An inner courtyard provides privacy and security for an outdoor living room. In establishing such a space, a U-shape house offers the ideal design, with an L-shape house as the next best starting point (something to keep in mind if you're deciding where to build an addition). Nearly any home style, however, can be adapted to create space that functions and feels like a courtyard. Here are some tips:
Walls. Higher walls on the sides of the property can give an outdoor living room a feeling of enclosure. Connect the walls to the house and, if possible, try to use the same materials and colors as the home's exterior for a cohesive look.
Garden features and landscaping. Put a pergola, a fountain, or higher plantings on the perimeter to define the outdoor space and form a boundary. Save the patio area in the middle for low garden water features such as pools and ponds.
Overhangs. Make overhangs wide enough to shelter patio furniture. Beware, though, of robbing adjacent interior rooms of light. If an overhang will compromise a room's only exposure, add skylights or windows to the interior room, or only partially cover the outdoor space.
Access. Once you've created your courtyard, open the house to it. Use French or sliding doors to grant patio access from as many parts of the house as possible, and position large windows to overlook your new private space.