TOP 4 Things to Consider When Creating a Space for Outdoor Living & Entertaining

by Luke Whittaker

Creating an…
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outdoor space for entertaining is a home improvement project that results in additional living space and can increase the value of your home

If you live in an area where the weather allows outdoor living throughout the year, an exterior entertaining space can be of even greater benefit to your family or can be a particularly good selling point, if you are considering putting your home on the market at some point in the future.

It is important to differentiate between simply furnishing a patio and creating a true outdoor living space.

Setting up some patio furniture and adding a barbecue on wheels or a fire pit that you can be moved to the side to make room for guests is a low-budget way to provide some seating, warmth or cooking capability for the occasional get-together, but this is not at all the same thing as creating a true outdoor living area that provides a level of comfort and functionality comparable to the living spaces inside your home.

When you design an outdoor space dedicated to entertaining and your family’s enjoyment, it is almost like adding an addition to your home that provides a self-sustaining, multi-purpose, functional room without walls.

Because this home improvement project has the potential to increase the value of your home, the task of designing your outdoor entertaining space should be undertaken with both your family’s needs and the possibility of selling your home in the future in mind.

Even if your current plans do not include ever putting your home on the market, you should treat this project as you would treat remodeling or putting an addition on your home.

This includes considering enlisting the assistance of a professional designer, landscape designer or landscape architect who can assist you in determining the best way to use your outdoor space and help you make important design decisions. 

The key to making this outdoor home improvement project a success is to do plenty of planning, which will help you avoid costly mistakes and post-completion regrets from realizing you forgot to run the electrical wiring for your lighting or the plumbing for the outdoor sink you plan to add at a later date. 

To that end, here are the top four things you should consider when creating a space for outdoor entertaining. 

Outdoor Living Space Planning #1:

 

How Do You Want to Use the Space? 

First and foremost, you must decide exactly how you would like to use your outdoor space and what activities it should be able to support.

Making a specific list of what you want to be able to do in the space and how you plan to use it most often will assist you in determining which features should be a priority for inclusion, as well as which features can be moved to a separate list of things to be added at a later date or to include now if your project budget allows. 

Do you want to have the capability of preparing family meals completely outdoors?

If so, you may want to consider including a full outdoor kitchen.

Do you plan to use the space primarily for having friends over to watch football games?

Then you will need to plan for the required wiring for a television, how you will minimize glare from the sun and, perhaps, space and wiring for an outdoor refrigerator. 

If your dream outdoor space would be used for more formal dinner parties or entertaining, you may want to place more focus on ample seating, ground cover and flooring, overhead protection from the sun and inclement weather, or  possibly upscale features, such as a fireplace or water features.

However, if your tastes lean more towards a simple place to enjoy your morning coffee and, perhaps, impress your friends when you host the neighborhood barbecue, you may want to prioritize comfy seating and a striking BBQ island.

Outdoor Living Space Planning #2:

 

Consider Special Challenges


Once you have determined how you want to use your outdoor room, you need to consider special challenges that pertain to your particular situation.

For example, if the area is exposed to wind or full sunlight, how will you create a comfortable space that is sheltered from these elements?

Depending on the proximity of your neighbors, and the fencing and landscaping of your yard, you may also need to determine how you will ensure privacy to allow full enjoyment of your space.

If drainage is an issue in that section of your yard, you may need to look into proper grading of the area and using ground covers, such as pavers or artificial grass, that allow good drainage. 

If you are working with a small space, now is the time to determine how best to manage traffic flow and how you can fit the features you want or need without crowding the area and taking away from the overall look or function.

As with rooms inside your home, an outdoor room can easily become overcrowded with too-large furnishings or too many features, but with careful planning and the right selections, you will be able to create the space of your dreams without sacrificing style or function.

This is also a good time to determine the focal point for your outdoor room.

Just like an interior room, an exterior room will benefit from having a visually appealing point of focus, which could be an outdoor fireplace, an amazing view, your pool or your garden.

It is important to select your focal point early on, which will allow you to design the space around it, while also allows you to address any challenges related to the visual you wish to emphasize, such as trees or other landscaping that may be blocking the view.

Coming up with creative solutions to design challenges is often limited by what the homeowner has previously seen or experienced.

Before you give up or settle for a less-than-ideal solution, expand your options by checking out garden or home shows, going on garden tours or browsing the Web for design ideas that might help you address your particular landscaping challenges.

Outdoor Living Space Planning #3:

 

Utilities


The importance of planning for utilities in the early stages of outdoor room design cannot be overstated.

Once you have a general layout of which features will go where, you can plan to run utility lines to the appropriate areas in your yard prior to beginning your build.

