The art of defining space in your back yard
By Cris Carl, Networx
Outdoor living rooms allow homeowners to creatively expand their living and recreational areas, which is why they have become so popular. "People are looking for spaces for parties outside of the house that are not necessarily formal, rather having a more casual open connection to the home itself," said Aelan B. Tierney A.I.A. of Kuhn Riddle Architects of Amherst, Mass.
Tierney said her company has also seen a growing interest in families wanting to spend time together in more intimate ways rather than just watching movies and TV. "We've seen more people wanting fire pits so they can toast marshmallows or tell stories," said Tierney. Tierney isn't speaking of a pit with a few rocks around it, but rather a stone and/or cement structure surrounded by landscaping, outdoor furniture and possibly landscape lighting.
Tierney suggested several ideas that create a destination point for family and guests. Stone patios, pools, hot tubs, gazebos or screen houses can be placed at the further edge of the property. "The destination point becomes another room," said Tierney.
"People are also looking at not just using the decorative effects of flower gardens, but vegetable gardens as well," said Tierney. "They can have a swath of land with garden beds and an adjoining patio that can have a dining area," said Tierney. "It's a space where the food is grown, collected, cooked and enjoyed all in one area, she added.
Tierney said that the homeowner doesn't need to be limited to flat, even spaces, but can create tiers, steps and terraces to create a destination point. "You can really work with the contours of the land to create a very special space," said Tierney.
Pools and water features
"Pools are a big piece of equipment in the yard. It should have good sun exposure and nice landscaping so that it's attractive even when it's not in use," said Tierney.
Tierney said that if the homeowner didn't want all the work of an in-ground pool they can also opt for a hot tub as a center piece of the outdoor living room.
Depending on where you live, fountains, ponds, and stone waterfalls can add an interesting or soothing element to your outdoor living room. A word of caution: If you live in an area that is hot and humid, these types of features may create a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Walls, fencing, plantings, and arbors can also create visual texture around a pool or water feature.
Furniture that remains outdoors for two or more seasons is naturally going to be exposed to the elements, even if they are placed in a screen house or gazebo. Tierney suggested furniture made of the wood Ipe, which is a durable tropical wood. "It's an excellent wood, but it is expensive. Whatever wood you choose (for outdoor structures or furniture) try to be sure it's been harvested sustainably,' said Tierney.
Other ideas for outdoor furniture materials include eucalyptus, metal and wicker.
Wooden swings, Adirondack chairs, casual dining and end tables are just a few ideas for your outdoor living room furniture.
"A screen house right off of the house or even further back on the property extends your ability to be outside and not have to combat mosquitoes," said Tierney. "It's also nice to have a transition space between indoors and outdoors, such as a pergola," she added. Tierney said that a pergola or gazebo can provide an outdoor feeling as well as shade.
Besides decking material, pea gravel can be used to create a type of "carpet." There are also a variety of outdoor carpeting materials such as Durocord and polypropylene to create a cozier atmosphere.
Today there are lots of solar options for outdoor lighting. Tierney suggested using lighting to highlight outdoor plantings and to create diffused lighting. "You can put the lights at different heights to highlight areas you want to put the focus on. Or you can shine the light up through the foliage for a soft diffused natural glow," said Tierney.
Other ideas include lanterns, torches or strings of lights.
Depending on your taste, the focus of your outdoor room can be on landscape and plantings with furniture or statues tucked into various seating areas, or you may want to set up a game area with lawn bowling, croquet or horseshoes. Outdoor living rooms allow the homeowner a fresh, vibrant option for expanding the elements of your home.