Building Your Dream
When Robert George, a local landscape and design specialist, meets with clients, he first determines their dream vision for the space. Then he works to relate those goals to the “architecture of the land and the home.” Consider the space your have to work within—it’s both your scene and your palate. Regardless of size, many of the same possibilities exist for any space, whether it’s an apartment patio or a tumbling backyard acre. And, given the elements in this area, it’s wise to consider working some shelter into your project. A more popular option in the South, screening- or glassing-in back porches provides protection from the weather and insects. Take the sun into account too, and make sure the space incorporates some shade.
As both Baker and George suggest, keep the architectural style of the house in mind, and design with complementary elements to maximize the feeling of flow and connection between the home and outdoor room. Case in point: When George designed and built a patio cover for clients living in a converted historic barn, he wanted to create a structure that would reflect the heritage of the property. So he constructed it out of hand-hewn beams, reclaimed from a 19th-century barn in Delaware County.
Take a Look Around
If you’re working with a blank slate—an unlandscaped backyard, for example— there are many ways to define the space. Railings, gates, and arbors can be designed with decorative metalwork. Steve Morris, of Steve Morris Designs, creates just such pieces, and says that the materials options are many. If you want the work to reflect the elements, steel is an ideal medium, since rust will give it a nice patina. Fences and low walls are always a possibility, and especially important for creating a sense of privacy, but keep them in scale with the rest of the project and the surroundings beyond. To create pathways to, from, and within your outdoor living space, Baker suggests placing steppingstones in the grass, or using cedar chips to create winding paths.
Plantings are an important part of any design, and obviously so for outdoor rooms. For ideas, turn an eye toward what’s already growing around your property. “The region of the Hudson Valley is your feature,” says George. He suggests planting with indigenous wild ferns, azaleas, burning bush, and mountain laurel. The benefits are threefold: using local flora translates into lower maintenance issues; you’ll have fewer deer-chewed leaves; and it will blur the indoor/outdoor line by bringing the outdoors closer to home. Gardening in raised beds is also an option, says George. Cultivating fresh flowers and herbs will mean you’ll have vibrant centerpieces and abundant seasonings throughout the growing season. Baker suggests using wheeled containers to create mobile gardens with maximum decorating flexibility.
Bringing the Inside Out
What else should you consider? Since you’ll want to enjoy your outdoor room well into the evening, choose lighting and floor treatments to maximize comfort. Lighting options range from indoor lamps to hurricane lamps, paper lanterns, candles, and torches. Rugs and floor coverings can either be weather-tough matting, plush chenille, or even wool. And since many people envision outdoor rooms as outdoor dining spaces, those outdoor grills, refrigerators, and sound systems can all make this the most popular room of the house.
Ultimately, the most important element to remember when creating an outdoor living space is to keep it low-maintenance. This space, says George, “should be absolutely a pleasure. It should not be a headache, and you should not have to hire someone to care for it.” This sentiment is echoed in Baker’s book: “Another of the best things about al fresco living rooms,” she says, “is that they don’t need cleaning.”
So as you consider that empty stretch of backyard or that unused patio this spring, think of how you might extend the warm and welcoming interior of your home to its exterior. Envision a place of escape and privacy, of connection and renewal; a place where you can commune with family and friends, and also with yourself. Create an outdoor room you’ll want to live in, this summer and beyond.