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A patio expert explains how to make winter socializing tolerable

How one woman decided to improve her backyard and made 200,000 new friends.

A drawing of a birds-eye view of a patio with space for social distancing and heaters.
Outdoors is safer, but how do you make outdoors someplace you want to be?
Sarah Lawrence for Vox

Winter will suck. We gathered some of Vox’s coziest minds to help you make it suck less.

Since March, when our new pandemic-affected reality set in, socializing has become incredibly complex. We’ve been continually told by health and government officials that, if we’re going to be physically near others, getting outside is safer than being inside. The science says the coronavirus spreads more easily indoors and outdoor activities are inherently less risky. Americans have been encouraged to shift their social lives outside and put a premium on spaces like patios and backyards.

Now, with the weather getting colder, those of us lucky enough to have outdoor access are figuring out how to make our space winter-proof. Or if not fully winter-proof, at least fix it up to make it suitable for some winter moments. Home improvement is an industry that’s actually surging during the pandemic, and exterior design is part of that surge.

Because your humble correspondent hasn’t lived with an outdoor space in over 15 years, I sought the advice of Tara L. Paige, a mom, author, web series host, and the creator of The Patio Chic, a digital platform dedicated to making the outdoors feel like home.

Like many of us, the pandemic changed Paige’s life. Her daily routine centered around raising her children, which involved a lot of driving around their Dallas-Fort Worth neighborhood to extracurricular activities. The pandemic put a stop to that and gave her the impetus and time to start figuring out her outdoor space.

After seeing the lack of people of color in outdoor design, Paige started a Facebook group in late April called “Black Women Who Love Outdoor Living Spaces.” She found hundreds of thousands of people who felt the same way — the group grew to over 200,000 members with some 8,000 posts per week. The Patio Chic, launched in the spring, was the next evolution.

While Paige has become a backyard influencer and outdoor space inspiration, she also founded a community. This has been one of the strange effects of the pandemic — as it began affecting our real-life hangouts, it also pushed people online, where we could safely socialize and bond. The success and popularity of Paige’s Facebook page and The Patio Chic were testaments to how we’ve all carved out different ways of interacting with our fellow humans.

With winter on the way, I spoke to Paige about what we can all do to turn our outdoor spaces — or help our friends turn their outdoor spaces — into winter respites.

How did the pandemic change the way you think about your outdoor space?

Paige and her family
Brandon Allen photography

Let me begin by saying my dad is like a master landscaper and gardener. He was an outdoorsman. He was an educator for a living, but when he came home, how he would decompress would be to go outside. He always made outside beautiful. I was a baby girl at the time, but that always stuck with me.

But because of the running around I did as a mother, I just didn’t have a lot of time to get outside and hang out on my own patio. [My husband and I] just never really had a chance to get out and really focus on the outside space.

Then the pandemic hit. My children are teens, they’re busy. You know, one has volleyball, one is cheering, one is doing music. And now we are not — I am not — running around. And I literally just went outside and said, “I’m going to do the patio first.” And I created this vision of what I wanted to look like. And that was all she wrote, it just took off like wildfire.

I hear what you’re talking about and about your dad decompressing — I kind of feel like in this day and age, we’d probably call that like self-care or something along the lines of mental health. So what does outside mean for you?

It is self-care. I mean, when you’re outside and you hear the birds chirping — one of my favorite sounds is to hear the wind in the trees and a wind chime — that is self-care. It just allows you to let everything that’s going on in your head to just move away and to get in a very clear head space. It allows you to get some time for yourself to just, you know, care for you. Just a moment for you.

I feel like in these absolutely terrible times, that’s even more important. We might not be able to go to our favorite restaurants or do normal things like go shopping with friends. There’s more importance on the spaces we have now.

I mean, of course you got to do [the work], but the patio is just making an extension of your home. You can really go and enjoy the beautiful sounds and feel the sun on your face. It almost sounds cliche, but it is so good for the soul.

So as we head into winter, what are your plans?

My favorite season is winter. I just got a new fire pit, a huge fire pit. It’s really nice to put on my larger patio. I love wood-burning fire pits.

As a New Yorker with no outdoor space, please explain this love for me so I can get jealous.

It’s exciting to be on the patio around a fire. One of my other favorite sounds is crackling wood burning. I also love the smell of burning wood and just being outside and — I’m telling you, it is amazing. If you’re ever in Texas, you are welcome. I’ve got plenty of space if you’re ever here.

Are you a little nervous about when it gets too cold to be outside? I’m always thinking about what we are going to do for the next month and the next three months when it gets too cold to be outside.

Paige
Reginald Paige

Well, for me, it’s never too cold for me to be outside. My husband just built us a pit that is large enough that I can actually lay in it, and I’m 5-8 — I can lay across in the pit. It’s huge — it has to be at least 30 degrees outside or below in order to go around that pit because the fire is so high and so intense. The only time I really do cold is like walking to and from the pit.

My husband and I both love winter. My children love winter, we love to get around the fire, and just, you know, cook and roast marshmallows and wieners and just have family time.

What tips would you give to people who are just getting started? Maybe advice for someone who’s kind of nervous about winter, or someone who’s starting out and looking to make their outdoor space a bit better for winter.

It’s just going to be hard unless you have a covered space. That’s the first thing. Also, get an amazing fire pit and make sure you’ve also seen tricks, tips, and hacks about how to make sure that you’re safe around your fire pit.

Blankets are beautiful assets to have on the patio. They’re pretty, like when you roll them up. And you can use them for decoration, but you can also just have them out there to just throw over yourself.

And of course, a heater. This is actually our first year getting patio heaters because before we just used the fire pit. So now we actually purchased some patio heaters so that you don’t have to just stay around the fire to stay warm, and you can kind of move about.

Make it a place you want to spend time in, basically.

I want to zoom out a little bit. I think one of the things that struck me about your story is that you started your business during the pandemic. You didn’t see people who looked like you on HGTV or on social media, so you created a space for yourself.

When the pandemic hit and it gave me an opportunity to go outside and get to working on my own patio. I was looking for inspiration, and I’m all over the internet, I’m just looking, looking, and looking for someone that looked like me. And I think it’s really okay for me to want to have options.

So when I started, and I started looking all over, I did not find anyone. And my mother always told me, If you cannot find what you’re looking for, then create it. Then I said, “You know what, I’m going to create this.” I don’t know if I was going to have anyone or five people or 10 or maybe 20. But honestly, I did not expect it to be over 200,000 women — I never expected this.

That explosion is mind-boggling to me. To go from starting a Facebook page during the pandemic to 200,000 people, 8,000 posts a week, and a new brand. What does it feel like to create that community?

It’s beautiful, and it’s just people getting together, over, you know, patio chairs, over drinking margaritas on the patio, having good food on the patio. There’s something [to be appreciated about] patio life, being outside, hanging out with your friends of whatever color they are, whatever race, whatever background, in the name of just hanging out.

I absolutely found the community. And it is amazing. There is this group of people who just love being on the patio who just love decorating and extending that space.

If and when the pandemic is over and we get our lives back a little bit, you’re gonna keep going, right? You can’t leave 200,000 people hanging. You’re gonna have to find someone that will drive to volleyball and cheer while you answer some 200,000 emails and whatnot, right?

I’m planning to continue. The Patio Chic is a lifestyle brand focused on outside living. My team — we are pushing forward, and sooner or later, we want the Patio Chic to be a household name. We want the entire brand to be a place where everyone can look for inspiration for their outdoor living spaces and beautifying and extending their living areas outside. And I’m excited about having the world know exactly what this is and how it is just a space for everyone to enjoy.

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