Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Bringing The Indoors Out

Landscape architects have always approached design in terms of defining space in order to create 'outdoor rooms' but never before has this idea been interpreted as literally as it is in contemporary residential landscapes. Whereas landscape designers used to offer seating in the form of benches, seat walls or lawn chairs, and tended to think of outdoor eating areas in terms of barbeque grills and picnic tables, now we are transforming our porches and back patios into true living rooms, complete with couches, rugs, coffee tables, and ottomans. It's also common to see fully operational outdoor kitchens with built-in gas grills, refrigerators, and sinks with running water.

Taking this outdoor room concept to a new level, Breckon landdesign recently designed a backyard entertainment area that included a large flat screen TV housed in a weatherproof cabinet. These outdoor rooms are not just places to sit for a few minutes and enjoy the garden, but full-on extensions of our homes that invite us to lounge, hang out, and stay a while.

In high desert climates like Idaho and the Intermountain West where seasons bring extremes of hot and cold, it can be difficult to blur the boundaries between indoors and out and still maintain comfortable spaces for people. In order to extend the outdoor living season and get the most enjoyment from these outdoor rooms, it’s important to keep the following in mind.

Mitigate for Temperature Extremes
Even in warm weather months, Idaho temperatures can swing as much as 40 degrees over the course of a single day. Good design involves mitigation for extremes of temperature and weather that will turn your outdoor room into the place you want to be.

Exposure. When designing for a particular site, our landscape architects consider the orientation of your home relative to sun and shade patterns. Does it afford outdoor areas that receive pleasant morning sun in the summer, for instance, versus direct sun in the late day? It’s also important to note prevailing winds and other elements of microclimate. Ideally, location of and design for outdoor spaces will work with the orientation of the house to maximize opportunities for shade and shelter.

Hammock with paver patio and timber pergola with party lights
Speaking of Shade... In our dry climate, shade is the best way to guarantee outdoor comfort, especially in the heat of summer. This is perhaps most easily accomplished with trees, planted strategically where shade is needed. One drawback to trees can be the time they take to mature. If more immediate shade is desired, overhead shade structures are a great way to provide shade for comfort and cover. These structures may be constructed of various materials, commonly wood or metal, with open slats to create a light shade effect, or a more opaque roof structure, depending on site requirements. Recent innovations in outdoor fabrics also offer additional options for shade. Often these have a more modern aesthetic in terms of form and materials, and may be positioned vertically to handle low sun angles in the late afternoon and evening.

Elemental Components

Waterfall with stone slab bridge
Water. The integration of water and water features can create and/or enhance cooling effects in your outdoor room. Water might be used in misters mounted along the edge of a roof or overhead structure. These are relatively inexpensive, easy to install, and take advantage of the significant potential for evaporative cooling in our dry climate. Fountains and Water Features are another way to evoke a cool, relaxing atmosphere, without actually getting wet. The sound of flowing or falling water helps any outdoor space seem cooler, because water symbolizes cool, and carries with it associations both refreshing and restorative.

Fire pit in Boise State University colors
Fire. On the other end of the thermometer, a campfire not only adds warmth and light when autumn days grow colder and shorter, but also adds life to your outdoor room by providing a focal element people naturally gravitate towards and love to gather around.

Fire pits may be integrated with landscape design as a classic stone or metal pit sunk into a paver patio with seating around the edge. As an alternative, freestanding fire pans on stands or pedestals are also available in catalogs and garden shops. These have the added advantage of being portable, allowing greater flexibility for users, and may be easily added to any existing design. As with indoor fireplaces, permanent outdoor fire pits may be plumbed for natural gas. Styling can be contemporary or traditional, to complement other design elements and existing architecture.

Weather-Friendly Furnishings
It is now possible to buy outdoor versions of nearly every kind of furnishing, from modular, sectional sofas to weatherproof rugs and pillows. These items are widely available at a variety of price points starting with big-box retailers and on into higher-end chains and boutiques. Because Breckon landscape designs do not always extend to this level of detail, selection and placement of these furnishings are an opportunity for you to personalize your outdoor room with color and texture and otherwise make it your own.

While outdoor furnishings are designed to withstand exposure to weather, overhead cover serves here as well to keep furniture dry for comfortable seating anytime. It also prolongs the life of furnishings by minimizing exposure to sun and moisture.

Other Advantages
Beyond offering just another place to hang out, the trend towards converting outdoor spaces into living rooms in their own right offers other benefits. A comfortable outdoor space that remains usable over a large part of the year can increase the size of your home in a functional sense. That is, folks who live in small houses but have a generous outdoor room can use that area to augment space available for entertaining guests or hosting functions that would otherwise exceed their home’s capacity.

Additionally, by claiming a greater portion of the yard as outdoor living space, we minimize the landscape area that must be maintained. This significantly reduces the amount of water needed, resulting in more sustainable landscapes. It also saves money, and most importantly, time. Time far better spent enjoying your favorite room in the house which, as it turns out, may not be in the house at all.

A deck with an outdoor kitchen and dining area creates multiple rooms in the back yard

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