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Fall in love with this backyard drive-in

A backyard in Stellarton, N.S. transforms into an outdoor theatre for family and friends

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Photos by Steve Smith/Visionfire

Autumn weather tends to quickly nudge me inside to snuggle in and prepare for the winter hibernation ahead. Especially after a fun-filled, adventure packed summer. 

However, with the world in such unpredictable flux it has been crucial for our family to extend the footprint of our home outward for as long as possible this year. Discovering new ways to find joy and excitement at home and stretch the days even though the sun bids us adieu much earlier.

Our formula for success? Simply reimagining our go-to staple
family activities. 

Regular dining takes on new life when there is a dress code, patio views, or layered lighting. Yard clean-up has an ability to take on the form of fun when there is a scavenger list of items to be discovered along the way.

Our personal favourite: movie night turned inside-out. When our notoriously indecisive Maritime weather shows promise of several rain-free days we make magic happen in our own backyard with a projector, screen, and a scheme. Making it as elaborate as the hearts desire and time allows!

How to Create the Space

Like when planning an interior layout, start by asking yourself what functional needs you want to accommodate and where. I recommend a zone approach if you’ll be hosting a variety of age groups with differing attention spans over any length of time. This sets an overall casual tone as the evening unfolds, allowing everyone to gravitate to where they feel most comfortable while freeing you to relax and join in on the fun.

For our soirée, I wanted to create three distinct zones (food, fireside, and movie viewing) that naturally played one into the next. 

First, a rustic wooden table dressed with foraged seasonal branches plays anchor to drop potluck contributions.

Second, the crackling fire flanked by patio seating and a camp-style popcorn maker for those who want to chat and be handy to the locally sourced spirits. 

Third is the drive-in zone that allows the luxury of skipping the actual drive, plus the lines at the bathrooms. A large DIY sectional sofa made of hay bales draped with quilts, and complemented with an integrated vintage truck-side table provides ample seating with direct sight lines for the movie.

Eating outside doesn’t have to be precious or fussy. We pulled out trays and baskets and cutting boards for ease of food transport which brought texture and beauty to the table

Tips: Literally bring the inside out with items you already own
that will help shape outdoor rooms­—like durable area rugs and
non-precious furniture pieces, bins and baskets, pottery and trays, floral arrangements and decorative accessories. Crisp cool nights
are no concern if you have enough blankets.

Potluck Style

We went with a straightforward seasonal comfort food menu inspired by recipes that felt like home for each of us: homemade mac and cheese, baked beans, honey ham, breads, pickled beets, charcuterie, salads, and pumpkin roll (a family favourite) or individual apple crisps for dessert. Bonus: you can easily prepare all of these things a day or two in advance. 

The menu selection can and should be personal. What feels right
for your family and guests?

For us, this list came together mainly because on a crisp fall evening these foods warmed the cockles of each of our hearts, filled our bellies, and reminded each of us of our childhoods. Conversations led to adults reminiscing as I soaked in the realization that now my children will have similar memories sparked by the same scents due to nights like these.

Note: Eating outside doesn’t have to be precious or fussy. We pulled out trays and baskets and cutting boards for ease of food transport which brought texture and beauty to the table. Potlucks result in a mix of dishware styles and patterns, which is a perfect eclectic touch that adds to the casual comfortable feel of the evening if you chose to embrace it. Just set out an empty bin or basket to collect the garbage and dirtied dishes. 

Storing ice and drinks in a copper bin, or whatever you have available around the house, is a simple way to get them off your limited serving surface without prohibiting access.


The tech can be as basic to elaborate as you prefer, just like the décor. There are no firm rules. 

Our projector is nothing fancy but had excellent reviews for its price point and certainly does the trick. There are countless options on the market depending on budget and personal requirements such as size and transportability. In addition you’ll need an extension cord, jump drive or connection to the movie source of your preference, and separate speakers for surround sound if that is available to you. 

Though not in the above list, the screen is a crucial part to this viewing process. A white bedsheet would more than suffice if that’s what you have on hand. We attached a screen sheet to a quick DIY frame that we built from scrap materials for ease of install and removal, keeping in mind that the easier the set-up is the more likely we are to do this again, and again.

Note: The projector was actually a practical gift to our son on his birthday a few years back with evenings just like this in mind. We also put it to use inside all year.

Concession Stand

A drive-in style movie isn’t complete without a trip to the concession stand, or at least that is what my family would tell you. Which is why it was well worth the effort to set up a secondary food counter near the movie screen specifically for treats. A lantern lit the zone during viewing for visiting snackers to collect popcorn with various topping options, caramel corn, gum balls, and a variety of chocolate or gummy snacks. 

Note: I recommend serving kid-friendly drinks and adult-only drinks in separate locations to avoid any confusion. The self-serve kids punch set up worked well near the concession stand for quick access while the movie was rolling. Mason jar cups with straws, labelled with each child’s name, were a simple and effective touch.

East Coast Living