Architectural Details: The Outdoor Room

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Aaron Day, AIA, LEED AP

Architectural Details: The Outdoor Room

Architectural Details: The Outdoor Room

On our office trip to San Francisco last October, we visited many incredible homes, ones with beautiful views, fascinating details and distinctive living spaces.  What I found most interesting was that each one, despite some restrictive city lots, had its own outdoor room, a respite from the constant flurry of activity that marks urban life.

If done well, outdoor rooms become a true extension of your home, no longer “outside” or “the backyard”, but an integral part of the living space. Offering natural light, shelter, sunny spots to curl up with a book, and short cuts to the other rooms of your home, the outdoor room can easily become your family’s favorite space.

Key Elements of an Outdoor Room:

1. An Extension of the Interior Space

The Outdoor Room makes your living space look and feel bigger without adding square footage, creating an active space to look into and observe the ever-changing plants and trees.  The courtyard engages with the rest of the home.

(below: Butterfly House by Architect John Mansicalco)

2. Focal Point

A focal point anchors the space and provides a center for the rest of the courtyard to relate to.  This focal point can be a fireplace, water feature, sculpture, or whatever appeals to you.

(below: Butterfly House by Architect John Mansicalco)

3. Shelter

While we are drawn to outdoor spaces for the light and fresh air they provide, exposure to the elements can be an issue.  Creating sheltered spaces along the edges allows you to enjoy your room even if it’s raining, windy or just too sunny.  It also allows the possibility of prospect and refuge, a space where you can sit with your back near the wall and look into or over the space.

(Below: Beaver Street Reprise by Architect Craig Steely)

4. CirculationActivity Along the Edges

The most successful courtyards are also in-between spaces, ones you are constantly passing through or passing by.  This creates the feeling that the outdoor room really is an integral part of the home and its function.  Courtyards with circulations only on one side or not at all often become disengaged and people are much less likely to venture into them.

5. Gathering Space

The heart of the outdoor room is a gathering space out of the pathway where activities and socializing can take place. Providing edges to the gathering space makes it feel comfortable and welcoming even for just one person.  Make sure your gathering space accommodates the individual as well as a large group.

(above: Butterfly House by Architect John Mansicalco)

For more images of outside living spaces, visit our Outdoor Rooms Pinterest board.

See outdoor spaces from our Courtyard House