Outdoor Oasis: An Affordable Backyard Makeover

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Blogger Kate Riley of the blog Centsational Girl turned her barren backyard into an outdoor oasis on a budget.
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Kate adorned a steel gazebo with curtains she made from linen sheets she found at a local outlet. Indoor/outdoor cushions allowed her to reuse her outdoor furniture set. She added an FSC-certified wood slat table, a coffee table she made from a secondhand trunk, side tables made of two reclaimed wine barrels and handmade accent pillows.
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Before she created her cabana oasis, blogger Kate Riley had a drab patio overlooking gorgeous views of her backyard vineyards. She and her husband wanted to transform the 13-by-16-foot space into a spot for relaxation and entertainment, creating an open, breezy outdoor room.

With the motto “Fabulous for Less,” Northern Californian Kate Riley, writer of the design and remodeling blog Centsational Girl, knows the value of combining DIY elbow grease, thrift-store finds and wise shopping to create beautiful home makeovers on a dime. To transform her backyard patio from drab to darling, she combined her penchant for secondhand shopping, a knack for clever reuse and a few American Express points to create what her family now refers to as their “outdoor oasis.” Use her example as inspiration for your budget backyard makeover.

Wine enthusiasts, Kate and her husband grow grapes in their backyard vineyard, a lovely view they hoped to enhance by making their patio more appealing. Their goal was to create an outdoor room that was protected from the sun and offered the feeling of an enclosed space but still felt open and breezy.

Using American Express points, Kate ordered a 12-by-12-foot cabana and indoor/outdoor seat cushions from Home Depot. The durable cushions match the house exterior and allowed Kate to reuse her formerly lackluster patio furniture. Rather than using the utilitarian mosquito netting that came with the cabana, Kate made her own breezy white curtains out of linen sheets she found on clearance at a local outlet for just $5. She simply hemmed them to the height of the cabana and hung them with curtain rings, making it easy to take them down in rain storms.

Creative Furnishings

When it came time to furnish the outdoor room, Kate started the hunt for repurposed and responsibly made items. She found a wine barrel from a nearby vineyard for $20 at her local Ace Hardware (the joys of living in wine country!) and cut it in half to create inexpensive rustic side tables. For the coffee table, Kate searched her local antique and thrift stores and found a wood trunk for $15. Although the trunk was covered in stickers, it was made of solid wood and had a great shape, so Kate took it home, peeled off the stickers, and sanded and whitewashed it (find her how-to instructions in “How to Whitewash” later in this article; read more at Basic Whitewashing Technique). Now she has a beautiful hardwood coffee table that doubles as storage for outdoor supplies. She rounded out her furniture collection with a Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood bench from West Elm.

Unique Accents

To add the finishing touches to her outdoor room, Kate found eco-friendly accent pillows made of hemp and jute and handsome lanterns made of weathered pine and aged tin at Pottery Barn. She made a few additional outdoor pillows by sewing together and stuffing some patterned placemats she’d found on clearance. Finally, potted outdoor plants tie the room with its earthy surroundings, and a bowl of limes offers a splash of color and comes in handy for cocktails or fresh-off-the-grill fish. 

Kate Riley offers beautiful and affordable projects with easy-to-follow instructions on her blog, Centsational Girl. Read more about her backyard makeover at Our Patio Cabana.

How to Whitewash

Blogger Kate Riley whitewashed a vintage wood trunk to create the coffee table for her outdoor cabana. Whitewashing uses white paint to brighten wood while allowing the grain to show through. It’s simple, inexpensive and works well indoors and out to create a coastal, cottagey vibe. Here are Kate’s basic whitewashing steps:

• Sand the wood. Kate used a power sander and 80 grit (medium) sandpaper. You’re not aiming for perfection, just more even tones in the wood. Sand opposite the grain to enhance ridges, nooks and crannies.

• Mix 2 parts zero-VOC white latex paint to 1 part water. Dip brush in mixture, wipe most of it off, then paint in the opposite direction of the grain, allowing the diluted paint to grab onto rough edges.

• When paint is dry, protect it by spraying it with a water-based, fast-drying clear UV protectant.

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