Several months ago, while I was entertaining outdoors, one of my guests was commenting on how much she liked my yard. She said a lot of nice things, but what I remember most was that she thought I’d made very good use of my outdoor space. I hadn’t really thought about it like that, because what I do with my yard is a more basic thing. Usually, as I walk my property, I visualize what I think might look nice somewhere. The ideas that recur most often and which most delight me are the ones that I eventually implement.
As I began to think about my yard within the framework of “how I made use of space”, I realized two things:
One, my guest was right. My property encompasses 6,500 square feet with a house and a separate barn that together take up 1,800 square feet. This leaves 4,700 square feet of outside space. Within that space is a 50’ long driveway, an area that includes the grill and a dining area, an above-ground pool and adjacent sunning spot, a covered sitting area, and a park like entrance to a leafy canopied walkway that leads to what I like to think of as my ‘secret garden’. The secret garden contains a dry-creek bed, another table with chairs and a firepit. There is also an area for our pets, and an outdoor storage spot for my grandsons’ yard toys. And all these spaces are either entirely separate from one another or they flow nicely from one area to the next. So I’d have to agree – I really have made good use of my outdoor space.
The second thing I realized was that I had created outdoor rooms! This was pretty exciting to me, as the concept of the outdoor room has simply exploded in the past few years. I watch all the TV shows (how cool would it be to run into Ahmed while buying mulch)? I read lots of magazine articles and search the web for ideas and images to inspire my outdoor muse. Yet it wasn’t until I thought about my yard in terms of how my outdoor space was set up that I realized I had actually created several outdoor rooms.
Some theories of what an outdoor room should be focus on designing one great, all-encompassing entertainment space. Other ideas are more along the lines of what I’ve built in my yard, which is separated into several distinct outdoor living rooms that serve various purposes. Either way, the creation of an outdoor room is on the agendas of many Americans nowadays. And the notion of the staycation, whether you’re concerned with sustainability, your budget or you’re just a homebody, is only fueling our desire to create wonderful, entertaining and useful outdoor spaces in the comfort and convenience of our own back yards.
Does size matter? Well, yes and no. Certainly, the more space you have the more features you can add to your outdoor rooms. But you can create a beautiful and multifunctional outdoor room on a small terrace, deck, patio or porch as well. Let’s start with the basics.
Really, all you need to begin with is an outside space, a grill, and furniture to sit and eat comfortably on. And if your space is tiny, such as a balcony or a small porch or terrace, this may be the extent of your trappings. Pretty it up with a container garden or two and you’ve got your very own outdoor room, good for eating, relaxing, reading, even working – just bring out your laptop!
Of course, the bigger your space (and the bigger your budget), the more features you can add. Expanding on an idea that starts with a grill, many people will add amenities that strive to complete the notion of an outdoor kitchen. These can include things like refrigerators, outdoor sinks, countertops, cabinetry and wood-fired pizza ovens, just to name a few! And of course, as exciting as the many types of outdoor kitchen amenities are, the options available for outdoor dining furniture are just as impressive. Materials and styles are available to suit every possible taste and budget, from plastic, wicker, aluminum and wrought iron to attractive woods like teak, bamboo, eucalyptus – you name it.
Once you’ve gotten the key elements of cooking and eating amenities in place, there are several more components that most outdoor room advocates believe complete the setting. Some kind of hearth component is always desirable. Outdoor fireplaces create a wonderful and rich ambiance, and firepits are great when you’ve got a lot of people who like to sit around the fire, perfect on a cool autumn night. Firetables are just beginning to gain popularity; they exude warmth and elegance. And a chiminea can work well in a relatively small space.
If you’ve invested any amount of time, money or hard work into creating an inviting outdoor space, certainly you’ll want to spend time there during as much of the year as possible. Therefore lots of people who love their outdoor rooms also have some type of outdoor heater to extend the season. Most outdoor heaters throw heat in a circle and are powered by electricity, propane or butane. The smallest are the tabletop variety which can throw heat in a circle about 6 to 8 feet in diameter. Full sized outdoor heaters can either be portable, which provide heat up to a 20 foot diameter, or permanent and designed to tap into an existing natural gas supply. The permanent (in-ground) heaters provide heat to an even greater radius than the portable variety. Finally, strip heaters can be mounted on a ceiling or wall and provide more focused heat.
Other amenities that are considered to be desirable elements of an outdoor room:
- Water features: pools, spas, ponds, creeks, waterfalls, fountains
- Flooring: brick, concrete, concrete pavers, slate and many types of stone for patios, or wood, vinyl and fiberglass for decks
- Ceilings/Shelter: cabanas, pergolas, gazebos, awnings, umbrellas
- Lighting: chandeliers, ceiling fans, mounted spotlights, tiki-torches, pathway lighting, candles.
- Privacy elements: fences, trees, shrubs, walls, fabric.
- Furniture: benches, lounge chairs, couches, swings, beds, hammocks, bars
- Outdoor electronics: televisions, sound systems, and of course laptops and numerous mobile devices.
- Decorative accents: wrought iron, statues, sculptures, antiques, wind chimes – this list is truly confined only by the limits of your imagination.
Finally, the completion of any outdoor space can be achieved only once a bit – or better yet, more than a bit – of nature is added. This can come in the form of grass, ground cover, flowers, trees, shrubs, and can be planted in the ground, in containers or a combination of both throughout your outdoor rooms.