Early Planning Ideas For Outdoor Living Areas

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small outdoor living space dining flowers garden

Outdoor living spaces are a vital part of your home. Here are some thoughts on how to plan and build an inviting outdoor living area before weather gets warmer.


It’s time to think about spending warmer months outdoors in your yard. Don’t wait until you want to have a garden party to discover your yard is not set up for it! Now is the time to plan, and spring is the perfect time to build, spruce up, and plant.

Design considerations

Decide the purpose of your outdoor living area. Sitting? Eating? Cooking? All of that? Consider how much room you have, and plan accordingly. Sitting areas can be a circle of chairs around a firepit, a hammock and a side table, or a full replication of your living room with a fireplace or fountain as a focal point. A dining area can consist of a small table and two café chairs, or a rustic table and benches to seat 12. You can cook on a grill or in a gourmet kitchen. Your choices will depend on your needs, your space, and your budget.

Are there views to block or capture? Mountain, ocean or river vistas can be accentuated with trees and trellised vines. Plants can be used to block unsightly view, as can fencing or a solid wall. You may want privacy, too.

Do you need shade? Mature trees provide cooling, dappled shade, but if you don’t have them to work with, you can build a large arbor and train some fast growing vines to cover it in a season or two.

Do you need a screened porch to protect from bugs? When I was a kid in New England, we had a screened porch where we ate, played, and relaxed, and we could hear the mosquitoes outside trying to get in! A sunroom can be built to be convertible – walls screened in for summer, and glass windows in place for winter.


Placing your outdoor living space adjacent to your indoor living area will seamlessly blend the two. Similar flooring and furnishings will visually enlarge your indoor area. It also makes it easier to serve meals. Alternatively, large glass floor-to-ceiling exterior doors in a living room will make you feel like you’re outside when they are open.

living room and deck continuity

If you’d rather an outdoor living area were away from the house, build a well-defined yet interesting walkway to make it inviting. Erect an archway for the sense of a grand entrance.

A gazebo makes the perfect retreat away from the house. Place it at the end of an interesting, winding path lined with fragrant plantings. Cover the structure with vines for privacy, or install outdoor curtains.

My own outdoor living space – the portal!

My idea of outdoor living (aside from gardening!) is to sit on the portal and watch the sun play on the mountains. I have two of my mother’s chairs from her patio set, and a bamboo coffee table I bought at a yard sale 20 years ago for $1. Bamboo is sturdy stuff! It’s an excellent material for outdoor furniture!

Our portals here in the southwest are not large spaces. They are narrow, covered porches that usually extend the length of the house and encompass the entryway. I have enough room for a couple of chairs and a table. I spend all my summer time out there, having coffee, eating, working, reading, having beer with friends, and enjoying the night sky. Native plants and shrubs line the edges.

A friend’s portal has the same set up with a couch, a chair and a coffee table flanking one side of the front door. A grill and small prep table are on the other side. Down a few steps into the yard, though, there is a large round table for eating. It’s all you need for living outside. And the portals being covered means we can be outside in the rain!

More than living, dining and kitchen areas

Why limit your outdoor life to the public areas of your home? Think bigger.

Consider a covered patio off the bedroom as a sleeping and sitting area.  Create privacy with draping vines.

An outdoor shower is convenient and almost necessary if you live near the beach. Gardeners could use one, too, though, along with a laundry hamper for muddy clothes. Instead of a hot tub, put in a clawfoot tub for a relaxing bath under the stars.

outdoor tub

Warm weather is coming!

Consider your outdoor living area an oasis. Make it as inviting and relaxing as possible. It should be kid friendly, too! They need space to unplug, play, read, and get involved in creative projects.

The snow will melt, and soon it will be time to connect with nature in a different way. Whether you plan on sitting on your portal by yourself with coffee or entertaining dozens of people, plan your spring and summer now!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.