7 Tips for Designing an Outdoor Room

Create an amazing outdoor escape by starting with these ideas from a landscape designer.

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Well-planned Patio

Well-planned Patio

Expanding the size of the patio can allow you to fit in different types of seating and planters to bring the flowers to you and your guests.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Edward Andrews Homes

Photo courtesy of Edward Andrews Homes

Expanding the size of the patio can allow you to fit in different types of seating and planters to bring the flowers to you and your guests.

Outdoor rooms continue to be in demand and serve as incredible places to relax and spend time with friends and family. Even homes are designed so that doors can be opened to blur the lines between indoors and out.

An outdoor room can be one way to distinguish your home from others, from the size of the patio or porch to the lighting, furniture and plants. But sometimes it’s tough to know how and where to start.

“Outdoor living is all about creating a space you want to be in,” says Jan Johnsen, owner of Johnsen Landscapes & Pools in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. 

Johnsen, author of “Heaven is a Garden - Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection,” shared tips for designing an outdoor room to give yourself extra space and to turn your vision into reality.  

Rethink Layout Assumptions

Some people look at their empty backyard and assume it has to be bordered with greenery on the edges, Johnsen says. It's the same mistake people make indoors by placing their furniture against walls. Instead, realize that greenery and flowers don't have to be relegated to the edge of the property, but can be in the middle or in different sections. How you position plants, landscape beds and other garden elements will effect how and where seating and an outdoor kitchen will be placed. 

“The outdoor living space is part of the garden. The plants should partially surround your patio. Don’t plop the patio down and put the plants somewhere else. It should be a seamless,” she says.

Find a Cozy Corner

When you are laying out an outdoor room, protect your back with a hedge, wall, flower bed or tree, and face out to give yourself a view. Johnsen refers to this concept as the “lure of the sheltered corner.” 

Give Yourself Some Space

Remember that you need room to move around your seating and tables. Johnsen suggests that if you have a 4-foot round table with four chairs, you need at least 12 feet by 12 feet for the patio space. Although some homes, condos and townhomes have more limitations on space, that may mean you go with smaller chairs, or go with fewer chairs or a bench. 

“People lay out their patio and then bring in the furniture and find they brought too much furniture for the space,” she says.

Remember the Lighting

Most people use outdoor spaces after the workday, where they take a moment as the sun is setting, or in the evening to enjoy a drink or listen to the sounds of nature. Outdoor lighting can extend your time outdoors. Don’t  rely on security lights on the house, which may not create the romantic or relaxing ambiance you desire, Johnsen says. Instead, consider these:

  • Add low-voltage lighting, such as recessed in retaining walls or as path lights.
  • Use LED options, which have expanded and include unusual LED choices, such as lit glass balusters for a porch or deck.
  • Place path lights around seating areas to add a pool of light at ground level.
  • Bring in outdoor floor or table lamps (make sure you have weatherproof outlets, if a plug is required).
  • Install sconces and ceiling fans on pillars, columns and ceilings.
  • String lights by entwining them on a pergola roof or between trees, or hang them from ceiling fans. And unlike holiday lights, they can stay up year-round.

Shield the Sun

Don’t make yourself or your guests squint. Place furniture in a direction that keeps the sun out of everybody's eyes. 

Welcome a Water Element

Pools and waterfalls are major items, but if you have a smaller space or budget, you can still add water. A small re-circulating fountain (this could even be a DIY project) can be placed in the middle of an outdoor room or in one corner.

Leave Room for Plants

Don’t forget one of the best reasons to spend time outside: flowers and plants. Add a big planter or two for your patio, where you can display seasonal planters and add color and dimension to an entertaining area.

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