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Tips for creating a transitional space for indoor-outdoor living

Great Outdoors

Creating inviting natural spaces in the garden enhances your home in a beautiful way.

Outdoor spaces have come a long way from the days of simple decks and patios built off of a house. Today, outdoor and transitional spaces take many forms, from pools that are built into the natural landscape, to outdoor kitchens complete with TVs, to cabanas with day beds for lounging. Whatever your vision or budget, though, there are strategies to make almost any outdoor space feel not only functional also like an at-home respite and calming place of escape.

“Richmond and D.C. are similar in that we have four distinct seasons, three of which are conducive to being outdoors,” said Patrick Farley, AIA/LEED BD+C, founder/principal of Watershed Architecture & Construction in Richmond, Virginia, which is committed to sustainable design. Make the most of your outdoor time with these top tips. 


Keep it simple

Instead of elaborate designs and materials that are tough to maintain, Farley recommends keeping things simple when it comes to outdoor and transitional spaces. That means choosing materials that are low maintenance, such as stone tile and non-wood composite decking, even when natural materials are typically a preference elsewhere. Another consideration is LED lighting, which is energy efficient, low wattage, builds up less heat and can last up to 10 times as long as traditional bulbs, making it perfect for low-maintenance, inexpensive outdoor lighting.


Create rooms

Today’s outdoor spaces are living areas that can operate as extensions of your home.

“We tend to think of them as ‘outdoor rooms,’ and fold them into [the] building form/layout so that they don’t feel ‘tacked on,’” Farley said.

Also, think about ways to delineate between those different outdoor rooms.

“The key is to bring a sense of enclosure and shelter to the space,” he said. “This could be more literal as with a screened porch or implied by partial definition using solid walls in conjunction with open sides. These spaces can also feel like they are extensions of interior adjacent spaces.”


Make it comfortable

“Summer brings brutal heat/humidity at times,” Farley acknowledged of the mid-Atlantic region, so ensuring comfort in warm-weather months is an especially important consideration.

Homeowners can integrate native plants and spatial arrangements that are conducive to natural airflow and capturing breezes. Water features are important too, and not just because pools are fun places to cool off. Farley says moving water, such as in fountain and pool elements, are on-trend and can add to the calming mood of a space.


Keep warm when needed

"Summer isn’t the only time people want to escape to the outdoors, so in cooler fall and winter months, and even on chilly summer nights, natural gas fireplaces and other heating options help homeowners stay cozy and comfortable outside nearly year-round. Popular now for heating elements are linear and minimalist designs," Farley said, adding that raised units and “pits” are gaining popularity, particularly for “DIY types.”


Avoid mistakes

It’s as important to think about where you don’t want to build as much as where you do want to build. For instance, Farley advises to avoid spots with too much sun exposure. Another potential mistake is building near or under trees that drop things from their branches, which require constant maintenance during the spring. Some top offenders are oak trees, which drop seed pods and pollen catkins and trees like mulberry and holly, which drop berries.

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