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Divide and Conquer: Creating Outdoor Living Spaces

By David Beaulieu, About.com

Why stay cooped up inside when you can extend the livable portion of your property by creating outdoor living spaces? It certainly isn’t difficult to build outdoor living spaces. But it does take an appreciation for the “divide and conquer” approach.

We take it for granted that our houses are divided into rooms, but the concept of having similar “outdoor living spaces” may sound odd, at first. Indeed, the biggest obstacle standing in most people’s way is that it just doesn’t occur to them to divide up a yard so as to maximize their enjoyment of it. Not consciously, at least. Yet the more conscious we become of outdoor living spaces, the more we can tailor them to suit our needs.

Outdoor Living Spaces: Design Considerations

Part of the beauty behind the concept of separate “rooms” in a house is that each unit is unique unto itself. Consequently, you can install a component in the kitchen that looks great there, without worrying that it would look out of place if viewed from the bedroom. The same is true for outdoor living spaces.

Having separate outdoor living spaces allows you to create mini-landscape designs (each somewhat different from the rest) for each of them. Not that you shouldn’t still strive for unity across your landscape design, as a whole. But the more successful you are in physically separating one outdoor living space from another, the more flexibility you have to diversify without creating a hodgepodge.

For instance, you may wish to include a storage bin for towels in the pool area. Such an element would be functional and would look fine there. But the problem is, you might not wish to view it from another part of the yard dedicated, say, to meditating in naturalistic surroundings. The answer: screen off the pool area with a tall hedge or fence, effectively creating a “room” separate from the rest of the yard.

Outdoor Living Spaces: Setting the Mood With Color

Just as you can paint or wallpaper an indoor room using a color scheme unique to that room, so you can use color to make individualized statements for each of your outdoor living spaces. But here, instead of paint or wallpaper, you determine your color scheme when you select the plants you’ll be using for the area.

Proper application of color theory in landscape design can even influence mood and perception. For instance, the flower colors to employ for a relaxing nook intended for meditation would be different from the colors used for play areas. You can also make small spaces seem larger (and vice versa) depending on the colors you use. I discuss these ideas further in my article on applying color theory to landscape design.

Outdoor Living Spaces: The “Building Blocks”

Think of the structural components of outdoor living spaces in terms of their counterparts in indoor rooms: floor, walls and ceiling. Only for outdoor living spaces, the term, “structural” is used metaphorically. So much the better for you, as the “builder,” since it means there’s a lot less to worry about. Taking out a “wall” because you don’t like your initial choice won’t cause the “ceiling” to come crashing down on your head!

Furthermore, think of the materials you need to assemble the floor, wall or ceiling of an outdoor living space as the “building blocks.” Here are some examples:

    For “floors”:

  • Grass
  • An alternative ground cover, such as clover
  • Mulch
  • Patios
  • Decks
    For “walls”:

  • Formal hedges
  • Lattice screens
  • Fences
  • Informal hedges
    For “ceilings”:

  • Arbors and pergolas
  • The canopies of shade trees
  • Decorative canvas canopies
  • awnings
  • lawn umbrellas

You have a lot of leeway in your use of these building blocks. For example, the building blocks for a “wall” (hedges, fences, etc.) are interchangeable parts that you can mix and match with, depending on your needs, budget and personality. Hedges may form two of your four walls, fencing the other two. If complete screening isn’t required, you can also define outdoor living spaces with lower vertical elements that may be more attractive/functional. For instance, raised beds, container gardens and furniture. Creating outdoor living spaces isn’t a one-size-fits-all project.

A “ceiling” is optional for many outdoor living spaces, although it does create an added sense of enclosure that you may crave. Ceilings are necessary only for areas where staying dry/cool is a must.

By default, all projected outdoor living spaces already have “floors.” The only question will be, “Does the current floor do the best job of meeting my needs?” For example, maintenance is always a consideration, and you may decide, upon further reflection, that a grassy area you’ve been treading upon for years isn’t worth the upkeep (mowing).

Outdoor Living Spaces: Function

Many of your questions regarding which “building blocks” to use in assembling your outdoor living spaces will be answered if you determine the true function of the “room” in question.