This is also when you should be looking to the future for what you might add at a later date.

For example, if the BBQ island of your dreams is not within your budget right now, you may need to opt for a more affordable option, such as a portable grill.

However, if you plan to add that BBQ island at some point in the future, you should go ahead and run the utilities you will need to that area.

This might include a gas line or electrical wiring, as well as a water line and sewer, if a sink is part of the plan.

Water features, wet bars, mini refrigerators, lighting, speakers and anything else that will require electrical wiring, a gas line or plumbing needs to be considered at this point, and the appropriate utilities need to be set up before you begin installing synthetic turf, paving stones, or other flooring and ground cover options.

Once your build is complete, it can be quite costly to run even a single line that you forgot to include, so double and triple check your lists to make sure all of your electrical and plumbing needs will be covered. You can always run sleeves(typically PVC piping) to various points in your yard which act as a placeholder, just in case you change your mind and need to run a few utilities at a future point in time. This is also a nice selling point for future homeowners, knowing that their options are open. 

Outdoor Living Space Planning #4:

 

Should You Hire a Designer? 

As you may have gathered by now, designing an outdoor living area takes quite a bit of planning and can be overwhelming if you do not have experience in landscape design, interior design or some related field.

A professional designer, landscape designer or landscape architect will know how to address your special challenges, be able to guide you in the best way to lay out your exterior room and will notice things that the average homeowner could easily miss. 

A professional will also know how to measure properly, can help you optimize your space and will have an eye for including what you need now, while also considering the future potential of the property.

This means that if you might sell your home at some point or may want to expand your outdoor living area or add more features, your design professional will advise you on how best to accommodate current needs and leave possibilities open for the future.

Once your build is complete, mistakes, missed opportunities and missing gas lines are costly to fix; hiring a professional will help you avoid making an expensive blunder. 

If you choose to go it alone, there are a few common mistakes that you will want to avoid.

These include: 

1. Failure to measure properly –

You are likely familiar with the old saying about measuring twice and cutting once.

That goes double when you are creating an outdoor living space.

Measurements that are off by even a small amount can cause significant headaches or force you to change your plans mid design, so measure, measure, measure, and then measure again.

2. Difficulty determining scale –

Exterior rooms do not have helpful walls and doors to provide a sense of scale, which often results in homeowners misjudging the size of the area and the appropriate size for their outdoor living space.

Unfortunately, it is often not until after the pavers are installed or the deck is built that they realize they have underestimated the ground area required to fit all of the furnishings and features they had in mind.

This results in overcrowding, poor traffic flow or an uncomfortable area that will rarely be used. 

You can always purchase smaller patio furniture, use fewer pieces, or go without one or more of the features you had planned to include, but a much better option is to plan for the right size in the first place.

If you already have the furniture you plan to use, set it up on the ground with ample walking and standing room between each piece to get a better feel for how much room is required.

If you do not yet have the furnishings, or would like to also get an idea of space with the inclusion of various features, you can use cardboard or butcher paper to create cutouts in the approximate size and shape of each item to be included.

Lay these cutouts on the ground in the appropriate positions and with plenty of space in between for traffic flow to better determine the ground area needed to create your desired outdoor entertaining space.

3. Failing to plan for lighting –

Without a professional designer leading the way, homeowners sometimes forget about the little things, such as accent and mood lighting.

A perfectly placed chandelier, or small accent lights that illuminate garden pathways or impressive trees, can make the difference between a so-so entertaining space and an outdoor living area that looks perfectly put together and provides an ideal environment for relaxing or socializing.

4. Conflicting design –

Your outdoor living space is an extension of your home and should be treated as such.

From the arch of your pergola to the color of your throw pillows, each aspect of your exterior design should reflect or complement the architecture of your home and the interior design found in indoor rooms.

This includes your selection of pavers, ground covers, furnishings and architectural features. 

Final Thoughts…

Whether your outdoor space for entertaining will include pergolas and a putting green, a fire pit and sitting walls, a full outdoor kitchen and a fountain, or a wet bar and a television, the key to successfully completing this home improvement project is proper planning.

With accurate measuring, consideration of special challenges and, perhaps, the assistance of a professional designer, you can expand your home’s living area and enjoy outdoor entertaining throughout the year.

Do you have any tips to add?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below…

Luke Whittaker

Luke is the Co-Founder of  INSTALL-IT-DIRECT, Venuelust.comEstate Weddings and Events, & YourNorthCounty.com. When Luke is not working on his businesses, his second passions are in health, education(obsessed with learning) and traveling the world(life is too short to remain idle). His favorite destinations to date are Laos, Croatia, South Africa & Sri Lanka. New Zealand is next on the list...Follow him on Google+Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin.

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