20 February 2011

garden: Making a Patio into an Outdoor Room

For Christmas, my brother gave me a set of really cool industrial outdoor lights for the back patio. I love them. But then, I noticed they were slowly getting lower and lower. And I noticed why one evening: they were pulling down the slender fence post I had attached them to and the fence was getting all wanky-jawed. Combined with wind and freezing temperatures, the night I discovered this was a night I didn't get much sleep. With every gust, I awoke imagining all the lights smashing against the ground.

So, I reluctantly pulled the lights down the next day. It was them or the fence.

But, what it meant was that I could put into play a design idea I'd had since creating the back patio: installing four large posts in each corner and stringing lights around them in a square shape. Possibly even growing vines on the posts.

What this would do, I figured, was enclose the space just enough to make it feel like a room. But without a ceiling and traditional pergola, it would still feel open to the night and day skies and allow for fire pits and outdoor movie nights.

John, thankfully, was game.

This is what the patio looked like with the lights just removed and before we installed the posts. 

Here's our post installation process.

We opted for 6 in x 6 in x 10 ft cedar posts, which are not common. In fact, we had to special order them from McCoy's (and I can't say enough about how nice they are there.) I wanted them to be tall enough after being sunk 2 feet into the ground that my tall self could pass beneath them without ducking. Four-inch cedar posts are more common. But I figured - like the fence before them - they would begin to buckle from the weight and start to bow. The 6 x 6 posts would be substantial with no risk of bending.

We began by digging the post holes, filling the holes with about 2 inches of gravel and then placing the posts in the holes.

Once the posts were centered and leveled, we supported them in place with easily removable 2x4s.

Once all of that ground work was laid, we got started with the concrete. Turns out that the holes, at 28 inches deep and about 12 inches in diameter, required A LOT OF QUIKRETE to fill. Oh my. Each post required about four 80 pound bags of concrete, meaning that each post is supported by about 320 lbs of concrete. Ridiculous!

John had the brilliant idea to finish the top of the concrete with a nice square. This would help water run off from the post which prevents rotting, but also added a nice finishing touch. So, he built small frames that we stuffed with the concrete.

After curing for about 24 hours, we removed the frames.

And then removed the supports and moved all the pea gravel back into place.

 And voila!, we have four big honkin' posts defining our patio space.

Indeed, it already gives the patio a slightly more enclosed feeling without being overbearing. The posts clearly define the edges of this social space.

Next steps after the posts cure for a bit will be to add the lights. That will be the finishing touch, and will really bring the complete space into being. Even more exciting: these posts are hammock ready. We've been searching for hammock hanging space for years, and now we've got it!


ESP said...

Looking great Lee! The posts are fantastic,(both contexts) and what great, over-sized proportions you chose...love it. What a great addition to your back area, and they will be perfect for those hammocks, and future fire-pit parties.
We better get an invite when the lights and hammocks are finally strung :-)
Leah makes a mean sangria!

Laguna Dirt said...

what a great space you have created and further defined! the lights will look fabo and a hammock will just seal the deal!

Mamaholt said...

AHHHHHHH! I love it. I want it. I need to do that in our new spa area that is still languishing in unattended misery.
When's the party?

RBell said...

Looks really sharp!

Pam/Digging said...

Smart call on the 6x6 posts. They look great, well proportioned for their height. I look forward to seeing pics with the lights and a hammock in place.

hil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amanda said...

Thank you for sharing! We want to do something super similar in our yard but I've had trouble finding inspiration until now.

Amanda said...

oh and could you give an approximation on how big this space is?

Lee said...

Thanks Amanda. This space is 14' x 14' which is perfect for about 8 people. We pack in a lot more for movie nights and parties, but it will fit 6-8 garden chairs with good space to both breath and talk without yelling.

Allison Shallenberger said...

Your patio/outdoor room is looking great! I like the color of the chairs and table because it’s so bright and it stands out. I’m sure it looks so much better now with the hammock and lights! I’m sure you all love spending your time outdoors there.

Allison Shallenberger

Anonymous said...

What is the distance between the posts? Have the posts remained strong and sturdy over time?
Thanks! Cecilia

alex amarxon said...

So we have admitted defeat in trying to create a beautiful garden. We grow what they won't eat and enjoy watching the animals instead. How about you--any suggestions for keeping deer at bay?best fence