THE GOAL: Creating an outdoor space perfect for working from home or rocking your creative side hustle.
THE ESTIMATED BUDGET: As little as $150.
Millions of people found themselves working from home during the past year. And many are likely to continue doing so this summer and beyond, even as pandemic restrictions ease.
One bonus when working from home: spending some or all of your work day outside.
But while curling up on an outdoor sofa with a laptop can feel like a treat during a workday, it's not always conducive to getting things done. If work-from-home is here to stay, how do we really make our outdoor workspace as functional and professional as possible?
We've asked three designers — California-based Nikki Klugh, New York-based Melanie Roy, and Room and Board Business Interiors expert Elise Nicpon — for some simple, inexpensive tweaks to help create a functional, attractive place to work outdoors.
A TRULY WORKABLE SPACE
Outdoor dining tables are usually about the same height as a desk (29 to 31 inches tall). But dining chairs may be low-slung and lack the back support you need.
Klugh suggests adding a lumbar pillow. And if needed, add a seat cushion so your arms are at the right height. (A good seat cushion/lumbar cushion combo runs about $50). For additional support, Nicpon recommends choosing chairs with arms.
"It's very helpful," Nicpon says, if you can "rest your arms just like you would in an office chair, and having that structure for your back."
If you don't have an outdoor dining table to use as a desk, you can add an adjustable-height laptop desk with locking wheels. (There are durable metal options available for under $200.)
For keeping office supplies and snacks handy, Roy suggests adding a rolling bar cart made for outdoors. Ikea's Applaro line includes an outdoor bar cart ($100) and matching closed storage bench ($70).
A splurge worth considering for work and entertaining: Add a small outdoor fridge to keep cold drinks nearby.
SUNSHINE AND RAIN
We go outside to enjoy the weather. But the biggest challenge outside is ... the weather.
A large, adjustable umbrella can help with the sun's heat and glare if you don't have an awning or roof overhead. Another option: a fabric "shade sail" that you can string up over your chosen workspace. (Basic rectangles are available for about $35, though sail kits with poles can cost $100 and up.)
To further manage glare, Klugh recommends an anti-glare screen protector if you'll be working outside on a laptop (about $30).
And a ceiling fan is a great addition to keep air moving, so heat and humidity won't distract you. A tabletop fan, too, makes a valuable difference (good, small fans are available for $15).
PRIVACY AND PROFESSIONALISM
Many remote workers spend part of the day on video calls. If you'll be Zooming from your outdoor workspace, make sure the background feels professional.
One easy and stylish option: Klugh says outdoor curtain panels can help create privacy, offer an attractive Zoom background and also add style to your outdoor space.
Another option: Roy notes that many companies make outdoor shelving units. Use one or two to create a space for work-related supplies that can double as a professional background for video calls.
To further create privacy (and scent the air), Nicpon suggests adding upright planters with flowering plants inside. Especially in smaller outdoor spaces with neighbors nearby, they're helpful to delineate your workspace and create a screen if you need one.
All three designers recommend adding a Wi-Fi booster (prices vary, but available for as little as $20) if your signal is weaker outside. And while many homes have at least one outdoor electrical outlet, it can be practical to add another near the spot where you'd like to work.
To stay further connected with the news or online content, Roy points out that outdoor-safe TVs have become much less expensive.
Want to invest a bit more? Outdoor heat lamps come in many shapes and sizes, and can make your outdoor space work-friendly through much of the year in many parts of the country.
And for a true splurge, Roy suggests creating a dedicated work area by adding a wooden pergola or pavilion over an area of paving stones.
It's a bigger investment, but it can give you a true outdoor office.
Whatever your budget, Nicpon recommends working outside at least some of the time. "It's such a more dynamic experience for you as a worker," she says. "It changes how you feel."
Melissa Rayworth is a frequent contributor to AP Lifestyles. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mrayworth.