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10 Ways to Turn Your Backyard Into a Resort-Inspired Retreat

Imagine stepping into an outdoor space and seeing a swaying hammock, glowing garden lights and bold tropical foliage, and hearing the sound of water trickling from a fountain. Can you already feel yourself sinking into vacation-relaxation mode?

While a trip to a far-off resort likely isn’t possible this summer, with a handful of design moves, your backyard can become a daily oasis designed just for you. Take cues from high-end resorts for furniture choices and arrangement, but select the combination of design elements that speaks to how you like to relax and unwind. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.

1. Set the Mood With Soft Lighting

If relaxing in the evening is one of your favorite ways to enjoy an outdoor space, adding soft outdoor lighting can transform your backyard into a dreamy, resort-style retreat. The designer of this San Francisco Bay Area backyard used hanging lanterns, spotlights on trees, downcast wall lights and the flicker of a gas fire pit to create a magical evening ambience.

2. Anchor Around a Theme

Resorts often rely on an underlying design theme to pull multiple outdoor spaces together for a cohesive look. You can do the same at home by creating a theme for the backyard — be it inspired by the tropics, Morocco, the Mediterranean, Bali, the mountains or anything else you please.

Here, a Moroccan-style courtyard in Los Angeles has all of the accents you’d dream a riad in Marrakesh would: intricate tilework, tucked-in seating areas, colorful pillows, hanging lanterns and lush tropical foliage.

3. Rethink Typical Seating

Standard dining chairs are great for pulling up around an outdoor table, but there’s something about a lounge, poof or hanging swing that encourages extreme relaxation.

Look for pieces that are comfortable while also attractive enough to act as focal points across the yard. Try pool lounges that are designed to be half submerged in the water or allow for dipping your toes.

Here, globe-shape accent chairs set a beach club vibe and encourage you to sink in and put your feet up.

4. Hang a Hammock

Even just looking across the yard at a hammock gently swinging in the shade can be enough to make you relax. Choose a spot to hang one up between two sturdy trees or invest in a model that comes with a stand. Make sure the area under the hammock has a soft landing of grass, bark mulch, a walkable ground-cover plant or (a bit less soft) gravel.

5. Play up a Pool With Resort-Style Accents

Decorative umbrellas, colorful throw pillows and stylish furniture turn a standard poolside into an at-home resort. If you’ve chosen a theme or color palette for your backyard, the pool area is a great place for it to play out. Choosing furnishings, linens and umbrellas in a fresh color palette — as was done in this Palm Springs, California, backyard — is a great place to start.

Even just rolling up fresh towels and stashing them in a poolside basket can help a pool space feel more resort-like.

6. Create a Mobile Drinks Cart

Tropical drinks, spritzers or iced teas will be at the ready in your resort-style backyard if you do a little bit of prep beforehand. Stock a bar cart with essentials for your favorite beverages and perhaps a few vacation-style toppers if you’re feeling fancy. Swap glass for plastic cups if you have a pool.

7. Get a Tropical Look With Plants

If “resort” makes you think of the tropics, you may like to incorporate some tropical-looking plants into your landscape design. Go big and bold with color and scale.

In this garden in Surrey, England, the designers at Acres Wild used a mix of small palms, ornamental grasses, strappy New Zealand flax (Phormium sp., USDA zones 8 to 11; find your zone) and bright-colored flowers to create a tropical feel around the back deck — achieving the look in the far-from-tropical English climate.

Other plants that will give a mild-climate garden a tropical look include Kniphofia (pictured here with euphorbia), bamboo, bird of paradise (Strelitzia sp.), canna, bougainvillea, shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet, zones 9 to 11) and Kahila garland-lily (Hedychium gardnerianum,zones 8 to 10).

8. Invest in an Outdoor Shower

Mix up your bathing routine with a relaxing, invigorating outdoor shower. While you may use the shower only seasonally if you live anywhere that doesn’t have a year-round mild climate, investing in an outdoor shower can be well worth it for the relaxing ritual of bathing out of doors. In this dreamy outdoor shower in a project by Strata Landscape Architecture in Hawaii, the dark basalt stone backsplash looks cool and inviting.

9. Add a Water Feature

The sound of running water can help transform any outdoor space — no matter how big or small — into a relaxing retreat. In urban and suburban environments, it can also help mask traffic noise and the hum of A/C units. If noise abatement is a priority, choose a fountain that has a fall or splash as part of its design, rather than a quieter pour-over style.

10. Sprinkle in Some Luxe Accents

Maybe you don’t have the budget or desire to upgrade your patio furniture, but want to give it a bit more life. Invest in high-quality outdoor cushions (check that they’re moisture- and fade-resistant) in bright colors or patterns, and bring out a few cozy throws from the house for cool evenings.

Place accents like lanterns or pretty pots on side tables and an outdoor rug on the ground, and the space will feel more luxurious overall.