MCA-Outdoor Spaces that Extend Your Living Areas: Part 2-1

After thinking through function, locale, materials, weather and everything we discussed last time, it’s time to move on to the really fun stuff. For me, the next phase is the icing on the cake.

1. Lighting. Lighting can be the key to having your outdoor space perform in all the ways you were imagining. Plan the lighting early, before your hardscape is complete, so it’s easy to run electric or gas lines under it. If you wait too long, there are still a lot of decorative options for votives and lanterns with candles. One great option that I love is quality outdoor string lights, like these from Barn Light Electric. The bulbs are the most expensive part, so I’d suggest buying the string sans bulbs, which you can then buy cheaper at

2. Fans. Depending on where you live, fans can be a great solution for cooling. They reduce the effects of high humidity, and keep bugs away. Again, early planning lets you take advantage of this low cost, high impact tool.

3. Heat. If it’s necessary to heat your outdoor living space, plan for it early. There are a variety of ways to heat your space. Radiant heat integrated into the flooring is one possibility. When I was visiting a friend in San Diego, she announced, “Come on! Let’s all go out to the terrace and watch the sunset. I turned on the floor!” Coming from Chicago, I thought, “What?” Then, I walked out to the terrace and while the air was chilly, it was very comfortable sitting on the terrace with our feet toasty warm against the natural stone flooring. Portable propane powered heaters are option. So are infrared lamps mounted high or under a roof. Infrared has pros and cons. On the pro side, they don’t heat the air, they heat you. But, they’re directional, so you need more of them for large spaces.

4. Place or Pit? Deciding which option is better for you depends on a couple things. Fireplaces are a great option if you are trying to create privacy, define a specific space, or obstruct a view. Fireplaces can also be a beautiful focal point and add architectural interest. On the other hand, fire pits are a great option if you’re trying to expand your space. Pits allow more people to enjoy the fire because you can sit all the way around it. Pits also get conversations flowing more easily as they don’t obstruct people’s views of each other.

5. Furniture. There are incredible options available for fully furnishing your outdoor space at all price points and styles. Generally, the options include teak, wrought iron, cast aluminum, extruded aluminum, molded plastic, composite materials that look like wood, and woven all-weather materials. Each style is usually available with cushions for added comfort. Since the introduction of Sunbrella, the selection of fabrics in both solids and patterns are virtually unlimited. There are even indoor/outdoor area rugs so beautiful you wouldn’t think twice about using them in or out. When choosing your furniture, keep livability in mind. Keep thinking about how you’ll use the patio: for dining outside, for lounging around a fire with a good book, for relaxing in the sun. Are there views to enjoy from certain angles? Is there an adjacent area for sports or games? These will all influence your choice and placement.

6. Technology. Music, Wi-Fi, and television are all options to be considered depending on how you intend to use the space.

7. Pots and Planters. Decorative pots and planters can be the final layer that brings an artistic and stylish flair to your space. Depending on your style, choose appropriately scaled pots and plants to add sophistication, color, pattern and texture.

The sky is literally the limit when it comes to outdoor spaces. They’re an opportunity to stretch your imagination, expand your living space and enrich your home life. I guess you could say you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Mary Cook & Josh Kassing

Written By

Mary Cook & Josh Kassing

Founder and President of Mary Cook Associates (MCA)