Designers are coming up with imaginative ideas to take fun outdoors, whether you’ve got a big yard or one the size of a postage stamp.

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Volleyball courts. Sand pits. Splash pools. Giant movie screens. You don’t have to be a kid to design and enjoy an outdoor play space.

Al fresco kitchens, all-weather lighting, and improvements in the comfort and durability of patio furniture mean we’re enjoying our outdoor spaces more than ever. And designers are coming up with imaginative ideas for fun and games, whether you’ve got a big yard or one the size of a postage stamp.

“There is something very nostalgic about incorporating the outdoor games you grew up playing into your adult life,” says Sarah Fishburne, trend and design director for Home Depot. “Most of these games span age groups, so they can be shared with the kids and enjoyed by the adults.”

Easy additions to any backyard include corn hole, tic tac toe, checkers or kubb — a Nordic game that combines lawn bowling and chess, Fishburne says. All you need is some level ground, covered by faux or real grass, sand or a few pavers.

Another easy DIY project is creating an outdoor scoreboard. It requires just some chalkboard paint and a piece of fiber cement backer board. Monica Mangin has a YouTube how-to video in her The Weekender series at eastcoastcreativeblog.com.

Tara Gudger, a spokeswoman for Lowe’s, likes the idea of stringing fairy lights around a volleyball net for evening play. She also suggests creating a backyard sand pit.

“Use wooden beams to create a designated space for playing horseshoes or bocce. When you’re not using the space for activities, you can create your own beach oasis with outdoor chairs, an umbrella and even exotic potted plants,” she says. “With hammocks or hammock chairs, some greenery, and a few tiki torches or a fire pit nearby, you’ve created the newest hangout spot.”
Portable wireless speakers that connect to your devices make it easy to bring the tunes outside.

Chip Wade, the Atlanta-based principal at Wade Works Creative and a designer on several HGTV and DIY shows, has done large- and small-scale backyard fun zones. He says one of the most common requests he gets is for multi-purpose spaces.

Designer Chip Wade, known for his appearances on HGTV and DIY shows, created a convertible pavilion with golf simulator that doubles as an outdoor theater for a golf-loving client’s yard. (Chip Wade via AP)
Designer Chip Wade, known for his appearances on HGTV and DIY shows, created a convertible pavilion with golf simulator that doubles as an outdoor theater for a golf-loving client’s yard. (Chip Wade via AP)

“We combine favorite activities in the same square footage,” he says. For example, you could create one court for multiple games, or use walkways and paths as temporary play areas.
In one project, he crafted sliding deck panels over a pool. The sections can be pushed together or separated to take advantage of the swim zone, a hot tub and a fire pit.

For another client, he built a climbing structure with an air cannon deck on top, a hidden hammock and a tunnel entry. He used architectural elements and a living wall of plants to connect the area visually with the rest of the home.

Before you build anything, Wade says, think about how often you’ll use the games. Either commit to your recreation theme and build the best version you can, or find creative ways to stash and store equipment when you won’t be using it.

“I like to have an option of putting away or concealing large ‘play’ items like goals, nets or other clunky games,” he says.

He builds storage units behind solid fencing, or adds shallow cabinetry with doors that blend in with the rest of the home.

One of Wade’s favorite projects was a free-standing pavilion with a golf simulator, swing analyzer and synthetic putting surface, complete with sand bunkers and water features. “It was a golf lover’s dream,” he says.

A putting green can be landscaped into most small yards. Lowe’s has instructions online for an 8-by-8-foot framed space that can be built in a weekend. Or buy one ready-made; several sizes and configurations are available.

Portable nylon screens for watching movies or sports are easy to assemble, come in various sizes and store in a handy carry bag.

Even in large yards, Wade encourages clients to think on the small side when creating a backyard play zone. “It’s more easily maintained, and it gives a bit of a buffer between you and your neighbors,” he says.