Outdoor Room 101: The Best Room in the House

August 01, 2017

Outdoor Room 101: The Best Room in the House

Do you ever wish you could have just one more room in your house? A room to retreat to; a room to relax in, to play in, to entertain in. A sanctuary room for you and your family. A soul-rejuvenating room with heart-melting ambiance and space to breathe. Better yet, a room that never has to be vacuumed. What is this magical room, you say? It is your very own backyard! With a little strategy and some love, your garden room can become your family's favorite room in the house.

What actually makes up an exceptional outdoor living space? The answer to that question depends on your functional needs, aesthetic taste. Essentially, what do you want to do in this space? How many people does this space need to accommodate? What types of materials work best in your climate? What will your budget allow you to do now and what will you be adding in the future? These questions will allow you to formulate a plan for creating the outdoor living space of your dreams. Keep reading for more pro tips and tricks to help you with your  project.

Think Small

The most important thing to keep in mind as you begin your quest for garden bliss is to think small.  That may sound counter-intuitive but let us explain. We mean that, instead of trying to tackle your entire backyard, you'll want to focus your resources on smaller living spaces that you will utilize most frequently. This will allow you to create richer, more inviting spaces for less money. Sounds great, right? This will also allow you to expand outward in future "phases" or as budget allows. Ask yourself, "what do I most want out of my outdoor living space?" Do you want a dining space for family time or a conversational seating area for cocktail parties with friends? These questions will help you to prioritize what you need most out of your space and what to tackle first.

Define Your Space

Defining your living space is an important step in creating the cozy and inviting "room" feeling outdoors. No matter how much outdoor space you do or don't have, you'll want your living space to be on a human scale. Just like inside a house, a huge, cavernous room does not feel comfortable to most people. We gravitate towards livable, defined spaces. Landscape architect and Kumquat Garden co-founder, Catherine Clemens, typically recommends a living area of 10'x10' or 12'x12' to her clients. This is a rough guide that will vary depending on your space and needs, but it should give you and idea of the ideal size of one "outdoor room."

Paving is one of the most important elements in defining a living space outdoors. The material used can vary depending on aesthetic, location, cost, etc. but keep in mind that this is, quite literally, your foundation. We recommend considering the paving material in relationship to the rest of your house to create a sense of cohesion and fluidity. Likewise, varying paving material, color, or size, can also be used to denote a change in living space i.e. a dining area to a lounging area.

Alure Outdoor Rug RedOutside of paving, decor items and architectural elements are great tools for creating space and adding a little style while you're at it. For example, outdoor rugs are fabulous for designating a destination like a dining area while adding comfort, color, and style. Similarly, pots, planters, and boulders can be strategically grouped to suggest the boundaries of a space. We particularly love room divider planters for this purpose. Lastly, small floating walls are great for breaking up a large space into smaller, more intimate living areas. Consider making this wall into or colored accent wall to create drama or set a mood (you can read more about bringing color into the garden with accent walls here).

Get Comfortable

Just as an indoor room isn't complete until it is furnished, neither is an outdoor room. Furnishing and decor accessories are the mechanisms that transform a space into a fabulous living area. Therefore, how you plan to live in the space should dictate your furniture and decor choices. You can begin by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. How many people do you need to accommodate in your space? (i.e. a couple vs. large extended family)
  2. Do you entertain? If so, how many? What kind of entertaining do you do (intimate gathering vs. large party)?
  3. Do you eat outside? If so, what type of dining do you prefer (formal sit-down vs. informal like at a coffee table)?

Outdoor PillowsWith these questions in mind, you can start to make decisions on the type of furnishing that are best suited to your space and lifestyle needs. For instance, a small household of two may opt for large, comfy club chairs with a side table for relaxing with a glass of wine and a bistro table for breakfast in the mornings. In contrast, a family with kids and extended family close-by would be better suited with a large dining table for outdoor family cookouts in the summer and an oversized sectional sofa for lounging in the evenings. These are only examples but the idea is to zero in on what is best going to serve your particular needs in your outdoor space. 

Likewise, when we say, "get comfortable," we mean it! Think about what makes your indoor spaces pleasant, and bring it outdoors. Items like plush sofa and chair cushions, outdoor throw pillows, and soft blankets can turn your outdoor space into the dreamy haven you've always wanted. These days, the variety of amazing high-performance fabrics and fills makes it easy to bring the comforts of the indoors out and add a touch of style that could rival any interior.

Show Me the Shade

The Isabel Patio Umbrella - Black with Hand-Painted Gold DesignShade is important for the comfort of your space and will greatly extend the seasonal and daily livability of our outdoor room. There are different types of shade solutions ranging from architectural to interchangeable. An architectural solution like a porch or portal is great, if you have one. If you do not, a pergola can offer similar benefits and can be installed easily by a local contractor. Consider retractable pergola shades for the option of increasing or decreasing your coverage depending on season, time of day, etc. If you do not want to commit to a structure or do not have room for it, a beautiful umbrella or colorful shade sails provide a style-forward shady oasis with changeability.

Light the Way

Two Outdoor Lanters Lit Up at NightNo conversation about any living space, indoor or out, would be complete without a discussion on lighting. If you would like to be able to use your outdoor space in the evenings, considering your lighting solutions is essential. At a minimum, we recommend some sort of path lighting for moving safely in dark areas and lighting in your dining area. There are a variety of lighting solutions for different needs and budgets. These can range from hardwired fixtures and path lighting to outdoor-rated string lights, clip-on umbrella lights, and solar path lights. Candle lanterns are lovely for tabletop ambiance or lounge areas that call for soft, atmospheric lighting. Let your needs for the space (i.e. more light for dining and card games vs. less light for conversing and relaxing) and budget determine the best options for your space. For safety, always work with a licensed electrician on any projects requiring wiring.

Fire and Water

Once you have the essentials in place, give your outdoor room that irresistible draw with a water element or fire feature (or both!). A water feature lends an enticing sound component to your space and a cooling lushness that can't be beat indoors. This does not need to be elaborate or expensive to be effective. Recirculating fountains are easy to install, fill, and maintain. With a recirculating fountain, no water line is needed. Simply fill the fountain basin with a garden hose and top-off as necessary (an electricity source is needed to power the pump). Likewise, a fire feature can be as elaborate as a built-in gas fireplace or as simple as a small tabletop fire bowl. Whatever your budget or space dictates, you can find an option to suit your particular needs and give your space that certain je ne sais quoi that will wow your friends and neighbors.

Final Thoughts

Cozy Outdoor Seating Area at SunsetWe hope these thoughts have been helpful and inspiring. If you feel overwhelmed by this information, don't worry! An outdoor space is an evolution, not a one and done project. This space is meant to, quite literally, change and grow as time goes on. It is an expression of you and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. While its a good idea to have an understanding about the direction you ultimately want to go with your space, you don't need to have it all figured out in the beginning. You can simply begin by choosing a starting point and building on it. For example, you could invest in a comfortable seating set or plant some lush, overflowing pots. Allow yourself some flexibility and to enjoy the process. As always, we love your comments and questions! Contact us here.

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