How to Create Outdoor Living Spaces You’ll Never Want to Leave
There has never been greater demand for outdoor spaces designed for comfortable gathering with friends and family — but there’s more to creating a functional space than simply adding a table and chairs to your online cart. Outdoor space design is about thinking of your outdoor living spaces as an extension of your home’s interior rooms. Whether it’s a patio, deck or balcony, your space should feel warm, inviting, and rooted in your personal aesthetic.
Lifestyle and Functional Needs
Lifestyle is a huge factor into what outdoor furniture you’ll need to source — and is likely to play into every decision you’ll make in the design process. How will you use your space? Perhaps it’s about curling up with a book, engaging in board games just before dusk, or sipping your morning coffee al fresco. Or, maybe you envision late-night dinners with friends under the whimsical glow of bistro lights. Answering these questions about your dream outdoor living spaces means addressing more than seating and other functional needs. Ultimately, you are creating a mood and not just a space.
While there is a clear physical separation between the indoors and the outdoors, thinking of the differences as complimentary, instead of opposites, helps create a seamless transition. Consider what can happen if you don’t create a visual bridge: It may become painfully obvious that your house features décor more at home in a 19th-century New England colonial while the backyard vaguely resembles a laid-back luau. Sourcing items that feel like a natural extension of your interior aesthetic creates an easy progression through your spaces. In the process, you may also find yourself tweaking the immediate interior access points to the backyard, to help coax this outdoor theme along.
Small Outdoor Living Spaces
Another consideration: not all outdoor spaces are located on sprawling green pastures, especially for city dwellers where outdoor access tends to be more compact, so don’t be deterred if you have a small outdoor space to design. And if you are frustrated about shopping for outdoor furniture for small spaces, don’t fret. Designers have proven in recent years that you don’t need a lot of space to enjoy the outdoors in comfort.
Elements of Outdoor Living Spaces
If you’ve spent any time perusing design websites, flipping through glossy magazines or adding more pins to your Pinterest boards, you already know that there are several key elements to beautiful outdoor living spaces. These are some of the fundamental considerations to take into account when designing outdoor spaces — of any size.
Recognizing that it can take time for trees to grow and flower beds to fill in, a short-term solution is to install planters around the yard or patio. Flush with herbs, annual bright flowers, or ferns that you can bring in during the cooler months, you have a garden paradise in just a weekend. For more arid climates or a low-maintenance solution, consider high-quality faux florals and greenery for flower boxes.
Do you plan to spend time in your outdoor living spaces after sunset? There are as many ways to add lights as there are seat cushions. Edison-type bulbs strung over seating spaces add instant atmosphere, while sconces mounted on the fence or house are an opportunity to add style (i.e. jelly-jar fixtures for a modern-farmhouse look to gas-lit lanterns to mimic a European-villa vibe).
No matter what part of the country you live in, there are bound to be chilly nights ahead. And even if you’re not draped in a sweater and winter jacket, who doesn’t enjoy the warmth of a cozy fire? Options include anything from firepits constructed of stonemasonry to discrete heat lamps for an easy comfort solution in smaller spaces.
Outdoor furniture is undoubtedly the element that requires an understanding of how you plan to use your outdoor living space. Is this where your book club will routinely meet? Do you plan to serve family dinners outdoors? Will your kids be playing lawn games? Answers such as the number of guests you’d like to seat comfortably or how you plan to use the space can address the type of seating you’ll need. Once your functional requirements are solidified, consider tabletop surfaces, coffee tables, dining tables with chairs, and lounge-type sofas.
This term refers to the stones, pavers and tiles used to create flooring, walkways or walls in the outdoor living space. An easy way to define what falls into this category: is it built and hearty enough to last through winter? The same could not be said for a “softscape” such as a tent or a wicker armchair.
Before making major decisions, spend time in your outdoor living space during different times of the day and night. You’ll quickly learn where the sun hits around dinner time and why you might not want to enjoy morning coffee in a particular spot (unless you want to roast under the sun or freeze in the shade). Investing in sun-sails and umbrellas help make the harsh sun more tolerant.
For a family of four you may be fine with a single dining-table set, but when extended family visit for gatherings, small items like side tables are key for flexibility, as is additional seating. This can be as “pop up” or permanent as you want. Even storing fold-up chairs and tables in the garage or basement can be a solution for welcoming more people, in lieu of investing in additional outdoor seating such as chairs that swivel or sectional sofas you could nap on.
We’ve saved the best for last: what will your outdoor living space look like? Once you’ve filled in the above elements—and how many of each will go in the space—this will quickly come into play. It’s important to pay careful attention to the dimensions of each piece, and account for extra room you’ll need to pull out chairs from a table, for example.
Outdoor Living Space Ideas
If you’re looking for visual inspiration to refresh your current outdoor living space setup, here are a few of our design team’s favorite examples from past projects.
Outdoor Dining Space
While it may be tempting to buy the longest, largest dining table you can find, take a minute and think about your family’s average dinner alfresco. How many people are there? How much space will each place setting take up? Some of the best dinner parties—which you’ll surely have—consist of separate dining areas scattered throughout the yard. Investing in a few smaller dining-tables can be something to consider, instead of one large one.
Hanging Porch Swing
If you’re having trouble visualizing a hanging swing, think of this outdoor space idea as a reinvigorated hammock. This is also a chance to flaunt your personal style. A hanging pod chair born out of natural materials like wicker or bamboo speaks to a laid-back, bohemian aesthetic, while a traditional wooden porch swing paired with cushions is a classic staple.
Once you start looking at outdoor fire pit designs you’ll quickly learn that this is a broad category. There are metal-frame options for less than $100 that are one step above a campsite’s fire pit (where you light it yourself). On the other end of the spectrum, you can spring for a ceramic vessel, shaped like a bowl or rectangle, powered by natural gas. The options are endless and there is truly a different model for every budget.
Outdoor Lounge Space
The key word here is “lounge.” You may not want to sit upright at a dining table if you’re working on crafts, reading a book or drinking cocktails with friends. A comfy seat deserves a cushion that’s weather resistant and in either your favorite color shade or a fun pattern. Consider moving beyond chairs clustered in a circle for a sectional sofa so your group can further spread out.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a pool as a part of our outdoor setup, chances are good that you’ll want to spend as much time as you can enjoying it. Dedicated poolside seating (such as chaise lounges) is a great spot for drying off or sunbathing. You may consider placing potted planters near the pool for added greenery. These function as privacy but also cultivate a vacation-like mood reminiscent of your favorite resort stay.
Depending on how much space you have and how your yard is laid out, you may want to invest in an outdoor kitchen design. This way you’re not shuffling in and out of the house with platters of food and all your kitchen gadgets. If designed well, an outdoor barbecue area—including counter space; a stove, grill or oven; and a small sink—folds in storage space for extra sets of serving utensils and grilling items.
Personalizing Your Outdoor Living Space
With a firm understanding of your functional needs, lifestyle and the core elements to choose from, it’s time to determine what type of space speaks to you. Is it a laid-back family-friendly space or a romantic, European-inspired dining area? No matter what approach you choose for your dream outdoor living space, as long as you consider both style and function, it’s likely to become a place you’ll never want to leave.