Designing Outdoor Spaces

Give clients exactly what they want with these nine tips.


Bringing the indoors out is key to creating an outdoor space that is convenient and comfortable.

Bringing the indoors out is key to creating an outdoor space that is convenient and comfortable.

Consumers are spending more time at home, and they want special, memorable spaces where they can entertain friends and family or simply escape for a quiet retreat. Outdoor spaces have become important selling features for a home, offering builders and designers a way to wow buyers and set their homes apart from the competition.

"The key to a great outdoor space is to understand its purpose, integrate it into the floor plan and add memorable features," says Dave Copenhaver, a partner with Dallas-based architecture firm BSB Design.

Copenhaver shares these tips for seamlessly integrating the outdoors into a home's design to make it "live larger" and sell:

1. Understand Your Buyer and the Budget

Whether your clients are baby boomers or from Generation Y, find out what they want out of their home, how their lifestyle will affect their use of the space and how much they're willing to spend.

For instance, an-empty nester may not need a huge yard or want to spend thousands on a fancy pool, but he may want a cozy, no-frills space to entertain a few close friends. Likewise, a younger client with disposable income may want to host larger, more extravagant parties in an outdoor kitchen and game area.

2. Designate the Space as Public or Private

If the space is public:

  • Build in "elbow room" — people like to stretch out in the outdoors.
  • Connect the outdoor space to the rest of the home. Consider sliding doors, designated walkways or other ways that encourage traffic in and out of the area.
  • Design for comfort so the outdoor space feels as good as the inside. Consider furniture, flooring, treatments and fabrics.

If the space is private:

  • Design to scale. Don't clutter a small space with lots of furniture.
  • Design for relaxation and rejuvenation.

3. Know the Purpose of the Space

Does your client want a place to entertain guests, enjoy family time or unwind after a long day?

Think about the activity that will happen there and design accordingly. Once your client decides what hey wants to do with the space, design and furnish it toward that purpose, maximizing the area's features in relation to the home. For instance, if there’s a nice view outside the master bedroom, you can design a small patio off the room as quiet space for enjoying a morning cup of coffee. Likewise, if you have a large backyard and love to host parties, an outdoor grilling center with a pool and lounge area may be more your style.

4. Consider Plan Zoning

It's not just about the backyard anymore. Many homes have multiple outdoor spaces, each with a distinct purpose. Many markets overlook side configurations, but there’s more opportunity to design these spaces. Front- and side-oriented outdoor spaces have become more popular, especially with homeowners whose backyards are sloped or have unattractive views. Internal courtyards are also an option for consumers who want an area for both entertaining and enjoying a private retreat. "Explore the best opportunity based on your landscape," Copenhaver says.

5. Choose Memorable Features

Features should fulfill the purpose of the space as well as make an impression. Add character with an outdoor fireplace, a stylish bar, a fountain, a TV area or even a pool table.

6. Choose Features That Stay Within Your Budget

It's easy to spend thousands of dollars remodeling a backyard or putting in an outdoor kitchen. Make sure you stick to the budget. Be creative — if you have only a 10-by-12-foot area, you might not be able to deck it out, but you can make it larger by adding flooring and a roof area and using a portable grill rather than a built-in one. You don't have to sacrifice style.

7. Choose Features With Seasonal Appeal

When adding features such as a pool, a TV area or a grilling center, consider factors like orientation to the south for better sunlight and views and whether it should be covered or open to protect against the elements. Screened-in spaces are also popular.

8. Choose Features That Tie Into an Activity

An outdoor kitchen or TV area encourages group activity and entertaining, while a chair or two in a meditation garden or private patio indicate intimacy and a private retreat. And don't forget about interior designers. The furniture, materials, treatments, flooring and fabrics they suggest play an important role in tying the outdoor space to the indoors and making it special.

9. Choose Features That Bring the Indoors Out

We hear a lot about bringing the outdoors in, but when you create a memorable outdoor space, it should be about bringing the indoors out. No one wants to be outdoors if it's uncomfortable, so design for your clients' convenience and comfort. Incorporate entryways that make it easy to go in and out of outdoor spaces seamlessly, and choose furniture, flooring, treatments, fabrics and decor that are stylish but durable.

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