What is an outdoor living area? The easy answer is simple and very broad: it can be whatever the owner wants it to be, providing of course that it is outside and that a good deal of time is spent living in it. What are your wants and needs? How do you like to spend your time out-of-doors? These are the questions that will help develop your definition of an outdoor living area. For these reasons, my definition of an outdoor living area includes the following features:
- a furnished patio, dining area and kitchen.
- an activity area including a swimming pool and lounge area.
- a well designed landscape and garden area to add ambiance.
First and foremost, the key elements of an outdoor living area, like the inside of the home, include a kitchen, a dining area and a patio sitting area. When weather permits our family likes to cook, eat, relax and entertain outside; my wife and I like to have our friends over; our three teenage children like to have their friends over. Cooking, then, is important and takes place at all hours from morning until midnight. A good barbecue forms the center piece of any outdoor kitchen but an extra burner or two in some form also make life easier for the cook. An ample work surface with a chopping block or cutting board can further increase the cook’s pleasure time outside. Access to water, whether it be full outdoor plumbing or simply a hose hook-up or water dispenser, is yet another necessity. One more important feature is a means of keeping food and beverages cool and handy, either in a fridge or cooler on ice. An added bonus for me is a sit up counter area where friends can watch and keep me company while I cook. All of these features should be arranged to form an efficient working triangle just as they are indoors. Next, the kitchen should have easy access to the dining area. A dining table with seating to accommodate groups larger than just immediate family is a wise move if space permits. Once again, a bonus here would be outdoor storage space to hold patio dishes, flatware and linen. A chest or garden hutch could easily be adapted to fit this purpose. Finally an area to sit, relax, read, converse and even watch TV if possible is a lovely addition to any outdoor living area. Comfortable chairs, couches, side tables, a glider or porch swing and even a daybed can make this area cozy and inviting. Patio furniture can be purchased in a wide range of styles and materials to meet anyone’s taste and preference; my bias leans to cedar patio furniture.The goal here, ultimately, is to make the outdoor living area mirror the comfort and design of the indoors.
In addition to eating, relaxing and entertaining outside, we also like to be active; thus my outdoor living area also includes a swimming pool and space for other activities. Pools come in three basic styles: in ground, on ground and above ground. In ground pools are by far the most expensive option but they also offer the greatest range of use and the best aesthetics. The pool is best placed where it can receive maximum sun, an aspect not so necessary in hotter climes perhaps but certainly so further north where summers are a bit shorter and less intense. Ample decking all around the pool is necessary for good traffic flow and for ease of cleaning and maintaining. I recommend two distinct patio areas be included in the pool deck design. One is an open area where lounge chairs or adirondacks can be placed for sun worshipers. The other should offer an escape from the sun in the form of a covered bar/sitting area or some form of pagoda or tiki hut. As a rule, people will stay by the pool longer if they can get out of the sun for a bit without deserting the entire area. A hot-tub spa or a sauna would be a pleasant addition as well, if for no other reason because they add a year-round drawing card to the patio. Additionally, if space allows I would set aside a relatively long but not needfully wide area for playing catch with a baseball or football, for shooting pucks or practising soccer kicks, or for pitching horseshoes, bocce, lawn bowling, whatever. Most yards can accommodate all, or at least some of these features to some degree; downsizing is preferable to omitting. The more options available, the more enjoyment can be taken.
Finally, atmosphere and ambiance are vital to any outdoor living area; these elements can be created with a well designed garden and complimentary landscaping. The goal here is to set the mood for whatever activities occur, be they pool parties, dinner parties, afternoon barbecues or quiet family time. The greatest compliment is to have guests comment that they feel as if they are visiting a resort. Having a clear theme in mind when designing the landscape and garden is well advised. Some common themes include tropical paradise, desert oasis, north woods retreat, English country garden, Symmetrical Zen inspiration or an eclectic mix of garden features drawn from several themes. I prefer the tropical theme but with a few elements drawn from the others for effect. Medium sized trees and shrubs such as Japanese maples, tiger eye sumacs, magnolias, dogwoods and smoke bushes provide a very lush, multi-coloured backdrop for any setting; tall ornamental grasses can create an effective privacy screen and mimic a kind of bamboo forest look. The odd succulent adds a desert quality; yuccas, for example will grow anywhere. Honey suckle, trumpet vine, climbing roses, bougainvillea (in hotter climates) or simple ivy can be grown on a fence, or other garden feature such as a trellis, arbor or pagoda. If space permits, add a garden bench or swing along a pathway. Next, I am also a big fan of natural stone and rock. River rock makes an excellent border around the pool deck and patio and can be laid out to suggest a rock beach or dry river bed. A grotto appeal can be added by stacking quarry stone slabs to establish a variety of raised garden beds around the pool or patio. Larger rocks and boulders are always eye-catching additions. Whatever style is chosen, there are a few factors to keep in mind: the amount of space available (do not overcrowd the space – remember: less is more), the position and movement of the sun, average rainfall and ease of irrigation if necessary, and of course, the cost.
In conclusion, my definition of an outdoor living area is simply that – my definition. It reflects my personality and my taste. It fulfills the wants and needs of my family and how we want to spend our time out of doors. You may wish to set aside space to accommodate a fire pit area or an ice rink in the winter. Make your outdoor living area what you want it to be. I only hope my views have provided a starting point.