Dividing Outdoor Areas by Function

When planning your landscaping project, define how you will use the space
Raised Patio Backyard

Raised Patio Backyard

When designing outdoor areas as part of your landscaping plan, the goal is to create an intimate space, or series of spaces, that are distinct yet unified, whether you have a sprawling suburban yard or a petite townhouse patio.

After you prioritize your wants and needs, it's time to organize and define a floor plan that maps out various public and private areas, and connect them in a logical way. The size and shape of each room depends on their location, function and attributes of your landscape.

The design principles of an outdoor room are similar to those for a room in your house. In terms of spatial composition, think about where the door is, what you are walking on, what's on the walls. And what do you envision doing there—socializing with friends and family, romping with the dog, splashing in a pool, digging in the garden? Or, is the goal simply to create low-maintenance eye candy or a landscape that looks charming and inviting or, at least, does not detract from your house?

Start by spatially dividing your outdoor area into separate uses and deciding whether a specific space is for public versus private use.

Functional Outdoor Spaces

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Outdoor Fire Pit

Fire pits and seating areas are popular features to incorporate into an outdoor living space, providing the perfect spot to hang out with friends and family. Design by Jane Ellison

From: Jane Ellison

Outdoor Dining Areas

Outdoor eating areas are great for entertaining guests, especially during the summer grilling season. This inviting dining area is only a few steps from the kitchen, making it the perfect place to serve brunch on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Design by Jane Ellison

From: Jane Ellison

Photo By: Stuart Lirette

Secret Garden

To create an interesting garden, don't give it all away at first glance. Create spaces that aren't visible at first, and build a winding footpath that leads to a hidden alcove. In this garden a herringbone pathway leads to a dining area, garden table and lush plantings -- a perfect place to eat dinner or read a book. Design by Jamie Durie

Photo By: Jamie Rector

Play Areas

Make room for your pets or children to run around and play. These areas should have at least partial shade and a soft floor, such as recycled rubber or mulch. This yard, designed by Robert Hursthouse, provides a large grassy area and features a child-sized house where imaginations can thrive.

Shed and Work Areas

Every yard needs a discrete but accessible spot to store garbage bins, gardening equipment and landscaping materials. A locking shed offers protection, while a lattice corral or two easily hides a compost bin, trash cans or bags of mulch. In this yard, designer Virginia Rockwell used bamboo panels to camouflage the storage area.

Outdoor Kitchens

An outdoor kitchen should be made of weather-resistant materials like concrete, stone and stainless steel and should include amenities such as a refrigerator, a wine cooler, a sink, gas-fired burners or a charcoal grill. Made from cottage stone, this outdoor kitchen is simple and beautiful. Design by Sierra Hart

Swimming Pools

Aquatic areas should be fenced in with a self-closing, self-latching gate, especially if children are around. This pool has an unobtrusive guard along the side that prevents little ones from falling in. Design by Scott Cohen

Public vs. Private Spaces

The front yard can be a place for you to greet neighbors and for your kids to play with friends. Or it can be a neutral zone with little activity. Either way the front yard should make a good first impression and reflect the look and feel of the rest of the property. Photo courtesy of Rate My Remodel user On_the_east_twin

Public Spaces. Depending on where you live and your lifestyle, the front yard can be a busy place where kids play and people wave to neighbors from their front porch, or they can be neutral buffer zones with little activity except the daily mail delivery as the occupants spend most of their time in the house or back yard. Either way, they create a first impression and should reflect the look and feel of the rest of the property.

Outdoor Kitchen. An outdoor kitchen should be sited so that diners are seated upwind from smoke and fumes, which you also don't want wafting toward the house. Go for weather-resistant materials like concrete, stone, solid surface and stainless steel for counters. Such amenities as a refrigerator, wine cooler, sink and gas-fired burners require electrical, gas and water hook-ups. A propane or charcoal grill is simpler to maintain. Cooking and prep areas benefit from task lighting.

Living and Dining Areas. Fire pits and fireplaces, outdoor eating areas, grills and seating are all top-rated outdoor living features, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects. Built-in wall benches can be used for seating or garden pots and are the ultimate weather-proof furniture. Just be sure to stow the cushions, even if they are in weather-proof fabric. If you opt to bring your technology outdoors, wireless Internet and stereo speakers are less hassle and maintenance than hard-wired systems.

Recreation Areas. If you have pets or children, make room for them to run around and play. These areas should be fenced to prevent unauthorized roaming and have at least partial shade. Play structures require a soft floor such as recycled rubber surfacing material or shredded bark mulch. Aquatic areas need to be enclosed with a fence that has a self-closing, self-latching gate.

Nooks. "Hide and reveal" is an important concept in planning an interesting garden, says Pete Marsh, a landscape designer with Buck & Sons in Columbus, Ohio. "You want to create spaces where you can't see everything all at once, you're forced to travel through the garden landscape in order to experience different spaces." A winding foot path might lead to an alcove hidden among bushes, where a perfect garden bench awaits. Even if rarely used, such private spaces are often garden favorites.

Service and Work Areas. Just as every house needs a slop closet tucked away, every yard needs a discreet but accessible spot to store garbage bins, gardening equipment and landscaping materials. If the garage isn't an option, a locking shed offers protection from the elements and thieves. A lattice corral or two easily hides a compost bin, trash cans or bags of mulch. Well-placed shrubs further camouflage these mundane storage areas.

Next Up

Hardscapes: Landscaping's Bones

Get tips for creating the walls, paths, decks and other hard surfaces in your outdoor space

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