10 Ideas for Functional Outdoor Spaces

Turn your outdoor area into a veritable room addition with easy-maintenance materials, kitchen appliances, and weather-proof fixtures.

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Create a Link to the Indoors

    The first step to designing your outdoor space is determining how to marry it with your existing home. Architectural connectors such as overhangs, colonnades, and pergolas make linking the outdoors with the indoors a breeze. Design elements and materials should flow together to create a uniform feel.

Flow from Room to Room

    People want to feel connected to the outdoors when inside. This requires opening up the rear of the house for sunlight, visual sight lines, and accessibility. Adding easy access from several areas of your house is the key to achieving this goal.

Use Low-Maintenance Materials

    Using low-maintenance decking and paving materials means you'll have more time to enjoy your outdoor space. Decks are now commonly constructed of composite materials, which require no staining or sealing. If you want to use wood, some tropical hardwoods are naturally rot-resistant. Stone is also popular for its ability to blend with the natural landscape. Brick, stamped concrete, and manufactured pavers can also form solid foundations.

Spark Up a Conversation

    Even in warm climates, a hearth -- fire pit, chiminea, or wood-burning or gas fireplace -- adds visual interest and comfort to your outdoor area. The hearth makes an ideal focal point, so it's wise to design your space with its placement in mind. Consider whether you'll want a built-in hearth or one that's portable for zone heating and entertaining flexibility.

Move the Kitchen Outside

    An outdoor kitchen can be as simple as a grill or as comprehensive as your indoor version -- with an alfresco twist. Outfit your space with a sink, refrigerator, dishwasher, bar, prep area, built-in grill, and wood-fired oven. Make sure to also consider utility requirements, shelter, climate-proof materials, and how you'll use the space.

Work with the Weather

    To some extent, you can control the climate in your outdoor living space. During the day, ceiling fans hung from overhead trellises help keep insects at bay and air from being stagnant. After dark and on cool days, portable heaters -- tower or tabletop units -- add extra comfort. Overhangs, umbrellas, gazebos, sunrooms, and porches all offer shade.

    Tip: Consider building on the south side of your house during the planning stages. Southern- facing areas warm up more quickly and are more comfortable in cooler months.

Add Entertainment Value

    Ditch your battery-operated radio for more sophisticated electronics such as an all-weather LCD television and wireless outdoor speakers. Some entertainment systems are designed to blend in with natural elements; many are constructed of waterproof materials and built to withstand everything from insects to extreme heat.

Illuminate Your Space

    During the day, natural light is king. But you can keep the party going long after the sun sets with strategic outdoor lighting. Single-source spotlights and floodlights can be too harsh to set a laid-back mood. Instead, opt for multiple indirect sources such as sconces, candles, lanterns, and landscape lighting. Walkways, stairs, and water sources should always be well-lit for safety.

Add Water

    Whether it's a little (fountain and koi ponds) or a lot (hot tubs and swimming pools), water is a pleasing outdoor design feature. Before you set your heart on bringing water into your design, check zoning guidelines for potential safety requirements such as fencing and proximity to buildings and property lines.

Separate with Fencing

    Privacy fences keep pets and children in and onlookers out. Masonry walls can double as counter space or extra seating in an entertaining pinch. Incorporate built-in or attached benches to free up walkways where freestanding furniture might make for cramped quarters. Trellis walls keep spaces airy while giving vines and hooks a place to hang out.

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