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Planning All-Season Outdoor Spaces

Who says yards are just for summer? Here at Board & Vellum, we believe your outdoor spaces should be beautiful, functional, and awesome to hang out in no matter the season or weather. With a few special considerations, you can have an outdoor living space that's comfortable all year long — rain or shine.

November 24, 2020

Here we are, brave people realizing we can actually be content lounging and even entertaining outside in some chilly and wet air.

In our last post, we went through some tips and tricks you can use right now to stay comfortable outside using things you probably already have on hand or could easily acquire. Now, let’s talk about what you can do to create a long-term solution for staying comfortable outside all year-round. These are ideas you can take with you when planning a permanent outdoor living experience that’s comfortable and usable in any season.

There’s no such thing as a bad outdoor space (within reason), only inappropriate design for the seasons.

I mentioned in our last post that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. The same is true for outdoor rooms and spaces. What I mean by this is, too often outdoor design is focused on the summer and warm weather enjoyment. At the very least, it’s focused on dry-weather enjoyment.

Summer is easy. It’s warm and the biggest challenge is usually keeping things shaded. In the other seasons, we have a little more work to do to keep things cozy and comfortable. This is for those times.

No Space is All-Season Without a Roof

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: covered outdoor rooms are the best option in the Northwest and anywhere else there’s a rainy or wet season. When planning an outdoor room, work with your architect or builder to find a spot that makes sense to cover and can be closed in on at least one side. Not only do the ceiling and wall keep the elements at bay, but they’re also great spots to mount heaters which are a fantastic way to stay comfortable even in the dead of winter. These elements alone will set up a spot you can be comfortable in almost all year-round.

Use Spaces You Already Have to Their Advantage

If you already have a deck or porch, embrace them as the foundation of your outdoor space. You may not have space for a full outdoor room, but a great covered porch can go a long way. Heaters are an easy add, usually, and, with just 5' of space, there’s plenty of room for people to sit and walk by one another comfortably. (I know this because my front porch is exactly 5' wide and it works perfectly.) A front porch gathering space also gives you the chance to say hello to your neighbors from a nice, safe distance.

Consider Use and Seasonal Suitability

Think about not just outdoor rooms but seasonal rooms. Let me explain. When designing a yard with outdoor living spaces, our team of architects and landscape architects always consider how to create rooms for specific purposes and activities, just like we would inside your home. These “zones,” as we sometimes call them, carve out space for the activities that are important to you, like a cozy spot for conversation or contemplation or a large outdoor kitchen for cooking and entertaining.

In the same respect, seasonal “zones” can help you make the most of what you already have. A sunny spot that bakes in the summer can be a great respite on a sunny winter day when you actually benefit from the solar gains warming you up. A giant tree on your property with a great tree canopy can be a dry spot to sit and contemplate on a spring or fall day even though, in winter, it’s too cold to hang out there for long. A trellis with roses overhead is lovely in the summer when things are dry but may not be a great spot the rest of the year when the rain will drip off it and onto you long after the rain actually stops.

Think carefully about where and when you would use these spaces, not just in terms of the activity they best suit, but the season when they’ll be most usable.

Double Your Kitchen Space

Now, this one seems a little crazy at first but stay with me. Almost all of our residential projects opt for two washers and dryers now. It seemed excessive at first but, once you start to realize the benefits, (Access! Ease! No stairs!) it’s easier to understand why this can be a great option for some families. I predict the next trend will be having two spots for outdoor cooking.

It’s likely you’ve only seen one of two options: a full outdoor kitchen or a grill and barbecue area. But consider this: a full outdoor kitchen is a popular solution in properties with larger yards and great for entertaining in the summer. In the colder months, you may still want to be outside, but you may only need a grill that’s tucked near your house and protected from the elements.

Depending on the layout of your property, a smaller, covered area right off the side of your kitchen can be a great intermediate solution for a smaller kitchen or grill that still allows you to get outside. In spots like this, we work with clients to find room for a counter big enough for two stools so you can grill while having a conversation with someone. Side yards in urban properties are great for these smaller grilling areas.

Embrace Hot Tubs

Here in Pacific Northwest, pools are not common real estate finds. Hot tubs, however, are the Northwest’s answer to pools. Here, they’re perfect nine out of twelve months of the year, even on our cool summer nights. And if you’re from here, you probably know how magical a soak in a cozy hot tub is on a drizzly morning.

A hot tub is perfectly usable in a light drizzle but having the option to cover it with an umbrella allows you to use it all year round. If you’re thinking about adding one to your yard, carefully plan how you’ll get from your house to your hot tub. While having it in a private spot way out in your yard may feel romantic, it’s not very much fun to sprint back to your house in a cold rain to grab a water bottle when you forget it.

Plant Seasonal Vegetation

When I first moved into my house, all the plants in the yard died back in the winter. Growing up in New England where everything dies back, I never understood why anyone would do that! I vowed to have a yard that delighted me in every season, and so should you. Plant so each season is exciting and lush and makes you want to be near it.

The ability to see green and flowers all year round is such a delight and can be attained even in colder climates. Talk to a local landscape architect about what plants best suit your climate and the conditions of your yard. They’re a great resource for identifying the right plants to keep your garden blooming in every season and can help incorporate plants that enhance any built structures, too.

Don’t Forget About Lighting

Lighting in your yard is transformative. A space can go from dark and unwelcoming to stunning and cozy with the right lights. From lighting pathways to illuminating a focal-point tree, having a coordinated landscape lighting plan that lights up your whole yard can not only make the space welcoming when you’re in it but also draw your eyes out through your windows and make the outdoors come alive as you view them from the inside.

Design for Your Climate

We’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. Design for your climate. There are solutions for every environment and all climates. People don’t dine outside at ski resorts because they love being cold, they do it because the right solutions were put in place to make the experience enjoyable. Plan and design appropriate spaces for all seasons and you can enjoy living and dining outdoors all year.

It’s totally possible to embrace your outdoor spaces, even after summer has passed, and truly succeed in getting your hygge on. Though these suggestions slant toward urban homeowners, many of these concepts can apply to apartment balconies, businesses, restaurants, and rural homeowners, as well.

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