Considering a garden as an outdoor room is nothing new to garden designers. The concept is just now making its way into the public consciousness. But just what are outdoor living rooms? Are they places where you try to recreate your indoor living room outdoors? No, not exactly.
Are they places like your deck, patio or terrace where you just plop down a set of furniture and hope that you’ll feel like spending time out there? No, that won’t do either. An outdoor living room is a space outside of your house, built with materials suitable to the outdoors, where you will actually want to spend time! It’s also a state of mind, the idea of living life outdoors.
First let’s discuss: What is a room? Basically it’s an enclosed space. There are walls, a ceiling and a floor, some windows and a few doors. Even if your house has an open floor plan where you have one or two large interconnected rooms, rather than a series of smaller rooms, there are areas within those large rooms that are partially enclosed, not with walls, but with elements like decorative screens, potted plants, or bookshelves. This sense of being enclosed, thus protected, is what makes a room comfortable to be in. There are other things that bring a feeling of comfort but they are secondary to this primary sense of enclosure.
Now for your frame of mind: stop separating the outside of your house from the inside of your house, try to think of your property as all one place. Look at your outdoor space, look at your yard and take inventory of what you have naturally in that space. What has mother nature already provided for you? Hopefully you have some kind of natural elements that can be the focal point of your new outdoor living room such as a large tree, a hedgerow, a nice slope, or a beautiful view. In urban locations, your yard could be a barren rectangle, with nothing in it but some dirt and weeds, but there may be other qualities you could start with, such as a lovely angle of morning sun, maybe a nice brick wall on one side creating a microclimate, or even an interesting urban view of some kind.
Spend some time out there and identify just what are feels the best to you. Bring a chair outside and just sit in it in different spots until you get a feeling of being in the right spot. Then you must ask yourself, can this spot be turned into an outdoor living room? How will you connect it to visually to your house? Are there interior elements of your home that you can repeat outside? How will you connect your new outdoor living room physically to your house? How will get there from inside your house? There must be an easy way to go from inside to outside and back inside. I can’t stress this aspect of the design enough so. Smooth transition between inside and out is how you start feeling like your outdoor living room is really just another room of your house; an extension of your home.
Once you have decided on where to site your new outdoor living room, and those with those tiny yards may not have a choice, you can work on how to create the “walls”, “floor”, and even a “ceiling”. Your project has now become landscape design! You may need the advice of a garden designer at this point, or some great books on the subject to understand the materials that are used in building landscapes and how to use them to create enclosure, privacy and beauty.
Once you have supplied the “floor;” normally a wooden deck or a stone, brick or even concrete patio or terrace, and some “walls;” typically a formal hedge, loose hedgerow, wall, or fence, and maybe a “ceiling”; a sloping roof or retractable awning or parasol attached to the house, you can go crazy furnishing your new outdoor living room. Consider some sort of heating element such as a wood burning or gas fireplace, fire pit, chimney, or portable patio heater to enable to use your new “room” all year round.
Furnishings like benches and tabletops can be made out of say, cast concrete for a real permanent feel, or obtained from a myriad of sources. Manufacturers are offering many new choices for furniture and lighting designed specifically for the outdoors as well as much better selections than ever for tough but nice fabrics for outdoor furniture, cushions, pillows, rugs and shades. Almost anything you can dream up as a way of making your outdoor living room more comfortable is now available for purchase online and off.