outdoor living

How to Create the Ultimate Outdoor Living Space

For our eleventh Blog-Off, we asked our experts how homeowners can create the ultimate outdoor living space. From furnishing and materials to environmental concerns and cost, our experts gave us the insider secrets for creating the best outdoor living space on the block.

Need inspiration? Our design experts created visual renderings exclusively for eLocal readers. Let the backyard festivities begin…

Aesthetic Considerations

Add Stone: Incorporating stone (such as through a bench, fountain, or walkway) into your outdoor space is both architecturally interesting and durable.

Keep the Design Consistent: Make sure the area complements your home’s design. Some homeowners consider their outdoor living space as a blank canvas, but it maximizes resale value to have outdoor areas that are cohesive with the rest of your property’s aesthetic, creating a natural flow between the inside and out of your home.

Protect Your Deck: Make sure to stain and reseal your deck as directed by the manufacturer. This is very important for both the look and deck life.

Add Accessories: Don’t forget accessories to add warmth and personality. Some ideas include throw pillows, lanterns, candles, chimes, flowerpots, artwork, and table centerpieces. Try playing with different textures and materials to add depth and character. Consider supporting local designers through sites like Etsy to find one-of-a-kind pieces for your space.

Keep It Clean: Just as you vacuum your home and dust, it is important to make sure your space is free of debris, whether it be leaves, pollen, clutter, or weeds.



Environmental Considerations

Eco Lighting: Add outdoor lighting to ensure you can use the space at all hours. Try LED lights. Not only are they energy efficient, but they also don’t attract bugs. If you want to be even more energy efficient, consider solar-powered outdoor lighting options.

Add Low Maintenance Vegetation: Plants and vegetation are a must for any outdoor living space. Always consider maintenance and upkeep factors. Want to be sustainable? Try xeriscaping, the process of using long, lasting, drought-resistant plants in order to minimize the use of water.

Use Salvaged Materials: Using salvaged materials in your space can be both attractive and eco-friendly. Try it on elements like patios, decks, furniture, and fencing.

Compost, Reuse, Recycle: For the frequent entertainer, don’t forget to consider what type of serving plates and utensils you are using for your parties. Make sure to use compostable, recyclable, or reusable wares in order to minimize waste.

“Serene, tranquil, relaxing—three words to describe my ideal outdoor space. After being cooped up inside all winter, I cannot wait for summer to arrive. My ideal outdoor space includes creating multi-use areas to relax, cook, and dine, while enjoying good food and great conversation. As an interior designer, I often like to start with a neutral base palette and add layers of dramatic, eye-popping elements. Pillows, lanterns, pots, and other accessories in fun colors like orange, green, and blue are a way to add that element of surprise and the unexpected.”

- Jenna Burger, SAS Interiors

Furnishing Considerations

Make Room for Guests: Make sure you provide ample and comfortable seating areas, preferably ones at different heights and in separate clusters.

Research Before You Buy: Make sure you are using the best materials for your furniture, depending on your climate. Cushions can often retain water and remain wet or harbor mold. Make sure any metal is power-coated to eliminate rust. Look into UV resistant fabrics, as excessive exposure to UV light can cause fading.

Provide Ample Storage: Another important consideration is where you plan to store items during the off-season. Be sure to purchase covers for your furnishing and cooking elements, especially if you live in a rainy climate or they are used infrequently. Ensure storage is resistant to animal or pest intrusion.

Turn Up the Volume: For the ultimate entertainment space, consider outdoor speakers that can be used to play music or be hooked up to an outdoor screen for the whole party to enjoy movies.

Keep It Warm: Add an outdoor fireplace or fire pit, especially if you live in an area with a short summer. This will allow you to extend the season. For areas where it’s not feasible, a firebox that uses a clean-burning fuel, such as ethanol, can be a smart, sleek alternative. Portable outdoor fireplaces can be used for gardens, courtyards, terraces, patios, and pool decks.

Allow for Ample Electricity: Add more electrical outlets than you think you need; you’ll probably find you need them later.

