by Cheryl Cook
Humans seem to yearn for the past. No matter what age or generation we live in, we crave something from days gone by. Perhaps it’s the feeling of being connected to what came before or perhaps it’s just a yearning for our childhood. Whatever it is, one way that people express this is by surrounding themselves with items that remind us of pleasant times.
Luckily, a vintage feel—whatever vintage means to you—is as easy to achieve outdoors as it is indoors.
As you may have guessed, the first thing I’m going to do is recommend that you sit down at your computer, or with a pad of paper, and plan your project out. I know, everyone has that one friend whose home and yard looks like it just happened, and yet somehow, it’s beautiful; but believe me, it didn’t just happen, no matter what they tell you. Even if they are that rare person who just moves effortlessly through life, creating beauty with every touch, let’s be honest—that’s probably not me or you. No, we’re like ducks, floating along on the surface while paddling our weird, webbed feet at warp speed just to keep up.
Why paddle your feet uselessly? There’s no bigger waste of energy and time than a plan that’s been poorly laid. So grab a pencil and take some notes as we plan a beautiful vintage look for your deck, balcony or yard.
First, determine what style you are hoping to achieve. Vintage isn’t one thing or time—there are plenty of timeframes to consider. Perhaps you’re looking for a Victorian feel, with ornate decoration and a touch of stately grace. Perhaps clean and simple mid-century is more your thing. One of the most popular styles today is a 1930s farmhouse feel. Take a trip to Pinterest and have a look around. Use fairly specific searches, such as “vintage backyard” to get a sense of what you do or don’t like.
Once you’ve decided on a style you like, note the main features that you see and like the best. This might be the use of vintage pottery and metal ware, or it could be the clean lines and light feel to the furnishings.
Next, set your budget. There’s no point looking at outdoor rugs, furniture or even small décor items if you have no idea of how much you want to or can spend. Set an overall budget, and then break it down into categories like furnishing, or labour and repairs, etc. Decide which areas you think you are most willing to spend your money on, or which will require the most work.
Hand in hand with the budget is assessing what you have to work with. Think of this not just in terms of items you might have, but what space you have to work within, what skills you have (or have to pay for) and how much time you have to devote to your project.
The space you have to work with is especially crucial. Whether you have a large or small yard space to work with, you are going to have to think about scale and proportion.
If your space is fairly small, you’ll need to consider how to create a comfortable, functional space without over-crowding. Seeking out small pieces of furniture that will fit appropriately may take you a bit longer. You’ll want to look for items that can fulfill multiple functions—serving as seating and storage, for example.
In a larger space, like a multi-level deck, you’ll need to consider having enough furnishings and décor to use the open spaces well, and avoid things looking too sparse. Creating zones for different functions—such as eating, sitting around a fire, bartending, and cooking—is a great advantage of larger spaces. In this case it’s very helpful to map this out on a piece of paper to get a sense of how the zones should flow. Always think about how you would prefer to use the space, and design from there.
This is also a good time to think about colour. Just like your indoor spaces, decorating is much easier, and spaces more beautiful, when you’ve taken the time to decide on a palette of colours to use for the furnishings, rugs and décor. If you have chosen a particular vintage style, be sure to do a bit of research on what colours work best with that. Often this can be as simple as looking at images of this style, as they often have popular colour palettes that are repeated in image after image. Farmhouse style often uses soft, pastel shades, while mid-century décor tends to focus on more natural shades of green, ochre and brown. If the 1970s is your thing, you’ll see brighter tones nudging into the palette with orange, violets and reds.
Next, figure what you have that can be used, reused, re-purposed or refreshed, as well as what you are going to need to acquire. When the look is vintage, the first places to look are basement, attic and shed. Have any relatives who complain about all the junk in the attic? Ask if you can have a root around and relieve them of some of it. If you have a DIY streak, then imagine what you can do to give a bit of new life to older items.
Decorating in a vintage style also means that you can indulge your urge to dig deep at yard sales and flea markets. Or, if we’re being honest, the desire to pull over to the side of the road and drag that old chest of drawers home with you. As you’re huffing and sweating while lugging an old cabinet over to your car, think about how beautiful this is going to look with a coat or two of chalk paint on it. It’s well worth the stares of the of the rubberneckers, driving slowly by and shaking their heads at your foraging. What do they know? They are probably the sort of people whose backyards lack any charm or personality.
Bear in mind that you aren’t bound by any rule that says your vintage look has to be authentic. There are plenty of reproduction options available for just about any style at just about any large home décor store. Not everyone cares to strip and paint old pieces of furniture, so go with whatever suits your level of involvement or skill.
Whether you go for authentic, refurbished or reproduction, here are some ideas to get you started.
Embellish what you have with vintage items or pieces: Old pieces of ornate trim, ironwork or vintage fittings and hardware can be added to your existing structures such as walls, gates and fences. Use reclaimed brick or stone for edging. Old doorknobs or hooks can be used on fences or walls to create anchors for hanging small pots of herbs or flowers. Old doors can be added to archways or openings and painted a bright colour.
Repurpose items: If you have old gardening equipment, furniture, pots or even bowls, these can be repurposed to add a bit of style to your backyard space. Glass jars can become hurricane lamps with a candle inside, great for breezy nights. A wooden ladder can be turned in to a garden display or rack for small planters. Turn a wheelbarrow into a garden bed. Old metal colanders make pretty planters with built in drainage and handles, so they can be hung. Metal bird cages or other cages can be turned into hanging planters, or used as an accent in a garden bed.
Add new objects: If you are adding new furnishings and décor, always keep in mind the vintage style that you decided on, as well as your colour palette. Look for fabrics, cushions and outdoor rugs with the right vintage feel or tone. Think about the structure of the furniture in relation to the time you are trying to emulate. Ornate, wooden benches won’t give you that mid-century feel, but they will add beautifully to a farmhouse backyard. If you can’t find what you are looking for locally, check online. Even many local hardware stores now have a larger selection online than they do in-store, so it’s always worth a browse to see if that one thing you really want is out there somewhere. Remember, if you are adding furniture, to add a stain guard or protector to the fabrics, and cover or store them during bad weather and over the winter.
Don’t forget lighting: While not a concern during the day, in the evening and at night your outdoor lighting will have a major impact on the look of your space. If you have a pergola or other overhang, consider using some string lights to add a beautiful glow. Glass jars can also be used here, hanging with battery-operated candles in them. If you are lucky enough to have a large tree to sit under, hang some beautiful lights from the branches. String lights now come in a wide variety of styles, from vintage Edison-style lights, to bright and colourful shapes, and even wrap lights for covering tree trunks or walls and fences. Always think of the function of the space when you are considering lighting. You may want something a little brighter near your cooking or bartending areas, and something softer and more cozy around your eating and conversation spaces.
Finally, before you begin your backyard beautification, go back to the beginning and write down the the vintage style you’ve chosen, the main features that you want to add to your space, and the colours you’ve chosen. Keep this with you whenever you are shopping, planning or even just hauling an curbside treasure back to your car. With a bit of planning, you’ll have a beautiful outdoor space that your friends and neighbours will love to visit.
“Oh this?” you’ll say, “It was nothing. It just sort of came together.”
Header credit: Bigstock/seagames50
Intro credit: Bigstock/HalfPoint
Intro caption: There is more than one ‘vintage’ style; you may prefer a particular era, or a particular look such as farmhouse-style, or to create your own mix-and-match as your heart desires.