A relaxing, stylish outdoor living space can greatly increase the appeal and value of your home while offering an oasis for friends and family to enjoy the great outdoors in comfort. These spaces can be as elaborate or as simple as you choose to make them.
For instance, a fireplace or stone fire pit creates a strong focal point while providing warmth for those cool evenings. Or how about a brick pizza oven? If you do a lot of entertaining, a full-service outdoor kitchen and dining area may be well worth the investment.
The design experts at Better Homes & Gardens have a few ideas. Let’s take a look…
Center of Attention
Indoor rooms that are well-designed usually have a focal point – a single element which gives the eye something to rest on. (For instance, a fireplace, a piece of furniture, or artwork.) The principle applies to outdoor living spaces, as well.
There are several ways to create a focal point in your outdoor living area. Fire pits, pergolas, canopies, arbors and gazebos are some of the most popular. Outdoor bars are another great option. How about a tiki-style bar, complete with a palm-frond umbrella?
A cheery striped cabana-type canopy or sail-like umbrella would make another ideal focal point. If you have a backyard water feature or particularly colorful garden, be sure to arrange outdoor furniture to allow guests to focus on these areas.
If your space and/or budget is limited, even small accents — such as a sculpture or tabletop fountain — can really make your outdoor space feel dynamic and interesting.
Sit a Spell
Be sure to include plenty of seating options. A combination of built-in deck seating and outdoor furniture often works best.
The more choices you can include, the more your family and friends will be able to enjoy your outdoor living space with you.
Built-in benches are real space savers – especially when they can pull double duty as storage receptacles. They’re especially useful for smaller areas, where space is at a premium. Make them even more inviting with plenty of cushions.
Movable outdoor furniture, on the other hand, provides more flexibility. You can pull two chairs together for a quiet chat or add extras around the table for a big dinner. You can create intimacy and make clever use of space by designing separate “conversation areas.” A mixture of outdoor sofas and lounge chairs should do the trick.
Whatever seating options you decide on, be careful not to clutter up your traffic pattern. An established traffic pattern is both safer and more visually appealing.
Drawn to the Flame
Just like a fireplace inside your house is a great place to curl up with a good book or gather with friends on a chilly day, an outdoor fire source is always attractive.
If your space and budget will allow, consider a full-size outdoor fireplace. An installed fireplace can serve as a focal point to your deck’s design, as well as a classic barbecue. And with the wide array of styles and materials available today, this is one landscape feature you’ll definitely want to show off.
For the budget-conscious, a fire pit can provide both flexibility and affordability. But while digging a hole in your backyard and lining it with rocks might sound like the best way to create one, that would actually be against the law in most municipalities. Outdoor fires are required to be contained in a raised structure covered with a protective screen. The precautions help prevent sparks and ashes from spreading to other yards and buildings.
To this end, you can still safely install a fire pit on your wooden deck by choosing a gas-fueled model (once you’ve received the all-clear from the city code). A properly installed gas fire pit will not produce sparks that can ignite nearby surfaces. Be sure to check out gas-fueled pits specifically designed for deck use.
Even with the gas-powered fire pit, it’s a good idea to keep it at least 20 feet away from your home or any other flammable structure. The fire pit will put out a lot of heat, which can damage you home’s siding. You should also avoid placing the fire pit directly on your wooden deck. Instead, use a small grid of pavers or a heat-resistant fire pit mat to protect your wooden deck from heat damage.
Over the past couple of decades, the outdoor kitchen has evolved from a simple backyard grill space to a sophisticated cooking area, with a plethora of appliances available for everyone from the die-hard griller to the sophisticated chef.
In other words, your outdoor kitchen can be as simple as installing an island with a built-in grill, or it can entail the installation of state-of-the art culinary equipment. The choice is yours. In the end, it’s not about the appliances you choose, or the layout of your space. It’s about the experience of outdoor living. A few things to consider:
- It’s best to locate your outdoor kitchen along a wall of the house on an existing deck or patio. This will give you close proximity to utilities such as gas, power and water, while also providing a wind buffer.
- The most important appliance, and often the center of attention, is the grill. You should probably purchase the best one your budget will allow, preferably with a side burner. Whether you include a sink and refrigerator will depend on the accessibility of your indoor kitchen. (If the kitchen is just a sliding door away, for instance, those items may not be necessary.) If you plan to entertain often, an outdoor ice maker is also certainly worth considering.
- You’ll also want to think about installing a food prep area (perhaps with warming drawers), cabinets and other storage, a separate dining area, and outdoor sound system.
If you’d like all or part of your outdoor living space to be more private, you’ve got several options.
Strategically placed plantings, such as shrubs or dwarf trees, are a softly textured way to accomplish that goal. Privacy plants will also add shade and beauty to your deck area. For instance, consider bamboo. It’s fast-growing, evergreen and hardy, even in the cold. Boxwood is another ideal evergreen choice. It adds English garden-style charm when trimmed into spheres or hedges, and can also be used in pots or planters. And there’s nothing like the tall, stately silhouette of a Cypress tree, perfect for planting in a row to create a natural screen.
Or how about a trellis or pergola covered with flowering vines? Both of these can act as a wall, providing separation from the outside world without impeding daylight or airflow.
A privacy screen or partial wall would also do the trick. Incorporating latticework into your screen will make it pleasant to view from either side. To soften the look even further, add climbing vines and thoughtful plant arrangements.
To add shade as well as privacy, consider a canopy, gazebo-style tent, or even weatherproof drapery panels. Let your imagination be your guide.
Accessibility and Flow
Your outdoor living space expands the heart of your home. So be sure to make it accessible. Outdoor areas that are easy to get to from indoor rooms are the most likely to be used. Try to keep your indoor and outdoor spaces joined along their length, as this provides wider access between the two.
Large sliding or folding doors make it easy to remove the division between indoors and outdoors. To this end, glass doors are preferable, as this creates visual flow even when the doors are shut. French doors, folding glass panel-walls, and pass-through windows are all great ways maximize the visual connection between inside and outside, while maintaining the continuity of your home’s overall design.
You may also wish to avoid a change in floor level between inside and out. Having steps creates not only a visual break, but a physical one that slows movement. In the same manner, extending your roof over at least part of your outdoor living space is another good way of ensuring flow between indoors and outdoors.
For some helpful tips on accessorizing your indoor/outdoor space with weather-resistant recycled materials, check out the following video clip: