EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CREATING AN OUTDOOR LIVING SPACE
For those of us who value time spent outside, the design of your outdoor living space is just as important as the interior of your home. Keep in mind too, that creating a relaxing and comfortable outdoor area can increase the overall appeal and can greatly increase the value of your home, and provide an oasis for entertaining when friends and family come to gather. From porches and patios to verandas and terraces, there are a multitude of descriptive terms, but really, it’s all the same. Regardless of what you call your outdoor living space, when it comes to decor, many options exist for making your space both beautiful and functional.
Before we dive into the details, here are a few questions to consider:
Who will be using the space?
Do you envision this space filled with family and friends? Is everyone older or are there little ones or teens to consider? Will it be used by a small group of close relatives? Or is it really just for personal use? If the former resonates most with you, you’ll want to consider designing a space that will support multiple functions. If it’s just you however, your options are much more open, and you can essentially create anything you can dream up. Just remember, your geographic location will help determine use of space. City dwellings typically only have one outdoor space and it’s generally on the smaller side, while in the suburbs, you are more than likely dealing with much more space and potentially more than one area.
How will you be using the space?
Is this simply for lounging and casual gatherings? Does it need to be set up for dining, grilling and sitting around a fire pit? Is this pool-side or a separate screened in area? Do you imagine watching TV in this space? Spend some time thinking through the activities the space will support, and then consider everything it will take to make that happen.
Now that those two questions are answered, let’s discuss options for furnishings. Here, we’ve identified our top 10 considerations when designing an outdoor space.
Get an idea of the architecture of your surrounds and determine what you like! You can get some ideas on Pinterest and other inspiration apps but do spend plenty of time reviewing your options. From coloration, to paint, to stain and anything else going on, looking through pictures will help you narrow down the general style you want to pursue.
The level of durability and type of materials you need will largely depend on what part of the country, and climate, you live in. For example, if you’re in a sunbaked area and keep your furnishings out all year round, your selections will be different from those who live in areas with extreme winter weather. In a sunny place, a natural wood finish will bleach out quickly and require annual maintenance. In this case, aluminum, resin and stone or composites would be good materials to consider, but don’t forget to consider the temperature of goods that absorb heat from sunlight. In four season areas, rain, sun, cold temps and snow all will affect materials differently and you’ll want to enlist your designer to help customize furnishings that would work best in your space and climate, depending on whether items will live outdoors year round, or be taken indoors in winter seasons. Be sure to plan well for the care and maintenance of your outdoor furnishings. A good rule of thumb is to have professionals come out once a year, no matter the materials. Talk to your designer or a showroom manager where you purchased the items for a list of resources you can utilize for the annual care and maintenance needs of your furnishings.
If you live in an area with harsh climate changes, you may need to store your items during the off-season. If so, consider the proximity of your storage facility in relation to your outdoor space. You want to make sure your furniture is easily transportable, so it may behoove you to go with a lighter weight material, and even chairs that are stackable and/or foldable. For heavier items, vendors often also sell options that allow pieces to have wheels to assist transport. This is a relatively small upgrade investment that will pay dividends down the road.
If your outdoor living space isn’t covered, or maybe only partially covered, your furnishings will have exposure to the elements, and you’ll want to think about how your items will be protected. Furniture vendors often sell covers that are sized and shaped to fit your furniture well. Look for zippers that are sealed and covered, for covers that close completely so critters are not invited in for “the season”, and for seams that are double stitched and waterproofed for long-term durability.
The overall weight and portability of your items is certainly more important for many of you. In windy areas such as city balconies, rooftop terraces, places open to an ocean or in geographical areas prone to extremely windy storms, heavier weight goods, cast iron or heavier wood pieces for example, are solid contenders. If you’ll be carrying items around or want pieces that can shift easily to accommodate a multifunctional space, lighter-weight materials will be a welcome choice.
There is something out there for everyone. If you are looking for some customizable pieces, they will be on the higher end of the cost spectrum but are absolutely available. You can find inexpensive pieces, but they will be a completely different level of quality, (even when they look the same) so keep that in mind. One of the primary differences between lower/mid-end, catalog furniture, and higher-end/custom furnishings, is the quality of materials used in the finishing process and thus, the longevity of the piece. Manufacturers creating custom pieces often have multiple rounds in their finishing processes as opposed to one single finishing shot on an assembly line, as is the case with less-expensive pieces. “Teak” and “teak” are not the same at different price points! The level of sanding on wood pieces, hardware used and the methods of construction are not the same at various price points.
That said, furnishing gems can be found at all price points.
The point is to recognize there will be differences. Dimensional customization, color or material customization, is only available in the high-end. Ceramic and resin pieces have fewer differences at different price points. Suffice it to say, if you want an outdoor living space that will last and grow with you and your family, there are many options available. If you just need a shorter term solution, a different product level is completely appropriate. Armed with this information, you’ll want to work with your designer to discern which options suit you and your needs best.
I often ask clients to recall a treasured vacation memory and then describe where they were, what type of lounge chair were they using? Did it have a thick cushion or a sling style seat material, was it a chair and ottoman, a chaise or a daybed? Comfort is all about how you are using the space.
All my clients get a bit wistful when we start designing their outdoor spaces. I think it’s one of the last spots where we all most easily imagine being truly relaxed. Everyone’s posture changes in these meetings, their faces relax and sunny warm days come to mind.
If you are really living outdoors, you will want to approach the selection of furnishings with the same amount of seriousness that you use for your interior furnishings. This includes everything from the size of the chair, the feel and materials of the cushions, the height of the back, and everything in between. As you begin to plan for your outdoor space, I encourage you to go out and try different things. Sit, lie down, and put your feet up- that’s what showrooms are for! Go to the showrooms with your designer and determine what you like best. Dream big and go for it. You deserve it.
Shading and Privacy
Shading solutions come in a million different shapes, sizes and colors and can also be completely customized. When it comes to umbrellas, wind is the biggest factor to consider. If you are on a raised porch/rooftop, umbrellas or awnings need to be a collapsible structures. If you are near an ocean, there are bases for shades and umbrellas that can withstand high winds, made from materials that can withstand salty air. If you’d like fencing, a cabana or pergola or more-permanent shading/privacy solution, be sure any fabrics you use are solution-dyed acrylic, any structural materials can work in year-round weather situations, and most importantly be sure the structure is approved with local building departments or HOA committees. Secondly, consider the amount of light you want to come through the material. You can find materials that block all sunlight, as well as translucent and perforated materials, or sheer fabrics that block a minimum amount of sunlight. This is based on your personal preference and use. These are all expensive items, but budgeting for them is absolutely necessary.
We always incorporate a landscape designer and often the architect to handle outdoor plantings, planting structures, and irrigation for our clients. However, we do often spearhead the selection of free- standing planters and work hand in hand with our partners to develop landscape plans that will really work. Depending on the level of landscaping you require, you will absolutely want to schedule regular maintenance and regular perennial plantings to ensure proper care of your exterior, and season-long beauty.
After creating the furnishings plans, we go through and highlight all of the areas that require lighting solutions and will specify both decorative lighting and fans in covered porches, on exterior walls and even lighting and heat lamps that are portable. We’ll work directly with your architect, lighting designer and landscape architect to ensure your base layer of architectural lighting fits the functional, stylistic needs, and that their selections work cohesively with our more decorative lighting solutions. Your full team, no matter the size of the team, needs to be fully involved to ensure all is dealt with efficiently.
Always remember to check with local building codes and HOA rules before purchasing anything, to ensure all you want to do will be within local rules. Assemble the right team whether that’s you and your designer, or you and a team of professionals working together. Give time to get the project done right- custom furnishings and lead-times vary greatly in production time- give yourself months to order items, and a solid few weeks or a couple months to plan prior to purchasing.
Lastly, dream big. Being outdoors naturally forces us to slow down, look around, appreciate nature, hear the sounds around us, and let the rest of our busy lives diminish for a time. Our outdoor spaces can truly nurture and take care of our hearts, minds and souls. Do let the outside, in.