by Ondine Brooks Kuraoka
You may have a generic patio set in your backyard, but do you have an outdoor space that beckons you to settle in and relax, regardless of the season? In Southern California, we have such geographical good fortune; why not create an “outdoor room” to take full advantage of it? An outdoor room does not require drywall or a roof — it’s embodied in the feeling of an outdoor haven; one in which you feel just as comfortable as you would indoors.
Walls, ceiling and floor
“Think about walls, ceiling and floor, but without traditional construction,” says Kathy Wilson, home decorating expert for LifetimeTV.com. “Use curtains to drape off a porch for a cozy feeling. Buy cheap flat sheets and grommet kits. Make simple curtains that can be thrown away at the end of the season because of the sun damage. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on outdoor fabrics.”
“On a porch, you can paint a ‘rug’ on the concrete. It’s a creative touch for very little money,” Kathy says. “Use craft paints and foam brushes; it looks fantastic and it grounds the room. If you want it to last more than one season, seal it with polyurethane. Or use concrete stain or porch paint to make it permanent.”
To help define the space, use hanging planters or trellises with easy-growing vines such as black-eyed Susans, clematis or honeysuckle. Gazebos and pergolas create an airy feel with open walls.
If you’re considering installing a patio, Mary Jo Martin, a Santee member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, recommends permeable flooring materials. Flagstone, cut stone, pavers or porous concrete allows water to drain between the stones — a more earth-friendly option than non-permeable concrete.
Many Southern Californians are staying closer to home these days. It’s easy to create the feel of your very own tropical paradise. “Rain cape thatch umbrella covers and shade covers protect from the sun and insulate well,” says Steve Raketich, Vice President of Backyardxscapes.com. “Bamboo accents, such as borders or matting, are made from highly renewable resources and are versatile and inexpensive.”
No porch? No problem
Free your mind from the conventional. “You can create an outdoor room between a few trees in a garden,” Kathy says. “You can construct a canopy over a small table and chairs. It sets the scene for the ceiling and walls and gives the feeling of a room. It’s easy, inexpensive and romantic.”
Mary Jo suggests LED lights. LEDs are now available in warmer hues and, at just three watts as opposed to 35 watts, the initial cost eventually pays for itself in energy savings. Tiki torches are another option; they are festive, inviting and simple to install.
Kathy advises choosing a theme, even if it’s just your favorite color, to lend organization to your design. Keep your theme in mind in travels to thrift stores or your favorite shops and enjoy the process of decorating your “new room.”
Let your nesting instincts guide you in personalizing your space. “Make it comfortable to cuddle up with a book; you want to feel wrapped up in comfort,” Kathy says. Think throw blankets and pillows. Paint a sign with an inspirational word that makes you feel good.
Deidra Darsa, manager of media and public relations of Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association, discusses the latest trends in outdoor rooms.
• Essentials of an inviting space include a place to cook, such as a grill, a dining area and a heat source, whether a fire pit, patio heater or outdoor fireplace.
• “Furniture is becoming more deep-seated and cushy,” Deidra says. “You almost melt into it when you sit down.” Beds and double chaise lounges are popular.
• Conversational nooks are a focal point. These need not be extravagant; a couple of chairs and small table in a garden area fulfill this purpose.
• Outdoor art adds to the ambiance. Explore exhibits of metal art, wood or stone statues or even faux oil paintings.
Cooking in your outdoor room: Beyond hot dogs
Start simple and grow your outdoor kitchen as your budget allows. Cooking components are widely available, making it easy to add step-by-step. Sink components, refrigerators and storage add convenience. Multifaceted grills with infrared heating enable cooks to sear the outside of the meat, with a juicier, steakhouse-style taste. Pizza ovens are timeless and in demand.
Mary Jo, an award winner for water-smart garden design, is including fewer big waterfalls and more small recirculating fountains in suggested plans. She notes that accent beds featuring succulents and cactus mixed with California native plants appear soft and lush while still conserving water.
Watch the world go by
After you’ve put your creativity to work, enjoy the fruits of your labor in your beautiful outdoor room. Stock up on summer novels for a quiet respite from your busy life. Or as Kathy says, “Gather your family or invite your friends over, have a cup of lemonade and watch the world go by.”
Association of Professional Landscape Designers • apldca.org
Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association • hpba.org