Outdoor Spaces That Inspire

by | Jul 9, 2021 | Exteriors, How-To, Outdoor Spaces, Planning, Room-By-Room

Maybe you dream of a tucked-away sanctuary ideal for escaping into the pages of a good book; a cozy outdoor fireplace for gathering on crisp early autumn evenings; or a festive patio that lends itself to endless entertaining. We use our outdoor spaces in so many different ways—to entertain, to celebrate, to retreat—that we should apply the same care and attention to detail to those spaces as we do when planning the home itself.

Planning for Perfection

The design of outdoor spaces should be integrated with the overall design of your home, for a seamless transition from the indoors out. Start by thinking about how you envision using your outdoor spaces. “We recently designed a home for a client who wanted porches on all four sides of the house,” says Mathew Sterchi, vice president of sales and marketing at StoneMill Log & Timber Homes in Knoxville, Tennessee. “But when we started talking about how they were going to use the space, it became clear they were never going to use the porch on the front of the house. It was an expense they didn’t need to incur because they were never going to use it.” Sterchi advises his clients to consider what the design is trying to take advantage of—whether that’s a picture-perfect view of a lake or mountain, rolling hillsides, or the shelter of towering pines.

Photo by Heidi Long

“Start by thinking about the things you would enjoy doing outdoors adjacent to your house—picture sitting outside in the shade in that transitional space between indoors and outdoors,” says Allen Halcomb, president of MossCreek (also in Knoxville, Tennessee). If you’re an avid gardener, you might want a vegetable garden right off the kitchen if the site and the sunlight allow for it. “A lot of Americans enjoy barbequing, which is often a great kickstarter in thinking about how you would use your outside space,” says Halcomb. “If the kitchen is the helm of the ship inside the house, the grill can be the helm of the ship outside.” Halcomb finds that it is often easiest to start your plan by figuring out what the outdoor kitchen will entail and going from there.

Ideally, exterior design should be done in concert with your home design, so that your views from the inside out are not impeded by patio walls, plantings, or deck railings, but rather allow for visual flow. It also makes sense from a practical standpoint to locate features like outdoor kitchens and fireplaces near their interior counterparts to simplify plumbing and electrical requirements and allow for just one chimney.

Photo by Heidi Long

Don’t forget lights! Exterior lighting is just as important as interior lighting, and you can employ creative techniques to highlight water features, illuminate a path, or add a festive atmosphere to your dining area. Uplighting can be used to showcase landscape elements or to add a subtle glow without flooding an area with light. Appropriate lighting keeps things safe as well, so be sure steps, edges, and transitions are clearly lit.

Gateway to the Outdoors

“A log home is a gateway to the outdoors and it should be as easy as possible to egress to the outside without any noticeable impediments,” says Bart Sauls, sales representative at Coventry Log Homes in Woodsville, New Hampshire. “Once outside, your field of view should recede from the house to the horizon and not the reverse. In other words, and with notable exceptions, you would not have 50-foot-high plants immediately outside the home graduating down to plants two feet high in the distance.” Capitalize on your property’s natural features, perhaps laying a stone path to a secluded grove of trees, creating a hilltop patio for sunset cocktails, or building a shady gazebo alongside a river, creating yet another outdoor “room” to enjoy.

Photo by Karl Neumann

Many families enjoy a great room that extends the living space to a large patio or deck, which is ideal for entertaining. Whether you’re hosting a big family reunion or a casual evening barbeque for a few close friends, people value having space to gather. “Ninety-nine percent of the people we design homes for, when they begin to talk about their outdoor space, they talk about entertaining,” says Halcomb. “The real joy in the planning is imagining their friends and kids or grandchildren coming over.” A comfortable seating area with a separate space to dine makes it easy to welcome friends and family to your home.

More and more designers are blurring the lines between indoors and out by getting creative with the entryways. “One of the things we’re seeing more requests for is folding doors,” says Sterchi. “We’re doing a folding door for a project in Wisconsin that’s 10 feet wide. They make the flow of space better, and since they don’t swing you don’t have to worry so much about furniture placement. When they’re open it makes the room feel like it is part of that outside space.”

Photo by Karl Neumann

Materials Matter

Your outside spaces should, to some extent, echo the interior design aesthetic so that interior and exterior complement each other rather than compete. This can be achieved in part by using natural materials that harmonize, like stone and wood. A stacked bluestone wall or a shale patio are beautiful partners to a rustic log home, while polished limestone or sleek concrete pair well with a more contemporary home.

Keep maintenance in mind as well. If you are planning a weekend home, you won’t want to spend your time off maintaining the deck or scrubbing the patio. Look for low-maintenance materials that make the most sense for your area of the country. In the Pacific Northwest, you’ll want to choose materials that will hold up to wet weather, while in the Southwest heat- and sun-resistant materials make the most sense.

Photo by Karl Neumann

Environmental concerns also play a role. It’s easy to choose native and drought-tolerant plants, or deck and patio materials that lessen the impact on the environment. “More and more people are beginning to experiment with just laying stones and letting grass grow between them, to preserve some greenness in the overall terrace,” says Halcomb, who notes that from an environmental standpoint, it’s advisable to decrease the amount of impervious surfaces in your landscape. “In some areas of the country, regulations limit the amount of impervious area you can add.” Green, permeable terraces have the added advantage of natural beauty that doesn’t look quite so man made. Depending on the climate, you can plant mosses or low-growing herbs like creeping thyme between pavers for a low-maintenance patio.

Your outdoor spaces extend your home beyond your walls and roof. Make the most of these spaces with careful planning, considering how you’ll use them and how to integrate them with your home. You’ll be able to look forward to years of enjoyment both indoors and out!