If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we are willing to brave even the chilliest temps in order to spend time with friends and family. While social distancing is mostly in our rear view, having gotten a taste of the coziness that is wintry outdoor entertaining, I’m decidedly here for the long haul. Case in point: While visiting Chicago for Thanksgiving, my husband’s high school friend threw a mini-reunion in his newly renovated backyard. Sure, the inside of his house was warm and safe, but thanks to a slew of heaters, firepits, blankets, speakers (and beer) — not to mention swanky Trex decking and a built-in kitchen — the party was able to forge on in the chilly night, with everyone enjoying the great outdoors ’til way, way too late.
And our friend is just one of millions across the globe right now who are looking to do the same. According to the 2022 Houzz & Home report, 57% of all home renovations in 2021 focused on outdoor upgrades both small (investing in a firepit or putting in a sprinkler system) and large (building a pergola or installing an outdoor kitchen).
Also on board with all things alfresco? Joanna and Chip Gaines, that’s who. The designer couple recently partnered with exterior home solutions brand James Hardie to launch the Magnolia Home | James Hardie Collection, a new palette of colors meticulously curated by Joanna, and in doing so, chatted with me about everything from how to boost your home’s overall appeal to tips and tricks for improving your outdoor space’s overall appeal.
“Everyone is just craving that extension of the home, not only on the interior, but now the exterior, too,” said Chip. “It’s where everyone is gravitating, we wanna be outside! I love that people are maximizing the space that they have to work with — whether it’s a balcony in New York or a backyard here in Texas.”
Added Joanna, “I do feel like some of our most magical moments are when we’re outside and we’re entertaining. Even if it’s just creating a smaller spot with some string lights and a little fire pit — a simple outdoor feature that really allows everybody to sort of congregate in this cozy spot. To me, it’s worth that investment and I don’t think it needs to break the bank either.”
While a lonely firepit and some folding chairs may have fit the bill a few years ago, today home dwellers are looking for more. “One of the biggest changes in outdoor living and entertaining has been a shift from seasonal to year-round activity,” says Leslie Adkins, vice president of marketing for Trex Company. “Gone are the days of decks and patios that might be used to host a BBQ once or twice a year. Now, homeowners are seeking outdoor living areas where they can relax, watch their favorite shows, host a movie night with friends, play games and truly live every day.”
As such, outdoor entertaining is now fair game 12 months a year, which means we have to deal with the inevitable cold weather encroaching. Keeping your guests (and yourself!) warm is going to make or break your soiree. “Adding heaters to your space extends the comfort and the ability to entertain guests at any time of day, year-round,” says Blake Petty of Bromic Heating. “The outdoors is the safest place to gather, so in turn, keeping that space heated and comfortable extends the time we can spend out there together.” Adds Yardzen CEO and cofounder Allison Messner, “We’ve seen a deep desire for year-round backyards and increased requests for all-weather designs that allow for entertaining throughout the seasons.”
Then there’s the food. Let’s face it: Guests are happiest when their bellies are full, and when it comes to cooking outside, today’s choices are myriad. “Having options like pellet smokers, kamado grills, gas griddles and even outdoor pizza ovens, consumers are now able to cook anything and everything outside,” says Jason Stutes, chief digital officer at BBQ Guys. “Hosts of all levels are blurring the lines more and more between indoor and outdoor entertaining. Having a dedicated space for outdoor entertaining allows consumers to extend their living space, lower their energy costs by cooking outside and it’s even proven to improve their quality of life — not to mention the cost-cutting effects of not dining out.”
Whether your outdoor investment is small or large, the overarching idea here is that outdoor living — and entertaining — is here to stay year-round, and that any upgrades you make to your space are going to be worthwhile. “I think in general, nature is just good for our souls,” says Joanna Gaines. “Being outside and creating these cozy spaces where you’re reading a book or chatting with your best friend, to me, that’s always worth the investment.”
Find everything you need for your outdoor living room — and the party you’re now going to host this winter — below.
Best outdoor heating options
If you know, you know. Solo Stove’s smokeless wood-burning fire pit claims are, in fact, true. Available in four sizes, with the Ranger 2.0 being the smallest and most portable, Solo Stoves are made of a stainless steel outer with an intrinsic 360-degree ventilation system that breeds lots of air flow, which results in very little smoke. New to the pit’s design are a removable base plate and ash pan that make cleanup a whole lot easier. A great option for outdoor wood-burning fire pits, Solo Stove is also a favorite because of its sleek design — simply add string lights and your ambiance is set. Read our Solo Stove review here.
If you’re looking for a foolproof outdoor heating solution, Bromic is the best of the best to invest in. This wall- or ceiling-mounted heater, for example, emits a saturating heat in both outdoor and semi-covered spaces that will have your guests ditching their jackets in the middle of winter. “Bromic uses directional radiant heat technology in its heaters, creating the most efficient and effective way to heat the space, as objects are being heated rather than the surrounding air,” says Petty. Available in white or black high-temperature coating, the Tungsten Smart-Heat Electric Infrared Patio Heater also comes in 3000W, 4000W and 6000W sizes. Whether you need one for a small porch or a few to canvas your entire patio, these heaters will get the job done. The best part is the chic design that manages to mix form and function so seamlessly.
