Seattle's Child

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Christina Ellis and her family have covered up the yard at their house in Maple Leaf with a sail from Amazon, DIY style, to make the most out of outdoor time. Photo by Joshua Huston

Creating cozy outdoor spaces

How one family remade yard for socializing, shade and shelter from rain.

Over the summer, with the coronavirus continuing to spread across Seattle and the rest of the U.S., Christina Ellis and her husband, Paul, turned to the large, charcoal-gray patio sail they’d barely touched in months to help them regain a sense of normalcy — and create a covered outdoor space.

With options for safe activities outside of their house in Maple Leaf extremely limited – both for them and their three children, Nate, 13, Kienan, 11, and Talia, 8 – they decided to set up the 103-pound butterfly sail so that it covers a portion of the patio on the side of their house, giving the very outdoorsy family an outdoor space protected from rain and glaring sun where they could safely socialize or do their work or read at the long table set underneath.

outdoor space November 2020

The Ellises are hoping to keep the patio space warm in winter, too.
Photo by Joshua Huston

Now, with the pandemic still very much a reality as the season shifts once again, the Ellises want to make this outdoor space work for winter weather as well. They have two Adirondack chairs, a small table, a heating lamp and a fire pit in the alcove area next to the long table, and they’re looking to cover it with a triangle sail that connects to the butterfly sail so that the whole large outdoor space is comfortable in the rain – or even possibly snow.

“We just didn’t want, especially our boys, who are both ADHD, to be spending their entire day inside the house,” she says.

“We thought it was really important for there to be some portion of the day where the kids are actually out in nature.”

Her family is not alone. As the leaves change color and fall and the temperature drops, transforming backyards into safe and comfortable outdoor spaces to gather during the winter months of the pandemic has become a priority for many families.

Erin Vey and her family live in Bothell and are very thankful for a covering they added several months ago in their backyard. It extends from the side of their house and is equipped with skylights, patio heaters, lanterns and even a chandelier.

They had started the construction on the addition in December, and planned to add a gas fireplace and television next spring.

But with the cold weather coming and a pandemic still making traditional socializing a challenge, they decided to speed up that timeline, and now expect to have it all installed, potentially within the next month.

Vey said she and her husband have been using the outdoor space a lot to have a few friends over while maintaining social distancing.

For their two children, ages 7 and 10, it’s meant they have a place where they can play with their neighborhood friends.

“For the kids, it’s just been really important for their mental health to keep up with the neighborhood kids, to see them, play with them,” she says.

“Because we haven’t opened up the inside of our house yet, if it’s raining, they still have a place to go.”

This story was published in the November/December 2020 print issue.

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