Dividing Outdoor Areas by Function

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

Raised Patio Backyard

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser

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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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.

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