Creating an Outdoor Living Space
By Augie Bering, Bering's Hardware
As the seasons change and it gets warmer, our thoughts turn towards the backyard and how to best enjoy it. Creating an inviting and useful outdoor space is not difficult as long as you keep a few principals in mind while planning.
Bring Indoor Ideas Outside
Although it seems counter-intuitive, many of the "rules" that we are forced to follow inside can improve an outdoor space considerably. Thinking of your outdoor space as a room that needs to be furnished and decorated helps you as a designer and it helps your family and guests feel comfortable. Place boundaries around your new "room." Define the limits of the space either with hardscape (rock walls, sculptures) or plantings. If you were placing furniture in an empty living room, you wouldn't put it all on one side of the room unless there was something worth staring at on the other side. If a room is intended as a place for conversation, you would space the furniture throughout the room, facing towards a common center. If the space is to be used for dining, you would place the table first and everything else would be situated accordingly. The exact same ideas apply to any outdoor space. If you are buying multiple pieces of furniture, you want those pieces to match as much as you would indoors. If you like eclectic furnishings indoors, you will outside as well.
This high end outdoor room is too much for many budgets, but the design cues can be adopted in most outdoor rooms.
Although the idea of a "hidden garden" tucked away in the corner of your lot sounds amazing, the reality is that if the space you set up outside is far from your backdoor, it will not get used very much. If you are in the Deep South, a shady space will probably be your first consideration. If it is frequently windy, some kind of shelter will have to be planned ahead of time. I personally enjoy the idea of creeping vines invading my space, but I recognize that the reality is climbing plants are generally aggressive and require frequent pruning plus they encourage close co-habitation with mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are a deal breaker for me, so no clinging vines. Water features can be exquisite and soothing, but they can also be run-down and full of algae if not attended well. Simple issues such as how a lawnmower is going to get from the shed to the other side of that new rock wall can derail the most well thought-out plans.
Design From the Ground Up
The first issue you will need to consider is the floor of your new area. Most outdoor rooms start with a patio and either a concrete pad or a wooden deck. Either way, you should consider staining it with either concrete or wood stain. These outdoor stains provide some protection to the surface and can dramatically improve the visual appeal of the space. The layout and placement of furniture can make or break a patio or outdoor room. It is a good idea (inside or out) to place boxes or newspaper cutouts around the area to represent furniture. By seeing the layout in the actual space before you buy or move the furniture you can visualize how people will walk around the area and choose appropriately sized pieces. Additionally, outdoor design needs to incorporate the changing nature of the seasons into the planning stage. For example, during the sunniest part of the year, grape vines spread out and attempt to soak up as much light as possible. This makes an outstanding canopy to provide shade to you and your guests. In the wintertime, many grape vines can be pruned completely back to show the beauty of a well built arbor and provide a very different look to the environment.
What Kind of Room
How are you going to use this area? Many people use their outdoor areas the most when they are grilling. It is a natural idea that your patio should take cues from a kitchen and dining room. If you have or plan on getting a nice grill, consider its relationship with the rest of the available space. You want to be in on the conversation when you are cooking, but a hot, smoky (and sometimes dirty) grill can be uncomfortable to sit near for your guests. Built-in grills are beautiful in outdoor kitchens, but they are also expensive once you factor in the installation costs. More and more often, people are seeking an outdoor television or refrigerator for these areas. Remember, just as with the furniture you choose, appliances are not a natural fit for the outdoors. You will almost certainly need to seek out outdoor versions of these items from a specialized retailer.
Keep these general guidelines in mind while you think about and assemble your new outdoor room. Remember that in an outdoor space, a good plan can make the actual construction less stressful for you and your family. Outdoor spaces are excellent places to work a little bit at a time, since their location takes them out of everyday sightlines. Some flowery plants and yard art that matches your style can quickly spruce up the area, both in general and before a party. Once you get a setup you enjoy, consider seasonal changes and integrating it into your lifestyle permanently. A patio that gets used often is a joy for all!
About the Author
August Bering V, "Augie" to his friends, is President of Bering's Hardware in Houston, TX. Bering's is well known for a broad range of carefully selected home goods such as outdoor living products to grilling products and accessories, and red carpet service that has delighted customers for generations since 1940. From your bridal registry, decorating your first home, to your first baby registry, Bering's has special gifts for special occasions and the right tools for the right job. Augie enjoys spending time with his family and friends, grilling and cooking, playing hard outside, travelling, design, art, live music, and spending as much time as he can with his family.