Q&A: Veranda editor Steele Marcoux on maximizing your outdoor space

Jun 18, 2020

Steele Marcoux was appointed editor in chief of Veranda magazine in 2018. She has served in senior editorial roles at Country Living, Coastal Living, and Southern Living. She has been a freelance writer, editor and producer for a number of brands including Hamptons Cottages & Gardens, Flower Magazine, HGTV Magazine and Better Homes & Gardens. Steele lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, two sons, and dog Sawyer.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

 

We are doing everything outdoors this year. And our decks, terraces, patios and balconies are places of refuge. Let's talk about this with Steele Marcoux, Veranda Editor-in Chief who has lots of experience in reimagining outdoor spaces. Let's chat.

 

Hi everyone! I am thrilled to be here with Jura and you today. I’ve looked up to Jura for years, so this is a big honor for me! Today, I will be answering your questions about enjoying time outside this summer—and anything else you want to ask me! If you’re anything like me, time in the sunshine and in nature is restorative for the soul—and it seems like we all need that this year more than ever! Our July/August issue, on newsstands today, is full of ideas and inspiration for creating a sanctuary at home and enjoying your outdoor spaces. Thank you for joining, all, and thank you for having me, Jura!

I need my outdoor space. Nothing fancy, a comfortable chair, some candles, a cloudless night and the darkness of the coming nightfall, sounds of night settling in, a beautiful wineglass to enjoy, and taking the time to repair and refresh my weary soul.

I couldn’t agree more! Earlier this spring, we bought four Adirondack chairs for our front yard. Until the pandemic, we had been backyard people – but now we are front yard people! Sitting out front allows us to see neighbors as they walk by or ride their bikes by.

I need complete darkness to sleep and light to wake up. Right now, I have blackout curtains because sleeping is more important. I'm thinking about getting some mechanical blackout shades for my bedroom that I can schedule to open in the morning to help me wake up. But I'm at a loss for how to then have a bit of privacy so my neighbors can't see in my bedroom and see me as I get ready for work. There is a house about 15 ft behind mine. What kind of window coverings could I pair with blackout blinds (thinking honeycomb or roller) so that when the blinds open, I'll still have some privacy? thanks!

I feel your pain – I am the lightest sleeper, and it’s been driving me crazy this week. Any noise or light wakes me up. I would suggest pairing your black-out blinds with some curtains framing the window. That way, then the blinds come up in the morning, light will filter in but curtains will partially block the view in. I also love the layered look of curtains and blinds together!

Inexpensive updates - what are your thoughts?

I agree – outdoor spaces are more important now than ever! A few inexpensive updates I love, depending on your space or your interests: (1) a container garden – you’d be amazed what you can grow in a small container, and it’s such a satisfying project (2) a simple pair of chairs – I can’t say enough about the Adirondacks from Polywood I ordered online this spring. They are made of recycled milk jugs so they stand up to anything! But I also love the range of styles and bright colors from Lawn Chair USA. (3) A table cloth for an outdoor table – it’s a great way to add some color and softness outside, and it can make everyday dinners feel like special occasions. Bonus: they can double as picnic blankets!

Pre-Covid, we were active restaurant and bar patrons, and loved bars with outside spaces and games. Post-Covid, we don't see ourselves going out the same way in the near future, so are turning our somewhat neglected deck and yard into the fun summer environment we have always enjoyed out. For context, we live in a rowhouse, so the yard is only around 245 sq ft, not including a garden we just put in on one end. One side of the fence is chain link, while the other is 6 ft wood. (A new fence is another project....) We've purchased some lounge-style furniture for the deck, and have an umbrella. We are thinking of sunsail options for the yard. And maybe some lighting for evening, a firepit, etc.? Do you have any thoughts or suggestions?

Wow, your yard sounds like a wonderful summer retreat! Can I come over? Just kidding…sort of. I love that you are thinking of some shade options…and agree that next up on your list should be lighting. Everyone loves to gather around a fire, so I think a firepit is a GREAT idea. We have some ideas and suggestions on veranda.com, if you have a moment to check out our site. I also wonder about a water source of some sort? Perhaps a fountain that would create some soothing noise? Again, more ideas on veranda.com!

