MCA-Outdoor Spaces that Extend Your Living Areas-1

At the beginning of each year, industry groups make their predictions about what the trends will be. They’re all fun to read, but my favorite is the one from the American Institute of Architects, because they don’t really predict, they use data about what people have actually done and plan to do.

In 2014, what they did, more than anything else, was spend money on outdoor living spaces. I don’t doubt it for a second. There are at least six new outdoor spaces within two blocks of my home – and one of them is mine!

There’s no doubt about it. We love to entertain, relax, gather and just be outside. A lot goes into creating the outdoor space that’s perfect for you. There are so many details that to do them all justice, I’m breaking this blog into two parts. This part is about planning and structure. Think of it as the “cake.” In part two, we’ll talk about the icing.

As with any space, it starts with planning.

1. Geography. Where do you live and what does that mean to how you live? How do climate and surroundings impact your specific location?

2. Doors. Next, think about the access in and out. You’ll want to make it as easy and as seamless as possible, so that indoor and outdoor spaces can easily interact. Fully retractable glass walls like Nanawall offer amazing flexibility. Non-custom homebuilders are even starting to incorporate retractable glass walls to meet the consumer demand.

3. Materials. The materials you choose will be influenced by aesthetics, indigenous resources, budget, performance and accessibility. Research materials that are used in your region. There are many natural stone options, but if on a budget, pavers, concrete, or other manufactured materials can be a good option.

4. Lines. Think ahead. Plan your data and electric lines. It’s much easier to run lines for electric and gas before stone or concrete are installed. Think about fans, lighting, gas fireplaces and pits, heaters, grills, and electronics. Don’t just plan what you need now. Think of what you might want later.

5. Shade & Shelter. Watch the sun and the weather. There are permanent shade structures that allow you to use the space when it’s raining. It’s a pretty cool thing to sit outside under roof, warm and dry, and experience a thunderstorm. There are also movable and adjustable options for shading like umbrellas, awnings, and tents. Plan carefully. Adding shade outside can darken your inside. A pergola that partially shades might be a good option.

6. Cooking. During the height of the outdoor kitchen trend, plenty of mistakes were made. Elaborate outdoor cooking areas were popping up everywhere, but have since fallen out of favor. Prepping food outdoors can be extremely difficult. Heat, critters and food prep don’t go well together. Most home chefs realized this and went back to prepping food indoors. Open up your space usage options by nixing the outdoor food prep area. Spend that extra money on your dream grill, and place it so it’s convenient to your indoor prep area.

7. Hardscape/Softscape. Hardscape is the hard surfaces that make up your outdoor living space. Softscape is the plantings, flowers, trees and grass used in your outdoor space. They work together, so they should be planned together. It’s not unusual for professionals to design and install both or only one of them. It’s fine to use separate professionals, but its smart to begin with an overall design and plan both together.

Once you’ve planned your “cake,” you get to move on to the “icing.” And if you’re like me, that’s the best part.

Mary Cook & Josh Kassing

Written By

Mary Cook & Josh Kassing

Founder and President of Mary Cook Associates (MCA)