Better design the key for great outdoor spaces on any budget

A fireplace anchors one of the outdoor living spaces at the Ettel home, May 22, 2014.

There is nothing wrong with a backyard grill and a couple of Adirondack chairs. However, if you are at a point in your life where you want your outdoor spaces to feel more like your indoor spaces, consider our tips for better design regardless of budget.

First, decide on the extent of your transformation. Do you want a simple patio or deck, or is a series of outdoor rooms more to your liking? If the latter, yet your budget is tight, consider creating an overall design that can be installed in phases for a result with cohesive flow.

Regardless of the size of your project, consider how you want the outdoor spaces to function. Is it for dining, cooking, conversation, lounging, recreation? How will they connect to the indoors visually and physically? How will they connect to each other and relate to surrounding areas.

Outdoor spaces that aren’t easily accessible, regardless of how beautifully appointed, are not likely to get much use. So consider the inside-to-outside transitions from both the interior and exterior perspectives.

Zones can be established in a number of ways like shifts in hardscaping materials from, say, concrete pavers to brick, or defining boundaries through the placement of planters and plantings. Regardless, moving between zones should feel seamless.

Traffic patterns can be established in similar ways to create spaces that unfold into each other through simple openings or down more formal walkways. If the latter, a curve to help create a sense of discovery is nice.

Always consider the “borrowed landscape” or what lies beyond the areas you are developing, taking advantage of attractive features and views and minimizing or camouflaging those that aren’t, like your neighbor’s shed.

With your plan mapped out, next consider focal points for each area, including sources of fire and water. A full-size fireplace will draw people to it outdoors just as it will indoors, or perhaps more so. But so will a more flexible and affordable fire pit if your space or budget is restrictive. Just be sure to consult building codes in relation to fire safety. Water features, whether an extensive pond or a tabletop fountain, provide both beauty and soothing sounds. Other focal points might include a specimen tree, a garden wall or trellis, or a piece of sculpture.

Provide a variety of seating options for people of all ages: low, high, stationary, portable, rigid and upholstered. Maybe even a swing or hammock. But coordinate colors, styles, and materials and limit the number to avoid a cluttered look. For upholstered furniture, invest in fabrics that can take a beating from the sun and that dry quickly. Overhead, consider some protection from the sun in the form of pergolas, umbrellas or awnings.

And lastly, have some fun decorating your spaces to engage all of the senses and create visual interest in support of your focal points. Be thoughtful in your selection of shapes, colors, and textures in both manmade and natural materials: accent tables, candles and outdoor-rated lighting, throw pillows, rugs, planters, decorative objects, rocks, and plant materials, including some with scents.

Whether your outdoor areas have a kicked-back Parrothead vibe, country-cottage charm, or sleek South Beach sophistication each should be a function of your personal style combined with the style of your home. Outdoor spaces can offer surprise elements perhaps not found inside your home, but generally a few repeated elements, colors, or motifs ensure a more satisfying and harmonious look and feel between indoors and out.

If an outdoor kitchen is in your budget, be sure to read next month’s column. The considerations are many – materials, location, appliances, storage, work surfaces, and ambiance – and we will get you cookin’ outdoors in comfort, safety, and style.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

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