (see No. 10), nothing creates ambiance more quickly than music. Whether you opt for a simple portable wireless speaker or hire a pro to install a complete audio system, having the ability to play tunes in the backyard is key for all kinds of outdoor fetes.
5. Serving Tray
Tote out dishes, drinks and more with a serving tray (or two or three) that you keep at the ready. Choose a tray with handles for easy carrying and a lip to prevent your cargo from sliding off the edge.
6. Beverage Tub or Cooler
Avoid multiple trips to the fridge by stocking a beverage tub or cooler with drinks on ice in your party area. If you’re serving food, consider keeping a separate food cooler on hand to stash condiments (like mayo) that need chilling and perishable meats waiting to be tossed on the grill.
Nice Extra: Bar Cart
Is an outdoor bar cart essential? Not really. But this handy piece of furniture can make serving drinks or snacks for a crowd a little bit easier and a lot more stylish.
Tip: To make your bar cart do double duty as a bussing station, stash an empty dish pan on the bottom shelf at the beginning of a party — guests will appreciate having an obvious place to set down dishes they’re done with.
Being outdoors constantly can take a toll on your patio furniture. Instead of stressing about getting the surface of your outdoor table pristine, wipe it down and then cover it with a pretty cloth. Outdoor tablecloths are handy because they tend to be water-resistant — meaning that spills roll right off — but regular tablecloths can work beautifully too.
8. Durable Tableware
Can you simply carry your regular dishes outdoors for a party? Certainly! But for times when you’d like something less fragile, it can be helpful to have a set of durable outdoor-worthy tableware on hand — the same set of unbreakable dishes and cups can also get called into service on picnics and car-camping trips. Consider enamelwareor wood as a sturdy and kid-friendly alternative to plastic.
9. Throw Blankets
While not necessary at a barbecue party on a summer afternoon, for parties that begin or stretch into the evening, having a few cozy blankets on hand is a gracious touch your guests will appreciate. Drape a few over your outdoor chairs so anyone who gets chilly can pull one over a lap or shoulders.
And for those daytime parties? Consider setting out a basket of sunscreen and bug repellant for guests too.
10. Mood Lighting
What could be more inviting than a patio at dusk made cozy by a soft glow? Make your outdoor space shine at night with candles that won’t get blown out in the wind (for example, hurricanes), string lights or both. And while the lick of real flames — as seen on this fire bowl table — is impressive, if children or local regulations prohibit the use of fire, you can still create a lot of ambiance with battery-powered candles.