It's such a cliché to say that Chicagoans live for summer. But after the double whammy of winter and quarantine, it's never felt so true. When my husband, Mike, and I bought our house in 2016, we had big dreams for the backyard, but first we needed to tackle more pressing projects like new windows and plumbing repairs. We bought some basic outdoor furniture that worked fine, but it didn't have much character. Then 2020 rolled around and we committed to staying home, so I focused all my creative energy on the deck, dreaming of brighter days ahead.

The deck spans nearly the whole yard, so I wanted to make the most of it. We divided the long space into a living area on the upper deck and a dining area on the lower deck. The rugs look like woven jute but they're actually super-durable polypropylene ($34-$656, Rugs USA). A blue sconce ($70, Lamps Plus) packs personality into the narrow space. The stackable chairs are Hooper by Safavieh ($292, The Home Depot).

The house is gray, so I had lots of freedom with my palette. I repeated a combo of red, yellow, aqua, and navy in each section and sprinkled potted plants in a mix of containers. (I actually had to be restrained from adding more.)

We pushed together a pair of dining tables to create a large square that can seat eight and suits the size of the deck. We had a smaller table with an umbrella in the center, which always bugged me because I couldn't use a proper tablecloth (#stylistproblems). The area is mostly shaded, so we ditched the umbrella, and I'm free to set the table with abandon now.

The deck narrows in the center, so we created a secondary seating area by pushing a red Brusen love seat ($279, IKEA) against the wall and loading it with a new cushion and some mismatched pillows. On either side, we placed a hibiscus topiary in a groovy pot from The Home Depot. I added the creeping Jenny to the pots-my go-to for tying all my planters together.

I rough-cut landscape fabric to line an IKEA utility cart's mesh trays, planted six small plants per level, and filled in with dirt. I pulled up the too-long fabric sides and used a razor to cut them down 1/4 inch below the tray tops. An "S" hook keeps a pair of snips handy.

We stained the deck with Benjamin Moore Arborcoat in a shade matched to the siding. Our affordable border: hostas transplanted from elsewhere in the yard.

Sure, we occasionally plant a pot here. But when people come over, the potting bench serves as a bar. We tricked it out with a bottle opener screwed onto the side, some S hooks on the lattice back, and a towel bar, which was made with cast-iron pipe and fittings from the hardware store. Up top, we serve Mike's big-batch lemonade with a choice of spirits; below is a beverage bin for the kids.

The window is high, so we needed two shelves: a 10-inch pass-through ledge beneath the window and a 20-inch-wide bar-height counter. A yellow awning ($331, Awntech) and Safavieh Kipnuk stools ($121, The Home Depot) complete "Bistro DeCleene." When not in use, the grill still fits underneath.

Mike built a step (that I flanked with planters) to designate a clear exit off the lower deck.

To help the pine and cedar counter withstand Chicago weather, we filled drill holes with epoxy and coated the wood with primer, exterior paint, and water-repelling spar urethane.

We got the teak sofas from World Market when we first moved in, and the frames were still in great shape, so I had the cushions re-covered with new outdoor fabric. (It's the same print as on the red bench, but in navy.) The striped outdoor pouf set the tone for my accessories' sweet candy color palette. A $15 pair of vintage rattan chairs from The Salvation Army got new cushions too. The plastic coffee table from Wayfair has a perforated top, so it dries quickly after rain. Mike attached wood posts to the railing and crisscrossed café lights from the roofline.

Benjamin Moore Palladian Blue is my fave. I used it on interior doors and the one that leads out to the upper deck.

Before sewing these DIY pillows, I used stencils and Tulip brand outdoor upholstery spray paint ($9, Hobby Lobby) to add stars right where I wanted them. To prevent overspray, I taped off any exposed fabric.