4 Outdoor Living Design Tips for Projects of All Sizes

We’re finally seeing spring on the horizon, and that means it’s the perfect time to start talking about outdoor living design. Not just for big, expansive backyards, we believe outdoor living design means spending more time thinking about how to program the space you do have. In a private home that might include anything from an alley patio or pergola for shelter from neighbors. In high density housing, it can mean roof access or amenity centers with direct lines to the outdoors. It’s all about the function, not the size, of any given space.

To dig into that idea further we tapped one of our senior architects, Travis Hendrix, for his expertise on outdoor living design. Travis represented KGA at the 2022 NAHB International Builders Show in Orlando, where he gave a presentation on this topic. Like all of us at KGA, Travis prides himself on design versatility and shares the belief that the best design — indoors or out — is the one that serves the client and the end user. So, let’s dig into his ideas:

Start with Appearance, Composition, and Views

You have to start at the beginning, with a blank slate. One of the most important things we do is figure out how any given building will co-exist with the environment around it, and what views it could provide. We call this site specific design.  A recent example of this idea at work is a new community center in Colorado Springs with direct views of Pikes Peak. We designed it so you can see it as soon as you enter the vestibule — the mountain view literally pulls you into the rest of the outdoor space. From there, we zoned the plan with complementary programs that are on axis with the view. In this case, it was a bar, lounge, and pool area.

View from the future community center at Home Place Ranch in Monument, CO. Rendering by HR Green.

Outdoor Living Design Begins at the Curb

One thing we can say for sure about the pandemic, is that it really put the spotlight on the home. A greater number of people now use their home to work — even if it’s just part-time. Coffee on the patio. Conference calls on the deck. Swimming over lunch. We know people are engaging more with the outdoor spaces on their property during the day instead of just morning and evening. So, let’s make those spaces amazing.

This model home is a great example of activating the front yard. With limited turf, a rock and water feature, and a covered front porch, who wouldn’t want to come home to this every night?

Starting at the curb, we like to create engaging and beautiful areas, with catered outdoor spaces, rock gardens, and xeriscaping. These spaces can be very simple! You don’t need a lot of turf to make people happy if it’s done right. Another way we see people enjoying a home before even stepping inside, is when covered porches are used to activate the front yard. It creates a defensible space so homeowners and their guests can feel sheltered and comfortable. And as a bonus, it’s also an inviting entry.

A covered front patio creates a defensible space where homeowners and their guests can feel comfortable and sheltered.

New Ways to Make Indoor Outdoor Connections

We really can’t say enough about activating your entryway. It provides shelter and makes you feel good about being outside. Just think about having coffee or a glass of wine on your front porch, without feeling exposed to your neighbors or anyone else meandering up to your door. It’s also a gateway that kicks off a sequence of events that guides you from the outdoors into the home and can make a huge difference in your arrival.  

View of front door through custom wrought iron entry gate of a traditional custom home in Cherry Hills Village
A custom wrought iron gate and pathway welcomes guests, leading them to the front door.

Small exterior courtyards and decks can create multiple opportunities for outdoor living with built-in privacy. These things aren’t new — they’ve been in practice for hundreds of years. But like entries, we’ve found that if you can build them into your designs, it can make a big difference for single family homes, townhomes and duplexes alike.

These paired urban homes feature multiple outdoor living opportunities, including a front porch, private primary suite deck and roof top deck. They even have a small, fenced in backyard, perfect for grilling or letting the dog outside.
This custom home is designed in a u-shape, creating a courtyard effect that provides privacy and shelter from the wind.

Bringing the outside in can also mean featuring as much glass as possible throughout the home. This is a very flexible interpretation of outdoor living design. There’s a reason it’s popular, though: it means a lot of natural light. And we know how important that is, in spaces like our bedrooms, where we want that natural light to support our health. (It’s been proven to regulate blood pressure and stimulate your nervous system in a healthy way. Read more about the connection between lighting and wellness.)

Multiple sets of French doors are a great way to let the light in and create indoor outdoor connections without the added cost of oversized sliders.

Remember the Rule of Thirds

This is based on a principle often seen in photography, just think of the viewfinder on a camera — but the big idea has been woven into great architecture throughout the ages. You might see this carried out in the way architects like to organize design elements in odd numbers: threes, fives and sevens are most popular. How does this tie into outdoor living design? Well, they’re based on fractals and patterns in nature. So, when we use those patterns, we’re really programming the outdoors into our indoor spaces. And as a result, it’s a way of hardcoding a positive response of enjoyment and relaxation into our biology. The best thing: like so many of our tips, this can be done at any scale — large or small private residences and even multifamily buildings.

Another way to incorporate natural patterns, though not necessarily tied to the rule of thirds, is to consider textures. Think: herringbone or chevron styles in tile and exposed wood beams above — it all provides that warm, fuzzy feeling of an enjoyable space that’s also simple.

A glass enclosed breezeway lets you enjoy the feeling of being outside, without actually having to step into the elements to access the garage.

We have so much more to share around outdoor living design — this is just the tip of the iceberg. For even more inspiration, check out these 4 custom homes with incredible luxury outdoor living spaces. If you’re interested in learning more about how to bring the outdoors in, or how to bring a more relaxing atmosphere to your next build, reach out at any time.

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