Creating an Outdoor Living Space

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A lush backyard with a stream and pergola

You know in your heart when you feel welcome somewhere. Often it takes just a smile and an authentic "Glad you’re here." But if you’re lucky, your host provides something extra – a fresh bouquet, a sumptuous pillow – that makes you feel pampered. You can surprise guests with that same warmth, too. Whether you’re looking for a place to entertain, cook for your family, or unwind alone, a secluded outdoor space is the perfect antidote for hectic days. The editors of Better Homes and Gardens® share how anyone can plan a comfy and welcoming retreat that fits any budget.

Identify goals and make a "big picture" plan

Before you add a patio or deck, determine how you want to use the space. For outdoor dining? For entertaining a crowd? Are privacy and protection from sun or wind important, or is your idea of paradise a roofless room that allows you to stargaze at night? Write down your goals, and decide your budget. Then, on your own or with a landscape designer or architect, sketch out your long-range plan. Even if you’ll be doing the job in phases, it’s important to see the final vision.

Match the outdoor room to your home’s architectural style

An informal Southwest-style courtyard enhances an adobe home, while a formal English-style outdoor room suits a traditional home. Use you house’s trim color in the patio’s décor to tie the spaces together.

Build enchanting entrances

Gates, pergolas, and pathways are hallmarks of romantic garden design. Provide as many of them as your lot allows – near the back door, along the side of the house, or at a junction that leads to a larger lawn. Tiny lots and apartments can get the look by attaching a trellis or pergola around the back door and planting ivy and an assortment of flowering vines at the base. Take advantage of a narrow slice of land between the garage and property line and put in an English-style pergola and gate, framed by climbing roses. Elegant architectural lines and a gate with see-through slats hint at what’s inside but still offer privacy. Or, choose narrow paths of cobblestones, flagstones, or irregular stepping-stones, and iron or wooden archways strong enough to hold a myriad of plants, such as roses, Wisteria, or Clematis.

An outdoor dining room under a wooden pergola

Spruce up a structure

For some homeowners, this can be the main house, especially if its size tucks comfortably into the garden. For others, it might be a garden shed, small garage, gazebo, or folly. Whatever size structure you have, ground it with plants, window boxes, and/or a pathway so the building looks natural in its setting. Perhaps your structure will draw attention to a courtyard and act as a romantic backdrop to the upper seating and cooking area. A structure gives a garden room a strong focal point and anchors the space. It’s also the perfect thing to add a little charm.

Fireside seating next to a stone fireplace

Build rock-solid hardscaping

Successful outdoor rooms call for hardscaping to give them definition and dimension. Stone walls with gentle curves and short pillars, for example, delineate areas and lend a natural, aged look. Seek out rock that’s indigenous to your area, because prices will rise the farther the stone is shipped. Masonry is often 50-60 percent of a project’s budget, so plan accordingly. Occasionally, rock can be salvaged from residential or city projects, so investigate what’s available in your area.

Relax with water

The sight and sound of water is instinctively soothing. That’s why water structures are so crucial to garden rooms. Pick a fountain, pond, bubbler, or waterfall that suits the style and scale of your space. You may opt for a wall fountain where water spills gently to a shell-shape bowl and finally into a stone-like basin. The look is important, but the sound is even more important.

Budget for landscaping

Adding plants is usually the last thing that happens in an outdoor room project, so people generally spend too little on this part. Plan to spend around one-fifth of your budget so you can buy plants that are mature and healthy to offer more immediate privacy. Ornamental trees, most of which bloom in the spring and turn colors in fall – redbuds, river birch, serviceberry, crabapples, hawthorns, and dogwoods – are a nice addition to any space. Evergreen shrubs such as boxwood and holly line paths and borders, and shrub roses, herbs, and annuals bring color, scent, and movement. Don’t overlook plants for interior spaces. Potted plants bring natural beauty to indoor rooms.

You’re much more likely to use an outdoor room if you incorporate elements you love. Outfit your garden rooms with elements that suit interior or exterior settings with ease. Here are some tips from the editors of Better Homes and Gardens to get you started.

A sunlit screened in porch on the water

Small garden section surrounded by a stone wall

Outdoor cooking spots are one of the hottest trends in landscaping, but plan well before you fire up the grill. Outdoor kitchen design specialists at Better Homes and Gardens offer these tips.

Barbeque and cooking station built into a rock wall

A covered outdoor kitchen with a fireplace

Bring these time-saving, money-saving, space-saving, work-saving ideas home to your backyard.

© 2009 Meredith Corporation