There’s a chill in the air. And it’s not just the autumn weather.

Many Americans are sobered by the unrelenting pandemic, particularly as the days of socially distanced get-togethers outdoors in the warmth of the sun are dwindling.

“People were dreading the fall,” said Peter Dunham, a Los Angeles designer. “In early spring ... we found freedom outside where we could see a few friends in a safe way.” Now, he says, people are looking for ways to carve out “a little bit of seating, a little bit of dining, and a place to keep living into the fall.”

With COVID-19 and the upcoming flu season, families must remain vigilant. In addition to wearing masks and staying six feet apart, current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that activities are safer if “they are held in outdoor spaces. Indoor spaces with less ventilation where it might be harder to keep people apart are more risky.”

Byron Risdon, a D.C. designer, says his clients are looking for ways to extend the season, asking: “What can you do to make it a little bit nicer so it will feel more comfortable?” He suggests a little outdoor structure, such as a cedar gazebo.

If you’re wearing enough layers, you can sit on a front or screened porch if it’s raining or even snowing. Georgia designer Jennifer Eanes Foster turned her aging deck into a 15-by-15-foot screened porch just before the quarantine.

“I had no idea how much time my family and I would spend there,” she said, ticking off dinners, movie nights, afternoon naps, workdays and school Zoom meetings. She considers it a “safer space” than the living room for her three teenage children to have friends over. Foster estimates that building a screened porch costs about $100 to $125 a square foot.

Even if you don’t have a porch, you can make your backyard feel more welcoming during cooler weather. Here are some ideas.

Lighting

Like casual lighting used in open-air cafés, these string light can add an inviting glow to get-togethers in the garden or patio. Available from Pottery Barn.
Like casual lighting used in open-air cafés, these string light can add an inviting glow to get-togethers in the garden or patio. Available from Pottery Barn.

Earlier sunsets have us scrambling for candles and lanterns, whether real or battery-operated. Risdon likes the look of the cement CB2 Mayon tall oil lamp ($49.95-$79.95) to illuminate an outdoor space.

Dunham says people often overlight outdoor dinners, robbing them of a relaxed ambience. “You really don’t need that much light, as people forget how much light bleeds out of the inside rooms near you,” he said. He likes the soft glow of the Modern Brass and Steel Rechargeable LED Lantern sold by Food52 ($180-$250), which has a USB port in one side.

If you want to go fancier, Joe Raboine, director of Belgard Residential Hardscapes in Atlanta, says that with the shift to LED lights, it’s never been easier to add an outdoor lighting system. A good-quality system would start at about $750.

An even simpler option: Try twinkling outdoor string lights to add a bit of magic. Terry Lin, chief design officer of Outer, a new outdoor furniture brand, likes the vintage look of the Industrial Waterproof Edison Bulbs from Amazon ($39.99).

Warmth

Outdoor heaters can help keep distanced socializing possible as the weather cools down.
Getty Images
Outdoor heaters can help keep distanced socializing possible as the weather cools down.

Round up extra quilts and blankets from your linen closet and attic and put them within easy reach of your outdoor space. If you order new throws, make sure they are warm and can be machine washed. Lin suggests the Pottery Barn Fireside Cozy Sherpa Reversible Throws ($49), which he says will keep nippy fall air at bay.

Fire pits and chimineas are in great demand. Fire pits offer light as well as warmth and can seat more people comfortably around them than a built-in outdoor fireplace. Raboine says fire-pit sales are up more than 20% over last year — and some are on back order.

“There are so many options, and some are gas or propane and have a glass panel that keeps you away from the flames,” he said. For a freestanding model, he likes the 30-inch Heavy Duty Deep Fire Pit from EvergreenPatio on Etsy ($315), which is sturdy and adds an industrial look.

Fabrics

Swapping out pillow covers will make your outdoor space seem fresh, says Lin. He likes the look of print pillows in various sizes layered on a sofa or chair with neutral upholstery.

For Dunham, outdoor curtains can help foster a sense of a cozy, interior space. “In a balcony, they can create shelter from a next-door unit, plus they cut down the breeze,” he said. Indoor/outdoor fabrics made to be water repellent are your best choice, he says. A heavier-weight fabric, such as those that may be designated for awnings or marine applications, could be a good choice to keep outdoor curtains anchored down.

In the future, Foster predicts, homeowners will put more renovation money toward often-neglected outdoor spaces.

“People are realizing that in order to be social, home is the safest place to be right now,” she said. “You must find a place in your home where you can be at peace in a time like this.”