Steele Marcoux, editor of Veranda magazine, joined Washington Post staff writer Jura Koncius for a Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: Pre-coronavirus, we were active restaurant and bar patrons, but we don’t see ourselves going out the same way in the near future, so we’re turning our neglected deck and yard into a fun summer environment. We live in a rowhouse, and our yard is only about 245 square feet, not including a garden we just put in at one end. One side of the fence is chain-link fencing, and the other is wood. We’ve purchased some lounge-style furniture for the deck, and we have an umbrella. We are thinking of sun sail options for the yard and maybe some lighting or a firepit. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Everyone loves to gather around a fire, so I think a firepit is a great idea. I also wonder about a water source of some sort. Perhaps a fountain that would create some soothing noise?
Q: 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.
A: The one thing I would add 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. It has 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 even opt for something artificial if you need to.
Q: My new house has a screened porch from the 1950s that I’m redoing. I’m replacing the old jalousie windows with full-length screens and putting in a beadboard ceiling. My challenge is the floor: The porch sits on an elevated concrete slab that’s about eight inches thick. It had been painted with numerous coats of concrete paint, which were fading and peeling. I’ve spent weeks using a grinder to remove all the paint and get it back to bare concrete. Now what?
A: That concrete floor is definitely a challenge. I have seen some cool stain treatments for concrete floors that almost make them look like wooden 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.
Q: We have a large deck with casual wood furniture overlooking a bay. Do you have ideas for small side tables that will withstand salty air?
A: You may want to consider something stone or treated with some sort of glaze. There are some really great options for garden stools that can double as small side tables as well.
Q: I have a natural slate patio that is 25 years old and is showing its age. The grout is falling out, and the edges are broken; it’s uneven and green moss is growing. I tried regrouting it a few years ago, but the unevenness is bothersome. I want to replace it with stone. Do you have suggestions for a type of stone that will give me a cleaner look?
A: 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.
Q: 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?
A: 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. 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, such as dishwashing soap and water.
Q: Part of my patio is in deep shade where the sun never hits. The concrete is green with mildew. I power wash it in the spring and I’ve used concrete cleaners and Tilex, but I can’t get it clean. Help!
A: 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. Can you trim back what’s creating the actual shade?
Q: We have a fairly sizable 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’s the right table size?
A: 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, too. If your patio is more conducive to a rectangular table, there are some modern picnic-style tables that may allow for that same flexibility.
Q: Are picnic tables OK in the age of social distancing?
A: For safety, I would suggest only seating people who have quarantined together at a picnic table. If you would like to add others, I say just bring extra seating outside. You could also put down some blankets for couples or families who have quarantined together. This is uncharted territory for all of us.
Q: I have a 19-by-19-foot 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?
A: I think a cantilever umbrella sounds like a really smart and stylish solution. Unfortunately, I cannot speak personally to their ability to open and close. I would read reviews and explore the return policy should you be disappointed with the open and close mechanisms.
Q: How can you give a part of your yard up to your kids but still have an adult quiet space?
A: It depends on how old your kids are and how much space you have. We have an elevated deck off 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 low hedges or even noise separation. Perhaps there’s even a corner of the yard that you can make an adult hangout zone with a fire pit or a small fountain.
Q: I’m considering a flagstone patio in my backyard abutting my house. How can I cover up the siding in a way that makes the patio feel like its own space? I’m thinking of some sort of wooden lattice structure.
A: A lattice structure on which you could potentially train a plant could be lovely. There are wooden options, but wire options may be lower maintenance. A vine that flowers with something fragrant will make the space even more inviting.