Indoor-Outdoor Living: Creating Outdoor Rooms for Gardens, Patios, Backyards

April 24, 2019 by


Many of my favorite spaces reflect a stylistic blurring of the boundaries between indoors and out–gardens with outdoor rooms designed to replicate indoor spaces and interiors that merge with the exterior.

Outdoor rooms incorporate pieces traditionally considered for indoors: comfy sofas and sectionals upholstered in weather-resistant fabrics, indoor-outdoor rugs, chandeliers, wall mirrors, and entire outdoor kitchens that would look equally at home indoors.

Inside-Out Design
With complete walls spilling out onto a patio by way of sliding or pocket doors, many interior spaces merge directly into the garden. Indoor-outdoor furniture functions inside or out and lush living walls bring nature directly inside.

Structural, Attached, Freestanding Outdoor Rooms 
Loggias, verandas,  covered terraces and patios are built-in outdoor spaces
designated for a particular use such as lounging with family and friends, relaxing in privacy, or cooking and entertaining. 

By contrast, pergolas and gazebos are freestanding structures, not attached to the main building. they can be placed anywhere on the property where there is room to accommodate them. 

Loggia or Lanai? Verandah or Porch? Terrace or Patio?
Sometimes just subtle differences distinguish these spaces, depending also on geographical location. Each generally includes at least one open side, with or without a roof. What are the differences?

Loggia: Kind of an antiquated term originating from Italian design, a loggia is an architectural feature on the facade of a building open on one side, supported by columns or openings in a wall, and often at ground level.

Porch: Also attached to the outside walls of a structure, a porch is generally open on three sides with a covered entrance to a doorway. It’s often enclosed by a screen, wide windows, latticework, or other screening.

Verandah: Also a covered open area or porch, it’s generally an open pillared space with a roof, sometimes partially enclosed by a railing, frequently built across the rear and sides of the structure.

Lanai: A Hawaiian word for patio or balcony, Lanai is usually describes one of those outdoor living areas, generally covered and enclosed by a large screened structure, often alongside a pool. It’s an outdoor living areas that may include a fireplace or outdoor kitchen.   

Pergola or Gazebo, Trellis or Lattice?
Pergolas or gazebos outdoors are instant outdoor spaces, but what makes them rooms is how you use them. What’s the difference?

Either freestanding or attached to a structure, a pergola is an outdoor garden shelter open on all sides with a closed or slatted grid roof supported by columns or other types vertical posts. Also an open structure, a gazebo always has a closed roof, is raised off the ground, and is generally circular.

Like arbors and trellises, pergolas and gazebos may also support climbing vines. Trellises are wooden, metal or vinyl frameworks for climbing plants. A trellis may be arched, triangular, or rectangular, usually with horizontal and vertical crossed lines, whereas a lattice generally, but not always, features a crisscrossed pattern. And you will also variations of each. I designed a simple latticework for the top of my little garden fence that may be both a lattice and trellis.

Ideas for Designing Outdoor Rooms
Most urban gardens are too small for traditionally sized pergolas or gazebos, however, there are many creative ways to design outdoor rooms without these structures:

1. Screen for Privacy and To Delineate Spaces
Beside fencing, block out neighbors or street noise with tall hedges or rows of trees, freestanding or permanent vertical gardens, and planted walls. You can use the same types of screening to partition off and delineate outdoor rooms. Hanging tied-back curtains on two sides of a porch will offer privacy and also to give the space the look and feel of an indoor room.

2. Arrange Conversation Nooks
Configure furnishings around a fire pit or large coffee table. If you are like me and want to change things around every now and then, using modular seating or sectionals can offer design flexibility.

Built-in banquettes or benches with soft cushions make great seating but aren’t the best choice for apartment dwellers as you can’t take them with you when you move. For small spaces, some furniture can do double duty with storage space under the seat or table.

3. Get Cookin’ With Outdoor Kitchens
Some fortunate residents need hardly step inside the house, as they have complete outdoor kitchens that include a cooktop/grill and oven, sink, refrigerator, and plenty of working surfaces. Simpler cooking areas may feature just a portable grill and jury-rigged prep area using a table or console. 

4. Dining al Fresco
It may be enclosed, but an outdoor dining area can become a room by defining the space by hardscaping, borders, draping tenting above, hanging string lights to cover the particular spot, or by placing other “dining room” furniture close by. 

5. Relax and Repose in An Outdoor Bedroom
At his client’s request, a designer friend in Spain designed an entire outdoor bedroom complete with a king size bed covered in a weather-resistant duvet and copious numbers of pillows. A day bed can double for lounging or napping, and with a decorative metal headboard, will be both decorative and practical.

6. Use Plants a Million Ways
Place containers of varying heights and widths to establish a border for an outdoor room. On one side or more, cultivate a vertical garden to function as screening to define the space.

With a trellis, a contiguous row of low rectangular containers with climbing vines will form a planted wall for an outdoor room. Anything you plant needs care and attention–proper irrigation, light, and a don’t forget a high quality all natural potting soil and organic fertilizer to keep them healthy and beautiful.

7. Create Focal Points
Use a fire or water feature, living wall, outdoor sculpture, or “plant paintings” overflowing with succulents and herbs to create a focal point, around which any room can be designed.

This post was sponsored by Kellogg Garden Products, where “organic” is more than a word on a label. Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Robin Plaskoff Horton.


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