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Dining al fresco has always been my favorite way to enjoy a meal, and in light of the pandemic, the outdoors have become especially "in." It doesn't have to take much to create Instagram-worthy ambiance in your own backyard, no matter your style.

 

RUSTIC

* Base layer: Just because you prefer a natural aesthetic doesn't mean you can't zone your outdoor area. Arranging some flagstone pavers on a flat section of yard and leaving a grassy "mortar" will help define the area while offering a storybook touch.

* Shade structure: Create a living pergola using ground-contact treated lumber and training passionflower to grow over it. In part because it is native to the area, it won't take long for it to take over, and its exotic flowers will add a stunning focal point. While wisteria and clematis are popular trellis trailers for their showy blooms, they are invasive and toxic, even to humans.

* Dining table: You could build and distress a farm table, but you could also simply cut and arrange some stumps into a unique centerpiece. Carry the theme through with shorter stumps for stools.

* Lighting: Forage some natural debris or hit the faux flowers section to create a large wreath using sturdy garden wire. Then wrap it in strings of twinkling LED lights.

* Additional ambiance: Light your way with oversized outdoor floor lanterns or scatter them around for a subtle nod to the charming gas lanterns of old.

Al fresco dining away from home

Want the al fresco experience but don’t want to cook? Visit timesfreepress.secondstreetapp.com/FoodieBracketOutdoor/bracket?round=4 for the top outdoor dining spots as nominated and voted on by our readers.

 

ELEGANT

* Base layer: Opt for white pea gravel for a touch of elegance. The colorfast material will lend a soft brightness, not to mention drainage for your and Mother Nature's parties. Keep it contained with garden edging, which offers another way to express your style.

* Shade structure: Though bordering on modern, copper pipe and fittings are one of the simplest, and fairly inexpensive, ways to construct a cube, and offer more design aesthetic than PVC pipe. Secure the structure using garden stakes. The piping also serves as built-in curtain rods for hanging the billowy curtains of your choice.

* Dining table: Bring an indoor table outside and incorporate some kind of table covering that hits all the high notes. Stenciling the top of the table means you won't have to worry about tablecloths blowing away. Be sure to weatherproof the table in any case.

* Lighting: Upcycle an old chandelier with some spray paint if necessary and strings of crystal beads if desired, then swap the sconces for votives and fill them with ethereally scented candles.

* Additional ambiance: Go the extra mile by creating a simple gridded wall using pressure-treated lumber. Then tuck battery-operated candles into various alcoves.

 

MODERN

* Base layer: For a clean, sleek look, look for large, square pavers. Place them over bushy thyme for a more laid-back approach, or a contrasting pea gravel for a chic design.

* Shade structure: Bring a midcentury modern vibe to your space by creating a slatted hideaway, affixing 1-by-2s to a sturdy base structure. Leaving the wood a natural color will lend a more contemporary aesthetic, while staining it a walnut color will fully bring the midcentury to the modern age. In any case, make sure it's weatherproofed.

* Dining table: You can easily build a simple table using thick plywood for the top and sides. With my nominal mechanical skills, I've found that brackets are a girl's best friend. Stain and seal the plywood, using the brackets on the outer edges as an industrial design element, or capture a contemporary kitchen vibe by tiling the top, and even sides to create a waterfall edge.

* Lighting: Create a floating shelf using stained plywood and some twine; just be sure the knots are extra-secure (or superglued). Then pile it with flickering battery-operated candles.

* Additional ambiance: Heath Ceramics makes some downright funky throwback tiles that would make the perfect backdrop for a midcentury modern-lover.

 

BOHO

* Base layer: For those who like to kick off their shoes, create a unique carpet with your groundcover. Try Pennsylvania sedge if your space is dry, or Cherokee sedge if not (or you want to water it). Edge the area with a small moat and fill it with the colorful material of your choice.

* Shade structure: Create a simple base using pressure-treated lumber, and ground it by sinking the posts into cement-filled buckets. Bonus points if they're vintage. Then drape colorful fabric over the top, letting it swag overhead for an air of the carefree lifestyle. When it comes to outdoor fabric, I'm partial to many of Richloom's designs, but Berkshire Home also has an attractive line that you can often score for half the price.

* Dining table: With all the stories that are sure to be told around the table, why not choose a table that tells its own? You shouldn't have to look long at places like the Habitat ReStore to find an old front door with just the right character. You could further antique it, or simply affix a thick piece of glass to the top and chunky balusters as legs.

* Lighting: Feed your wanderlust by staggering Moroccan lanterns over your scene for a dramatic impression. Southeastern Salvage typically has a good selection.

* Additional ambiance: Build on your eclectic design by enclosing it with a hanging installation of old windows. Or an assortment of large picture frames for a true Instagram moment.

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