How to Create the Ultimate Family-Friendly Backyard

By Ana Connery

Furniture that is stylish, comfortable and easy to maintain is a must when designing the perfect backyard for your family. The Patapsco floor plan by Winchester Homes in Odenton, MD.

Photo: Winchester Homes

Bright pops of color, plenty of playthings and a spot to enjoy an ice cream on a warm day — these may not be the only criteria for a family-friendly backyard, but they’re a pretty good start.

From furnishings to space planning and everything in between, creating an outdoor space that everyone in the family can enjoy safely takes some consideration. If you’ve ever wondered what the pros think about when designing outdoor spaces that are family friendly, these tips may answer your questions.

Plan your space

“The first thing I always tell people is to design your outdoor space specifically for your family,” says landscape designer Chris Lambton, host of DIY Network’s Lawn and Order and Yard Crashers and a frequent contributor to the HGTV Dream Home and HGTV Smart Home. “Design it so everyone will want to turn off the electronics and go outside to enjoy it.”

Rather than push furniture up against walls or fences, float the pieces in the center—and be sure to leave 18 to 24 inches of open area between your coffee table and the surrounding seating. This will allow for better flow and keep the space feeling more open and accessible — perfect if you have a large family.

Create a nap nook

Kids take naps, especially when they’re young, but they’re not the only ones who enjoy a good al fresco rest spot. Hammocks are perfect for catching some shut-eye or curling up with Mom or Dad and a Dr. Seuss favorite. Most kids can’t resist piling into them, so it’s best to keep hammocks about 12 to 18 inches above ground to make it easy for kiddos to slide in and out.

In lieu of a traditional swing set, a classic porch swing also does the trick. Opt for a wide one with a comfy cushion and room for two. Because they have to be hung from a ceiling, porch swings are also a safe, dry place to watch the rain.

Go for low maintenance

Choosing materials that are easy to clean and maintain is key for busy parents, Lambton says. “Stone patios are great as you don’t have to repaint or repair them like wooden decks, and Sunbrella fabrics for pillows and cushions will resist stains and all sorts of weather.”

For the yard, Lambton recommends perennial plants that will return with beautiful flowers year after year. Look for those that don’t attract bees (to prevent stings) and avoid plants with pointy edges that can scratch and poke when kids run past. If you’re worried about your kids getting too much sun, opt for evergreen trees that don’t drop leaves and provide year-round shade, which will also help with maintenance.

“This all means less work for you and more time to enjoy your yard!” says Lambton.

Look for double — and even triple — duty furniture

Toys, backyard games, sports equipment — kids have a lot of s-t-u-f-f. Keep it all organized with storage solutions that perform more than one function.

Ottomans sturdy enough to hold drinks and snacks are perfect for kid-friendly backyards. They can also easily be turned into extra seating or the perfect spot for coloring outdoors. Pillows large enough to be tossed on the floor and used as seat cushions also work well.

“I recommend having a portable beverage station that even small hands can open and close easily,” says interior designer Tessa McAuliff, co-founder of Bungalow 2 Designs in Winter Park, Florida. “You can pick up a small cart on wheels and store snacks, drinks, even sunblock and towels.”

Make safety a priority

Minimize bumps and bruises with outdoor furnishings that lack hard edges. Look for round tables and outdoor sofas and chairs with soft corners. “Furniture that doesn't have sharp corners is ultimately family friendly,“ McAuliff says.

Young kids can’t climb up on barstools, though they will certainly try. Avoid slips by opting for table-height dining. Make sure both tables and chairs are sturdy and heavy enough that they won’t easily tip. This way everyone can enjoy a meal outdoors together.

Outdoor lanterns that rely on candles are not a great idea if you have young children. Instead opt for LED, solar, or battery-powered lighting that you won’t have to worry about.

Leave room for pets

If you’ve got pets, it’s best to mark a designated area for them to do their business that’s away from any play zones. This will minimize the risk that kids will accidentally step in something they weren’t supposed to and bring it inside on their shoes.

Designate a gathering spot

What’s a backyard without a central point where the whole family can come together? Nothing attracts kids and adults alike more than a fire pit surrounded by comfy chairs. It’s the perfect spot to relax, play games, tell stories, and make s’mores!
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Ana Connery is a Florida-based content strategist and storyteller whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and websites, including Cooking Light, HGTV, Travel and Leisure, and Better Homes and Gardens. While editor-in-chief of Florida Travel & Life magazine in 2006-09, she covered the state’s real estate and home design market and travel destinations.

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