As a concept, backyards and patches of relaxing outdoor space alongside residential dwellings or other buildings are probably as old as buildings themselves. Indeed, the very word “yard” originates from Old English and was likely conceived sometime before 1150 AD.
That’s a pretty old word. Interestingly, the concept of outdoor living spaces is even older. The ancient Romans – at least those who could afford it – often included peristyle gardens outfitted with marble statues and columns, essentially a large outdoor space, at the center of the house.
In our own modern society, the pandemic – along with a growing awareness of the mental and physical health benefits of spending time in nature – has driven a resurgence in interest in exterior living areas.
But how can you harness the power of nature with exterior living spaces?
Read on to find out.
What are exterior living spaces?
There are many different kinds of outdoor living areas – kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms, and dining areas are some of the most popular – and the one thing they all have in common is that they’re exterior spaces where people spend considerable time.
But outfitting an exterior living space in the 2020s isn’t quite the same as a few years ago, when you could simply throw a couple lawn chairs on the back porch and call it a day.
Outdoor spaces, especially in urban areas, are now more stylish than ever. Many come kitted out with big-screen TVs; full kitchens; and comfortable, plush furniture that wouldn’t be out of place in an interior living room or den.
Of course, the amount of time you can realistically use an exterior living space depends largely on your geography and climate. It probably goes without saying that Montrealers get less use from outdoor rooms compared to families in California.
Regardless of geography, however, there are typically three main types of exterior living space:
Every barbecuer knows the pain of arriving at the grill and realizing they’ve left a crucial ingredient or tool inside. That pain largely goes away with an outdoor kitchen, which can be equipped to include grills, ranges, ovens, refrigerators, countertops, dishwashers, storage drawers, ice makers, drink bins, sinks and faucets, garbage disposals, and even draft beer taps (yes please).
Architects recommend keeping your outdoor kitchen fairly close to your main kitchen. They also recommend covering your outdoor kitchen with some kind of roof, and to consider your lighting carefully – especially if you use the outdoor space during fall or winter months when the days are shorter.
Outdoor living rooms
Open-air living rooms, also referred to as indoor-outdoor rooms, help bring nature inside. Often, modern designers connect the outdoor living room with the interior living room to create one large indoor-outdoor room.
Outdoor living rooms can include everything from screened-in porches to pergola-shaded lounge areas, and often feature TVs, fire pits or fireplaces, and plush furniture.
Outdoor or open bathrooms are probably the trickiest of all the rooms to export to the outdoors – for obvious reasons – but, when done right, can be quite stylish.
Outdoor bathrooms are often designed with spa-like features (such as hot tubs, saunas, freestanding bathtubs and showers, and plants galore), allowing for maximum relaxation while preserving privacy.
What are the benefits of exterior living spaces?
We wrote about the benefits of biophilic design – which aims to connect building occupants to nature – in a previous post, including improved health and productivity and fewer sick days.
Considering they’re as close to nature as you can get, it’s no surprise that exterior living spaces and green space often offer the same benefits. One 2019 study published in Nature concluded that spending at least 120 minutes per week in a natural setting is associated with good health and well-being.
The same study points to a “growing body of epidemiological evidence” that indicates the same, including:
- Lower probabilities in cardiovascular disease, obesity, asthma hospitalization, mental distress, and ultimate mortality
- Improved birth outcomes and cognitive development in children
How are exterior living spaces designed?
For those looking to harness the power of nature with exterior living spaces, design experts say it’s important to start by dividing your outdoor space into three specific areas: Functional space (also known as the “service area”), public space (such as a front yard), and living space. Once you’ve determined the size and shape of your living space, consider other factors that could impact the area such as amount of direct sunlight, drainage, soil type, natural features (or unnatural ones), prevailing winds, building features, property lines, easements, and zoning.
Designers of outdoor spaces and even landscaping projects often start by conducting such a site inventory and analysis, followed by a needs assessment, functional diagrams, conceptual design plans, and the final design plan. It’s often recommended that outdoor living spaces either be covered by a roof or some kind of sun shade device, such as pergolas. You can check out some examples of nicely designed exterior spaces in this Dezeen article.
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