Residential design is not just about the house — the exterior style and curb appeal, the interior floor plan and layout — it is also about the context. Whether you are in a condo in the city or yours is the only house for miles, the context of your house is almost as important as the structure itself.
The connection between your house and its context is therefore an important one. Perhaps not as much during cold or rainy seasons, or periods of generally undesirable weather, but once the sky clears and the weather warms, it can be hard to contain yourself and your family within the boundaries of four walls.
Humans’ affinity toward nature and other living things, like plants, is known as biophilia. Abundant research and countless studies have revealed the many benefits of the visual access to — or better yet, physical experience of — nature. Views of nature are proven to boost positive feelings, reduce stress and even decrease recovery time for hospital patients. Whether your access to nature consists of an apartment balcony or acres of land, these benefits give all the more reason to maximize your outdoor living space.
Your outdoor living space thrives in warmer seasons. It expands the heart of your home to include the back yard, deck, patio, etc., where countless outdoor home activities ensue. In theory, the grill flares up for barbecues or the hammock swings lazily in the shade of a tree, the sunset is enjoyed over dinner on the deck or balcony. This is not always the case. In today’s hustle and bustle, making time to sit back and enjoy your outdoor living space is not often a priority. How many days of a year — or during the prime outdoor season — is this space left vacant or forgotten or a mere punishing suggestion after too much TV time? What makes a lifestyle so idealized underutilized?
There lies a universal truth in the home: Whether it is outdoor space inaccessible from your main living areas, or an expensive countertop appliance in the back of the cabinet on top of the refrigerator, or your once-pride-and-joy motorcycle tucked away in the corner of the garage, without convenient access to it, odds are it will not be enjoyed. The easier access you have to something — especially a luxury or relaxing lifestyle component — the more you will use it!
For apartments and single-family homes alike, the first step is to design the home’s interior for the home’s exterior. Connection to social, active spaces inside will naturally continue the party outside naturally. The more segregated the spaces feel (visually and physically), the more marooned and separate your social zoning will feel.
Sliding French doors, folding glass panel-walls, and buffet windows are fantastic transitions to maximize the visual connection from inside to outside and vice versa.
After the connection between the interior and exterior is clear, then comes the fun part — extending your home outward bound. Consider taking your inside rooms outdoors. Add a weather-resistant dining table set to enjoy meals outside. Or create cozy seating around a bonfire. You can even invest in a full outdoor kitchen. Move the grill over to make way for a brick pizza oven, outdoor sink and faucet (even full bar) and ample countertop prep space — let your imagination run wild.
With endless options that make it easy to get carried away, I recommend my clients think about the amount of space they have and the different specific activities they want to enjoy outdoors. This develops the overall program for the outdoor living area. Next, consider what kind of hierarchy is wanted for the program — or, for the different backyard “zones.”
For instance, if you do not care much for outdoor cooking but would love to enjoy a meal in your back yard, a large percentage of your immediate outdoor space (closest proximity to the house) should be dedicated to an outdoor dining area. The closer each “zone” is to the main house, the more social and active the outdoor space will be. So if you are seeking a quiet, intimate space for, say, a hammock or fire pit, this is a factor to take into consideration.
Even in climates where enjoying outdoor living space is not ideal year-round, embrace and plan ahead for the seasons you love to maximize your time outside.
Stephanie Brick is the owner of Stephanie Brick Design in Baltimore.