My new house has a screened porch from the 1950s that I'm currently rehabbing. I'm replacing the old jaloise windows with full length screens and putting in a beadboard ceiling. My challenge is the floor. The porch sits on an elevated concrete slab, 8 inches thick. It had been painted with numerous coats of concrete paint, which was fading and peeling. I've spent weeks using a grinder to remove all the paint and get it back to bare concrete. Now what? I've maxed out my budget for this porch, and it is 250 sq feet so I can't do anything too elaborate with the floor. I've looked at various concrete coatings, which I hope will be more durable than paint, but I'm a bit stuck. I assume no matter what I do I'll still use outdoor rugs to warm up the space. Thanks!

It sounds like you are well on your way to creating a wonderful summer “room” in your new house. That concrete floor is definitely I challenge. I have seen some cool stain treatements for concrete floors that almost make them look like wooden floors, or even stone floors. But I wonder if that will be too high maintenance for you. You could consider just polishing it, and then topping it with an outdoor rug. That will give it that softness and warmth you’ll want out there.

I have a natural slate patio that is likely 25 years old. It is showing its age (grout falling out, edges broken, unevenness and green moss). I love the natural look of stone but thinking its time to replace it, I tried regrouting a few years ago, but the unevenness is bothersome. I want to replace it with stone, and wonder if the replacement stone will give me a smoother finish and better edging. Do you have a recommendation for a cost effective company that will do this work and a suggestion for a type of stone that will give me a cleaner look.

Hmmm…I do love the look of slate, but I understand what you mean about the unevenness bothering you. Really any stone will work – but the key is to have it cut like tiles, which have a more geometric (rather than irregular) look. I like blue stone or slate for darker applications, and limestone, travertine, or sandstone for lighter ones.

I have a small city balcony that's getting more use than ever. What are some easy ways to make the space feel finished and cozy? We have a small bistro table and an outdoor rug so far.

It sounds like you are definitely on the right track. A bistro table is perfect for eating, but also for reading with a cup of coffee or tea (or a cocktail!) or for working on a small laptop. And a rug will add that softness and warmth. The one thing I would add for sure is something potted. Depending on how much light and space you have, you could try a small potted tree? We have a potted lemon tree on our deck. So far, it’s produced only one lemon in three years, but we love the foliage! We bring it indoors during the winter, and we love having something green inside during those months. You can also try plants that are better for shade. And you can even opt for something artificial if you need to!

I'm considering a flagstone patio in my backyard abutting my house. Is there a way to cover up the siding in a way that makes the patio feel like its own space? Some sort of wooden lattice structure or something like that? Looking for inspiration. Thank you.

Ooooo, I love the sound of what you have planned. I think a lattice structure on which you could potentially train a plant could be lovely. There are wooden options, but there are also wire options that may be lower maintenance. You could consider a vine that flowers with something fragrant to make the space even more inviting!

We have a large deck with casual wood funiture overlooking a bay. I need ideas for small side tables that will withstand salty air.

Wow, that sounds lovely. I love a water view of any sort! You may want to consider something stone or treated with some sort glaze. There are some really great options for garden stools that can double as small side tables as well. 

Many of us are wondering how to have even one friend over in our backyards for a socially distant meeting. We are want to be as safe as possible - what are some ideas for doing that? Emily Heil and I interviewed microbiologists and entertaining experts. Read our story here.

Outdoor upholstery doesn't hold up well to sap from trees and bird droppings but it looks so comfortable. How can I protect my outdoor furniture cushions without using those ugly plastic covers?

This is a tough one. As wonderful as enjoying the outdoors is, it's still...the outdoors, which comes with trees, pollen, bugs, birds, and the like. You could consider loose cushions that you can bring inside more often, but that can be a pain too. You may just want to plan to clean them weekly. There are some fabric protectors out there, but with good outdoor fabric you should be good to go with a lighter soap like dishwashing soap and water.

Part of my patio is in deep shade, the sun never hits it. The concrete is green with mildew. I power wash it in the Spring, I've used concrete cleaners, and I've cleaned it with Tilex. It's frustrating, I cannot get it clean.

That's tricky. I had a similar situation at my old house. My husband always wanted to cut back the tree branches that were creating the shade canopy...but that's what I loved about the patio! That said, that may be something to consider...can you trim back what's creating the actual shade?

We have a fairly sizeable deck and are planning to replace our deck furniture. We have a table, but it always feels a little small, even for our family of three. What size table is good to use for meals and such? Thanks much.

