June 2010: Rental Rescue

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If renters are lucky enough to inherit some usable outdoor space, be it patio, yard or balcony, many would not think to sink any resources into their not-so-great outdoors. I am fortunate to have a standard square, wooden deck off the back of my house that overlooks the backyard. I crave the first day of spring when my home’s square footage doubles and I reclaim that space. However, I wanted to add some serious character and function to the space before my first summer shindig, without breaking out the paint brush and power tools. 

Columnist Ed Warwick shows off the lights he installed on bamboo poles on his deck.

I found the solution to my deck dilemma in an outdoor lighting project. Having the appropriate outdoor lighting can set the right mood, light the way, and take the party from day to evening after the sun goes down. I feared simply wrapping the rails of my deck in white twinkle lights would look like A) I was too lazy to take down my holiday decorations or B) I was embracing a style I call “Early-American Fraternity House.” Instead, I took my design cues from the outdoor dining areas at many of our local restaurants like Zinc and the 12th Street Tap House, with their draped strings of globe lights that dangle above the heads of happy diners. 

With a few materials and minimal tools, I was able to create a fun, easy lighting treatment without even lifting a hammer. 

 

Materials:

1) String globe lights (available at World Market in Charlottesville and other major retail stores). If you don’t care for the globes, have fun and try the wide variety of lights available at your fingertips, ranging from copper dragonflies to paper lanterns. Look for lights that have individual clips on each globe—you’ll be glad you did. 

2) Bamboo stalks/poles (also available at World Market). I purchased one pole for every railing post on my deck (eight in total). You will want to purchase poles with some height to create the canopy feel with your lights. As a man of 6’4", I opted for 8′ poles.

3) Any malleable stainless-steel wire (at least 19-gauge).

4) Bailing twine, jute, or the rope of your choice. 

Tools: 

1) Utility scissors

2) Any pair of pliers

 

Lining your bamboo pole up with one of your railing supports, wrap the support and the bamboo pole together with the stainless steel wire. Pulling the wire taut around the two, cut the wire with your utility scissors, and then twist and pinch the ends together with your pliers. 

Cover the wire by wrapping the area with your bailing twine or jute and tying it off with a nice knot. The poles will remain best supported if you tie each one twice, once near the bottom and again half-way up. 

Once all poles are attached, you can begin to attach your globe lights to the tops of the bamboo. The best part? The bamboo poles are hollow, making it very easy for you to clip the lights right on to the top of the pole, inserting the clip inside the stalk. Adjust the length and drape of your lights between the poles to your liking. 

If you don’t have a deck or railing, you could use this project to line a patio area by sticking the bamboo poles into the ground at each corner of the space. If you can’t put the poles in the ground, consider placing each pole in a large planter or soil, with rocks placed at each corner. And as always, with a few snips, you won’t be strung out, as everything is ready for easy take-down when your final outdoor season in the rental comes to a close.—Ed Warwick

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