Small but mighty, this tabletop heater from Cuisinart is a great option for side tables, grilling areas and pretty much any outdoor nook you want to warm up this winter. Churning out 11,000 BTUs, the heater works with a 1-pound propane tank and has low, medium and high settings, allowing you to control the amount of heat emitted. A safety-tilt switch automatically shuts the heater down if it gets knocked over.
Made from HDPE recycled plastics, Polywood’s lumber-looking furnishings are some of the best on the market because they are virtually maintenance-free, look pristine 24/7 and can survive the full spectrum of temperatures — from Northeast blizzards to Southwest scorchers. One of our favorite sets is this coastal-inspired 48-inch fire table that comes with five matching Adirondack chairs. We love that the fire pit emits a ton of warmth, but doesn’t overheat the tabletop, which has plenty of room for appetizers. And the chairs have roomy arms that can easily accommodate glasses or snack plates.
We know, there might be some sticker shock here, but you get what you pay for, and with Bromic, you’re getting the market leader for free-standing heaters (that are aesthetically pleasing to boot!). Unlike mushroom or dome heaters that tend to heat the air above them, Bromic’s radiant format emits 38,500 BTUs of evenly distributed warmth that can cover a swath of 215 square feet — more than double other standing heaters. Its tilting head means the heat is directional and adjustable, too. Ignited with the push of a button, this portable heater can be fueled by propane or natural gas, has built-in wheels for easy mobility and can withstand winds up to 8 mph.
In terms of bang for your buck — and ease on your outdoor renovation budget! — the Hiland Tall Patio Heater is one of our favorite affordable heater options. Not only does it offer a whopping 43,000 BTUs (which, trust us, is a lot of heat), but it also has a built-in adjustable table, making buying side tables unnecessary. With more than 1,500 positive Amazon reviews, this is a great under-$200 option.
Best outdoor furniture
Discerning the best way to revamp your outdoor space can be overwhelming, and that’s where online design platform Yardzen steps in. Offering several levels of design packages, Yardzen pros will take a look at your space, assess your goals and dream up options — complete with 3D renderings for a local landscaper or contract to facilitate. Whether you’re looking for planting guidance, outdoor furniture picks or a specific layout for year-round entertaining, the Yardzen team has got you covered.
Durable enough to withstand the harshest of elements (thanks to a powder-coated finish), but chic enough to look right at home in your interior formal dining room, the Westport Console’s top lifts off and can be replaced by a removable beverage tub — creating a bar on the fly! The table also has tons of storage behind those cabinets, and it can be coordinated with other pieces from the Westport collection.
Lovely enough for the inside, but made for the outside, this modular seating collection from Grandin Road can be anything from a loveseat to a sprawling sectional — or both! Made from an ultra-durable mahogany/eucalyptus blend of woods, the Stockholm pieces are then finished in a weather-resistant polyurethane coating that protects from both moisture and heat alike. Available in a black or gray stain and with charcoal or beige cushions, the set was inspired by nineteenth-century Swedish design and as such features cool details like a channeled frame and intricately carved back slats.
While the big chill is upon us, global warming is ensuring that the temps will be rising once again come spring, and if you’re redoing your outdoor space you’re going to want to invest in a fan. And not just any ol’ fan — a Big Ass one. We love the Es6 because it pairs industrial-strength performance with modern design and an ultra-quiet motor. Oh, and because you can control it from your phone, tablet, remote or Google Home or Amazon Alexa voice control.
Best outdoor accessories
We took one look at the Pretty Rugged products and were sold. Mixing insanely plush faux fur with a waterproof nylon backing, the brand’s blankets are the best choice for keeping you and your guests warm during wintry weather. Case in point: If your party is headed outside but the furniture is soaked, lay your Pretty Rugged blanket down (nylon side) and wrap yourself in the fur to stay warm and dry. We’re not mad at the brand's fun colorways, and if you want even more blanket, a larger size is available.
There are unavoidable side effects of entertaining outdoors in the winter, and one of them is mud. To protect your interiors from shoe tracks, invest in a coir door mat that will catch most, if not all, of the dirt before it gets inside. This stately option from Frontgate is fade-resistant and it can be monogrammed.
Warmth is a vibe, too, and these lanterns definitely give off that feeling. Available in three heights and two metal finishes, the powder-coated aluminum lanterns look beautiful clustered by a fireplace or doorway, instantly adding an inviting ambiance to your space. Throw a few of the brand’s battery-operated candles in your cart, too, because they’re maintenance-free and sun-, rain- and windproof, too.
The quickest, cheapest way to create an inviting space in your backyard is by adding string lights — just ask Joanna Gaines! And if you want a maintenance-free, long-lasting set, go for an LED option. This 48-foot, plug-in strand of waterproof and weather-resistant Edison-style bulbs, for instance, sheds a dense, warm white light and has more than 2,500 positive reviews and 5,400 favorites on Home Depot's website. With 24 shatterproof lights — one every 2 feet — the strand can be chained with up to 11 more strands.
