Splashes of color can instantly energize your patio—and distract the eye from less-than-perfect areas, says Heidi Tyline King, author of Design Ideas for Decks & Patios. "Using plants, updating your cushions or adding a bright umbrella are all inexpensive fixes." Another way color can help: "When you have mismatched furniture pieces, paint them in the same hue to pull your look together."
Small Woven Dots Throw, $35; pier1.com for stores
Plantation Patterns 16" Throw Pillow, $30 for 2; homedepot.com
Flatweave Patio Rug with border, $59.99; target.com
2 STYLE YOUR SPACE
Treat your patio just like any other room inside your house, says King. Adding easy accessories, like an all-weather rug, a soft throw or simple centerpieces can help transform the area from boring and bare to instantly cozy.
3 THINK LOW-MAINTENANCE
Patio furniture must be comfortable and durable. "Weather-resistant cushions that can be hosed down make upkeep easy," says King, who advises furniture shoppers to choose quality materials that can withstand moisture and intense sunlight. Teak and cypress are good options, says King, as is "wrought iron, since it can be sanded or spray-painted as needed."
4 HANG A CURTAIN
Want instant drama? Ask a hardware store to cut a metal rod to size, then install the rod and a curtain along one side of your patio. "Soft organza curtains will flutter in the breeze," King says, whereas "heavier curtains made of canvas or weather-resistant cotton will hang straight and frame the space."
5 CONCRETE DOESN'T HAVE TO BE UGLY
Another major update that requires only minor effort: Apply a stain to your bland concrete slab. "Using your house or nearby landscaping as a color guide, choose a light stain to brighten shady spaces and darker colors to mask areas susceptible to stains from water or debris," King says.
6 LIGHT UP THE NIGHT
"Group lanterns or hurricane lamps together to illuminate a dark corner or to create an interesting centerpiece for outdoor dining," King says. Or, raise the lights to ceiling level by stringing lanterns of various sizes from one side of the patio to the other.
7 TRUST TERRA-COTTA
"You can't go wrong with classic terra-cotta planters—especially when you use a lot of them for impact," says our expert. Want to make them even more special? Give your pot a "weathered" look by soaking it in water for four hours. Then mix one cup moss, which you can purchase at a garden supply store, with one cup buttermilk. Using a paintbrush, coat the outside of the pot with the mixture and set the pot in a warm, dark place. "Mist the outside of the pot with water every few days, and in two to three weeks, it should be covered with a lovely patina of green," King says.
8 EXTEND YOUR SPACE
If you need more room for cooking, entertaining or socializing, grab a bag of pea gravel and spread the stones around your existing patio's perimeter. "Save the concrete for seating and move the grill and table to your new area," King says.
9 DINE AL FRESCO
Transform a potting table into an outdoor serving station complete with a cutting board, storage space for stacked pots and plates and baskets of spices and utensils, King says. To complete the trendy café look, "dress your table with a stylish cloth, matching napkins and a candelabra or pillar candles," she says.
10 BRING THE GARDEN IN
"A container garden adds instant color and fragrance," says King, who suggests grouping five to nine pots of various sizes. "Choose flowers to coordinate or contrast with your furniture, and mix in favorite herbs for use in the kitchen."