Monetary Considerations

Budget for Ongoing Maintenance: Don’t forget to factor ongoing maintenance into your budget. Outdoor living spaces can require just as much upkeep and maintenance as your indoor space. Yearning for a garden oasis? Make sure you factor in how much time and money will need to go into making sure that oasis stays lush.

Work With What You Have: Balance your goals with what already exists in the space. To minimize costs and be as sustainable as possible, keep as many elements as you can, such as utilizing natural lighting, native plants, and yard layout.

Keep It High-Quality: Concentrate your resources and invest in good materials and design. It is better to have a small backyard space well done, than a big yard full of shoddy materials and poor workmanship.

“My vision was to demonstrate that the ultimate outdoor living space can be achieved anywhere by anyone, regardless of yard size or geographic location. As such, I limited the scope to a 12′ x 16′ space. To stress the point, I’ve shown an urban condo terrace in the concept image, however, the design would work just as well as a ground level patio located in a larger landscaped yard.

I chose an eclectic design style that juxtaposes natural elements, including various types of wood and stone, with fresh, bold colors like lime green, citron yellow and azure blue. The space incorporates cooking, dining and lounging areas by means of an outdoor kitchen module, a bistro table that can be moved about the space for seating flexibility, and a sofa bench and coffee table lounge area. A weather-resistant outdoor rug helps to define the lounge area. Accessories include a portable table-top fireplace that uses clean-burning bio-fuel as well as candles placed on the bistro table. Potted plants, including herbs, vegetables and plants native to the region, add to the greenery of the space.

Along the edge of the house I’ve extended the overhead soffit several feet into the outdoor space to provide some shading and weather protection and a location for overhead LED lights and recessed outdoor ceiling speakers, which can be connected to a sound system in the adjacent indoor space. ”

- Katie Miller, Roomations LLC

Functionality Considerations

Invest In the Appropriate Materials: It’s important to take into account the climate of your area—for example, if you live in a coastal town, be careful to buy furnishings that can stand up to the salty air.

Design Multi-Purpose Spaces: Every party and situation will be different, so creating a space that allows for different arrangements of furniture in order to accommodate different situations is important.

Maximize Comfort: Live in an area swarming with bugs? Invest in bug-repellant lights or lanterns. Live in extremely warm temperatures? Ensure there is ample shading and consider add-on features like fans (which can also help with bugs) and misters.

Pay Attention to Flow: If you plan to do a lot of cooking in your outdoor area, keep in mind that the closer it is to your kitchen, the easier it will be to run in and grab utensils and other items you might need.

Use Existing Plumbing/Electrical Lines: When it comes to plumbing and electrical considerations, try to connect to existing lines wherever possible. Connecting your grill to a permanent fuel line is better than relying on propane tanks; it is both safer and more convenient.

Prepare for Cooler Temperatures: Remember to use heat tape on your water lines if you live in cooler temperatures.

Keep the Flow Consistent: If possible, consider keeping your outdoor entertainment space on the same level as your home. This creates a functional and spa-like flow, allowing guests to out of your home and directly into a backyard oasis.

Ready for Our Interpretation?

Here is an example of the ultimate outdoor living space according to the eLocal design team.

1. A set of outdoor speakers can be used alone or as part of a larger entertainment system. They are sheltered from the weather by a large plant stand.
2. A small fountain in the background lends some polish to the rest of the yard, adding atmosphere to the space as a whole.
3. The herb planters are an easy way to add to the beauty and functionality of the space.
4. Hanging LED lights, outdoor candles, and lanterns add a sense of festivity and light up the more remote corners of the space.
5. All the furniture is both sturdy and mobile in order to maximize its usefulness and longevity.
6. A grill placed next to the house allows for proper connection to a permanent fuel line and gives the owners easy access to the kitchen items they may need when cooking.
7. A large fireplace provides a visual and social focal point and keeps the space cozy after dark and into colder seasons.
8. A durable outdoor rug adds a pop of color and pattern to the mostly natural elements of the furnishings. Along with the pillows and other small accessories, it can be easily switched out to suit the season.