I think that depends on the shape of your patio. If your patio would allow for a round table (48 to 60 inches), then you may find more flexibility with that. You can seat three people without it feeling too empty, but you could seat up to six people as well. That said, if your patio is more conducive to a rectangular table, there are some modern "picnic" style tables that may allow for that same flexibility. 

Are picnic tables okay in the age of social distancing> That's all we have in the back yard for dining.

What a great question. For the purposes of safety, I would suggest only seating people who have quarantined together at a picnic table. If you'd like to add others, I say just bring extra seating outside! You could also lay down some blankets for couples or families who have quarantined together. I hope that helps -- this is uncharted territory for all of us.

We have a large semi-circular brick patio that we put in some 30 years ago. We put in a wooden trellis on one side to give us privacy from the neighbors. Unfortunately we also planted a small pine tree that we thought was far enough away from the patio. Turns out it wasn't, and now the roots are destroying the brick in that section, pushing them up and making that section a tripping hazard. What's the best solution, cutting down the tree and having it removed, or pull out the patio in that section and re-doing the shape? We enjoy the shade and the partial screening of the tree, but the situation needs some repair.

I am all too familiar with this situation! If you really enjoy the shade and are reluctanct to cut down the tree, I would say re-shape the patio around the tree. Frankly, it sounds like you would need to repair the patio itself even if you were to have to say goodbye to the tree. 

I have a 19' x 19' concrete patio outside my living room. It is in full sun on summer afternoons. I can't afford a motorized retractable shade. What do you think of the cantilever umbrellas? Are they easy to open and close?

I think a cantilevered umbrella sounds like a really smart - and stylish! - solution. I love their look. Unfortunately, I cannot speak personally to their ability to open and close. I would just take the time to read the reviews and even explore the return policy should you be disappointed with the open/close mechanism. 

I've watched my older neighbor open and close hers without any difficulty.

Oh, that's reassuring! 

Do you think it's okay not to use cushions in these days of pandemic germ worries? My chairs are made of wrought iron.

That's a great question! I have a wonderful friend who is a textile genius (Rachel Doriss of Pollack), and I have been asking her a lot about outdoor fabrics and any sort anti-microbial protection they may offer. While I think it would be ok to wipe bleach-tolerant fabrics down, I also think going without cushions for shorter visits is completely fine. Wrought iron is lovely on its own, and can be quite comfortable as well.

How are you changing the Veranda coverage due to the pandemic? Our lifestyles have changed so much.

Great question, and thank you for asking it! In our digital content, we are able to be more responsive to the current environement. We wrote a story recently with predictions from top designers about how the pandemic will change how we live in our homes and what we want and need from our homes (see here).

In print, we are focused on sharing inspiration for creating a sanctuary at home. Honestly, we have always had that goal in mind with our content, but it's top of mind now. 

How can you give a part of your yard up to your kids yet have an adult quiet space as well?

Wow is that a good question -- and a relevant one for me! (I have two very active and loud young sons.) Of course it depends on how old your children are, and how much space you have. We have an elevated deck off of our living room and kitchen. My husband and I tend to hang there and let our boys run around in the backyard below. But for smaller -- and more level -- yards, I would consider either visual separation, in the form of love hedges or something, or even noise separation. Perhaps there is a corner of the yard that you can make an adult hangout zone with a fire pit or small fountain. 

What is the best way to clean Sunbrella cushions?

I believe most it not all Sunbrella fabrics are bleach tolerant! For cleaning outdoor fabrics with bleach, guidelines suggest diluting one cup with a gallon of water and another 1/4 cup of mild soap. You can use a sponge to apply your cleaning solution, then rinse with clean water and allow to air dry. I hope that helps!

What are "love hedges" you mentioned?

Eek! I believe I meant to type "low" hedges. Though love hedges sound wonderful, ha!

I'm looking forward to spending more time in my garden and back yard and planning to make it all look nicer. So thanks for the ideas Steele. Next week we will have Cassandra Aarssen, a Professional Organizer and creator of the blog and YouTube channel, ClutterBug. She is also doing HGTV's new self-shot series Hot Mess House.  Until then, be safe everyone.

Thank you all for joining in, this was so much fun! If I didn’t get to your question, please feel free to DM me on Instagram at @steelemarcoux. In the meantime, have a great weekend – I hope you can get outside some! – and a safe, healthy and happy summer!

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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