Embrace the Bench
Declutter a small patio by switching out a cluster of chairs for two modern, comfortable benches upholstered in outdoor fabric. Instead of bringing in bouquets for dinner parties, try a potted plant as a permanent centerpiece.
Find a Hideaway
A shady green part of the garden seems a world away even though it's really just a few steps from the kitchen and all the hubbub of the backyard play area. Use a colorful low coffee table and sculptural hoop chairs instead of a traditional cafe table and folding chairs to reinforce the feeling of a mod secluded den.
Create a Dream Spot
Place a comfortable daybed on the patio instead of an ordinary and expected chaise longue. (Here, it's right off the master bedroom, so the toughest weekend decision is whether to nap inside or out.) Striped pillows echo the striated leaves of the potted cordyline flanking the door. An outdoor rug helps define the parameters of the "room" and softens the stone and concrete underfoot. A ceramic stool serves as a handy side table and does double duty as an extra seat when you're entertaining.
Turn Up the Heat
A fire pit is a focal point for a seating area; plus, it extends the outdoor entertaining season beyond the warmth of summer. This model has a gas hookup that can be easily switched on with a key (hidden from the kids), but a wood fire in a concrete vessel also works.
Focus on the Foliage
Emphasize rich brown, gray, and silver leaves rather than flowers, which can come and go quickly in the garden. Informal flower beds can be anchored with a larger sculptural plant such as this blue agave, and a grouping of other colorful drought-tolerant succulents.
Maximize Tight Spots
Don't let hard-to-use spaces like this narrow sliver between the end of the pool and a sunken utility area go to waste. Use one space-saving double chaise instead of two separate ones, and arrange decorative stools (used as side tables) in the same symmetrical way you would in your living room. Hang electric lanterns from a large tree to complete the feeling of a stylish outdoor room that's cool and shady during the day and romantically secluded at night.
More from Martha Stewart Living:
15 Kitchen Shortcuts That Will Change the Way You Cook
19 Tips for Perfect Laundry Every Time
30 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do
12 Secrets for a Cleaner Bathroom Without Spending More Time Cleaning It