If you’ve read our blog for any length of time then you’ve heard us talk a lot about outdoor living spaces. Even if you haven’t read our blog, you’ve probably come across the concept of an outdoor living space enough times that you’re wondering what, exactly, it is, and why it matters.
It’s not a new idea, but as our culture and lifestyles shift, we’re turning more and more to our homes as the central hub for work and play. From staycations to nesting, remote work to home schooling, our home environment is more important than ever.
It makes sense then, that we’d want to make our homes as pleasant, as restorative, as enjoyable as possible. And that includes *all* parts of our home – not just the kitchen and living room, but the front porch and back patio and every square inch of space inside and out.
That’s where an outdoor living space comes in. It’s taking your “yard” and turning it into another room in your home. It may be a room without walls or a roof (though those are possible, too!) but it’s still a room where you can spend time living your life however you choose.
In its simplest terms, an outdoor living space is an area that extends your lifestyle into the outdoors. It’s a combination of the hardscapes, plantings, décor, and amenities that make your yard feel just as inviting and welcoming as the most luxurious bedroom, the most gourmet kitchen, or the coziest living room in your home.
These are some of the key elements of a good outdoor living space – one that you will be both proud and delighted to call part of your home.
A Comfortable Space
Gone are the days where a “sitting room” was intended more as a showpiece than as a comfortable spot to engage with family and friends. We’ve thankfully said goodbye to grandma’s plastic covered couch in favor of deep sofas with oversized pillows and plush cushions.
Now it’s time to take that same attitude outdoors!
Say goodbye to large swaths of high-maintenance lawn, wobbly folding chairs, and a patio that gets too much sun to really enjoy on most days.
An outdoor living space is all about bringing comfort to your back yard – and front, and side, and wherever your yard may be.
Comfort can be as simple as creating spaces to sit and relax. The importance of good seating can’t be overstated. Just as those plastic sofas and hard-back chairs never really invited you to stay awhile in the sitting room, unsteady, too-hard, too-small, or awkward seating won’t tempt you to spend time outdoors, either.
There’s plenty of outdoor furniture that’s both stylish and comfortable, so don’t settle for something just because it looks nice on the patio. Consider what your seating will be used for and choose accordingly – firm chairs for dining, cushy couches for relaxing, sumptuous loungers for indulging in an afternoon of sun.
Comfort may also include rethinking the layout of your space.
For example, if you never considered that the patio doesn’t have to be directly abutting your back door, then you’re missing out on the opportunity to create a space where you’ll want to spend more time.
Maybe your patio would be better suited to a spot farther back, perhaps where you can take advantage of some natural shade. Or where you can add a structure like a pergola or gazebo to create a room-within-a-room.
If you’ve got a lovely flower garden, but the bees fly into your back door every time you step foot outside, it might be time to relocate it to a spot where you can appreciate both plants and pollinators alike.
Comfort is also a state of mind. If your space is messy, cluttered with garden tools or toys, or overwhelmed with weeds, you aren’t going to feel very relaxed. If there’s an eyesore you simply can’t tolerate, if the furniture is shoved up against walls and fences with a dining table plunked unceremoniously in the middle, or if you feel exposed to the neighbors’ prying eyes, you won’t feel very comfortable.
Plan comfort into your space by taking all of these things into account. Make sure there are sheds for supplies, rethink the layout of functional elements, plant a bamboo screen for privacy – in effect, plan a space where you’ll feel good about spending time.
Make yourself physically and emotionally comfortable and you’ll be well on your way to turning an ordinary yard into an outdoor living space that’s an extension of your home.
A Useable Space
This may sound like a contradiction, but you can have a stunningly beautiful landscape that is completely useless. If all you want to do is stare out a window at a pretty garden, then that’s one thing. But if you want an outdoor living space, one you can treat as another room in your home, then it’s time to add some amenities.
“Usable” means whatever you need it to mean. A usable space for you may not be usable for a neighbor or friend. First decide *how* you want to use your space, then design it to match your lifestyle.
A usable space gives you a place to engage in your favorite hobby. A place to enjoy your favorite pastimes. A place to relax, to dine, to entertain, to garden, to walk, to exercise, to listen to music, to nap – any or all of the above, or whatever you wish to do most.
If you lead an active lifestyle, consider adding a pool, a place to shoot some hoops, or a spot to lay your yoga mat. If you love to cook and host guests, an outdoor kitchen and long dining table can suit your needs.
A usable space almost certainly includes lighting, which will extend its usefulness long after the sun has set. Lighting adds beauty, enhances safety, and ensures that your space will be usable at any time of the day or night, season after season.
Lighting can set the tone for how you want to use the space – whether you’ll be hosting parties, watching a movie under the stars, or curling up with a good book beside your outdoor fireplace.
Say goodbye to landscaping for the sake of landscaping and add the features – patios, walkways, fire pits, fireplaces, pools, cooking areas, tables, seating and more – that make your space a place to live.
And while you’re at it, say goodbye to that long stretch of “nothing” that runs along the side of your house and looks vaguely weedy. When you’re creating a true outdoor living area, *every* space should be turned into something you can use and enjoy.
A Beautiful Space
Yes, we said that beautiful doesn’t equal useful. But that doesn’t mean a useful space can’t be beautiful.
The same way you decorate an indoor room with the elements, colors, and styles that you most appreciate, you can do the same with your outdoor room.
Your pool, patio, cooking or dining area, or other functional area doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It should be landscaped with the plantings and other elements that bring beautiful sights, sounds, scents and motion to enjoy.
Everything from a wildflower garden to a retaining wall can be part of a beautiful landscape. Even the functional elements can and should be beautiful. Choose a lovely natural stone for patios and walkways – from brick to Bluestone, Fieldstone and more.
Find furniture that meets your aesthetic – a natural wood dining table, wicker armchairs, stone benches. Add underwater lighting to your pool (color changing if you’re inclined!) and surround it with a beautiful hardscape and interesting plantings.
Privacy should be beautiful, too. We mentioned bamboo screening, which is a great option for year-round greenery. Or plant tall grasses, which not only afford privacy but bring winter interest, sound and motion, and double as a habitat for wildlife.
Disguise eyesores with a strategically placed trellis, some climbing blooms, attractive shrubbery, or another structure.
Even storage can be beautiful. Declutter your space and add some charm with a shed that looks more like a cozy cottage than that tin monstrosity you picked up from a big box store.
While you’re at it, add auditory beauty with the sound of running water. A small garden bubbler or stone column, fountain, or waterfall are all soothing to the ear as well as lovely to see. Include an outdoor audio system that plays your favorite music whether you’re swimming laps, cooking dinner, chatting with friends, or enjoying a day of vegetable gardening.
Whatever sights, sounds, scents and textures you enjoy, include them as part of your outdoor space and you’ll be rewarded with a place that will invite you to visit and most importantly to stay awhile.
If you find yourself wishing you could enjoy *all* of your space more, contact us for a consultation and let’s talk about how we can create an outdoor space that suits your lifestyle. We’ll work with you to imagine, plan, design and build not just a “landscape” but an outdoor living space that you can appreciate day and night, season after season and for many years to come.