“Interior design” can be a misnomer. Now, more than ever, stylish, functional elements for the exterior are as equally important as those indoors.
While a patio or deck equipped with a grill and dining set was once considered all that was necessary for outdoor living, now homeowners don’t think of the outside as foreign territory, but as an extension of their indoor space.
Indeed, now that living has migrated outdoors, a more apt moniker might be “interior-exterior” design.
A natural flow
“Twenty years ago, there was a complete separation between outdoors and indoors, but we are now seeing indoor furniture outside and vice-versa,” says Dwayne MacEwen, founder of DMAC Architecture in Chicago.
It helps if interior spaces appear to seamlessly transition to the outdoors, making it feel perfectly natural to migrate outside. “More times than not, when we are designing a family room or kitchen, we are taking into consideration how this space will flow outside,” says Lauren Clement of Lauren Nicole Designs in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Before buying either outdoor or indoor furnishings, Clement recommends carefully measuring the space a piece will fill, and then checking to see if there will be enough room for an easy traffic flow, especially in the access to the outside, because guests can make the area crowded, Clement says.
“I use a blue painters’ tape,” Clement says. After mapping out the locations of furniture, she looks for “three-foot plus” as the width of walkways.
Spaces have to physically flow, and that reality is enhanced when the outside is visually connected, though not identical, to the inside.
“We try to use some of the same colors and designs. It doesn’t have to be ‘matchy-matchy,’ but complementing patterns and colors,” Clement says. “And, you look for the same styles. If a room is contemporary, you want the same look outside.”
Erasing the boundaries
When homes are renovated or constructed, experts say they are using larger doorways to both visually and physically erase walls.
“The typical sliding door is six feet or twelve feet, but because one or more of the panels on a slider is always non-movable, the actual opening for a six-foot door is three feet, and the opening for a twelve-foot door is six feet,” notes Long Beach, California, architect Mark Grisafe.
He often utilizes “French folding” or “telescoping” doors, “which usually start at about eight feet of clear opening and go up from there.”
Of course, weather and insects are a consideration if wide doors are flung open for an extended period. Openings that lead to a screened-in outdoor area are a solution. Another option, MacEwen says, may be pull-down screens for the doorway.
Canopies and awnings are another practical step. They keep bright sun from streaming indoors, provide outdoor shade, and allow sliding doors to stay open if it’s raining, MacEwen says.
Awnings can also create the illusion that outdoor spaces are a natural extension of the inside spaces. “They are using awnings and shaded pergola systems with optional enclosures to break out space and simulate room-like environments,” notes Gregory Sahagian of Sahagian & Songs Awnings.
Homeowners should consider also a smooth visual transition whether they’re looking up or down, MacEwen says. One technique is utilizing similar flooring like stone pavers on patios and similarly colored porcelain tiles on the inside.
What’s in on the outside
Now that we’re utilizing exterior spaces more, new options beyond the traditional patio and deck are trending.
Newland Communities, which has 50 residential developments around the country, has identified second-story decks, private decks off the master suite and outdoor cooking spaces as the top desires for its buyers.
But different households want to style their outdoor spaces for their own practicality and safety, notes Allison King of Newland Communities’ Garman Homes division in North Carolina.
For instance, King says, “We have one plan where the upper porch is open to the secondary bedrooms, and [buyers] picture it being used as a second living or bonus area for their older children.”
But families with very young children, Clement notes, will usually want to fashion an outside play area near a patio leading from the kitchen or great room, in a space visible from an inside window.
Indeed a traditional patio or deck equipped for cooking and outside dining is still the most popular outdoor use, say experts, but the array of appliances available now can make the outdoor space a replica of what’s found inside.
Impervious to the elements
Preparing and hosting large family dinners, lounging and watching television while grabbing snacks from the fridge – it can all happen outside.
“You have a few options when deciding how to use traditionally indoor appliances outdoors,” explains Douglas Land, owner of DJ Land & Associates in Destin, Florida, and Columbus, Georgia.
“You would either buy electronics that are weatherproof, but they can tend to be expensive,” Land says. “Or whether protective storage cabinets that can store the electronics” are an option. Besides a cover specifically, to protect the appliance, many homeowners place items vulnerable to the weather under a covered patio or screened-in porch, adds Land.
When privacy is a priority
With so much living occurring outside, many homeowners wonder how they can ensure the same amount of privacy that shades or curtains provide inside.
While traditional fences can be installed almost anywhere, Missy Henriksen, vice president of the National Association of Landscape Professionals, notes that a “green fence” is a natural choice, especially surrounding smaller areas like a patio off a master suite.
Any plantings to double as fencing “should be able to provide significant width to be dense and hard to penetrate,” Henriksen explains. The sun and watering needs of any planting must also be considered.
Besides meeting the demands of Mother Nature, aesthetics are also a concern when choosing green fencing or any outdoor plantings, notes Henriksen. For instance, a formal Boxwood hedge matches a traditionally styled home that has English country style decorating.