Best outdoor entertaining must-haves
Keep the alfresco party rocking (neighbors be damned!) late into the night with this sound system from Sonos and Sonance. Bursting with full, rich sound, the speakers were built to withstand the elements including humidity, water, salt spray, heat, UV rays and freezing temperatures. Powered by a Sonos Amp, the duo can provide full surround sound within the rest of the house, or churn out their own playlist.
Whether you’re watching college football or a Disney movie, TV viewing just hits differently when done outside, and this SunBrite LED 4K all-weather television is going to make the dream a reality. Made for full-shade areas (the brand also offers partial-sun and full-sun options that cost a lot more), the 4K UHD HDR screen has an LED backlight that is nearly 50% brighter than on indoor TVs. Beyond that, the Veranda has a durable aluminum casing that protects against rain, snow, extreme temperatures, dust, salt and bugs. Oh, and it comes with a waterproof remote control!
Anyone who’s ever juggled an appetizer plate and a glass of wine at a party knows that these mini boards by Frontgate are genius (and germaphobe-friendly!). Made from mango wood, the wine boards can accommodate charcuterie galore, and they are notched to hold your wine glass, ensuring your guests will have a free hand while eating and drinking the night away.
Perhaps the most adorable mugs we’ve ever seen, these ceramic cuties are equally perfect for post-sledding hot chocolate and late-night hot toddies. Available in navy and red, the vintage-inspired mugs are utterly festive and can also double as an entertaining catchall for utensils, straws or candy canes on your buffet.
Why order a pizza when you can make one that tastes 100 times better at home? Enter: Ooni. The Koda 12 takes just 15 minutes to heat up, and after that the propane gas-powered oven can churn out a bubbly, gooey Neapolitan pizza every 60 seconds. Whether you opt to keep your Ooni permanently outside (a cover is available for purchase) or just bring it out when you’re hosting pizza night (it only weighs 20 pounds), your guests are never going to want to go home once they’ve tasted the goods. Read our Ooni review here.
If you want your guests to think you’re a true pit master, look no further than the Big Green Egg. A multi-hyphenate if there ever was one — it can grill, smoke, roast, sear and even bake a pie — the kamado style has been beloved by the grilling community since it debuted in 1974. Its ceramic sidewalls and lids are unparalleled when it comes to holding heat, and its charcoal burner delivers a delicious smoky taste and beautiful char texture. Better than an oven, the Egg’s superior air flow system gives incredibly precise temperature control, which can go all the way up to 750 degrees.
You don’t have to head to a stoneyard to find countertops anymore! Home Depot is simplifying the stone process, and with the help of a trusted authorized fabricator, you can now sample, design, fabricate and install an outdoor kitchen counter — and you can do it all online. If you’re creating an outdoor kitchen area to flank your grill, Cosentino USA’s Dekton is a great option because it’s maintenance-free, requires zero sealing and is highly resistant to pretty much anything you throw at it, including UV rays, extreme weather, stains or impacts. If it sounds indestructible, that’s because it is!
Up the fun factor at your next outdoor fete with this hilarious Shot Ski from Mark & Graham. Made from a full-sized arjun wood ski, the piece holds four glass shot glasses and can also be monogrammed with up to 12 characters.
For anyone looking to upgrade their propane grill, the Victory is a top pick from Stutes. “We love this gas grill because of its all stainless steel construction and infrared side searing burner that provides steakhouse-quality results,” he says. “Those features along with its lifetime warranty make this a grill worthy of all backyards.”
Best winter accessories for staying warm outside
Covering your head is the best way to keep the rest of your body warm this winter, and this adorable, fleece-lined beanie from Hat Attack is going to do just that. Thick and cozy, the hat also has a cute, oversized pom topper.
Beloved by professional skiers and amateurs alike, pretty much all of Stio’s cold-weather gear is top-notch and that includes this super-warm hooded jacket. Available in seven colorways and sizes XXS to XXL, the jacked is packed with 800-fill goose down, which is encased in a water-repellent nylon fabric (which is also 100% recycled) — meaning you’re guaranteed to be warm and dry when you put it on. Check out the women’s version here.
Being warm doesn’t mean you have to eschew style. Case in point, this puffer jacket from eco-friendly brand Save the Duck. Packed with a dense, down-free filling, the jacket is windproof and cozy, thanks to the faux collar trim. It's available in five colorways, and the making of each Moma jacket also saves 25 ducks’ lives.
Nothing warms you up on a cold day quite like a quality cashmere sweater, like this gorgeous option from Vineyard Vines. Perfect for dressing up or down, the sweater comes in four colorways and XXS to 3X.
It can’t hurt to have a bunch of HotHands packets at the ready during your next party, as they’re clutch in keeping hands warm — in between sips of a beverage, of course! Each packet contains two hand warmers that, once shaken, emit a cozy warmth for 10 hours.
Like a North Face jacket, but for your feet, these ThermoBall shoes are a cult favorite for the brand — with more than 1,000 positive reviews! — because they pair dense insulation with a rugged sole that can provide traction and grip for even the slipperiest of surfaces. Available in 11 color combinations, the shoes are available for women and kids, too.