OK, so I got the grill out and ready, a new umbrella for my patio and now I’m patiently (sort of) waiting for any excuse to not be in my house for the next four months. As always, we had that tease of warmth in March that quickly dissipated into a month of cold and rainy days in which to anticipate release from inside.
I love the Northeast — our shifting seasons makes the experience of outdoor living even better; since our “perfect” days are limited we treat them with great respect. Although I ignore my backyard through those first forsythia blooms, from now until the first flurries fly I’ll be living outdoors as much as I possibly can.
While my focus is interiors, I’ve often been asked to design outdoor spaces. It makes great sense — in fact, our patios or decks are extensions of our homes — outdoor living and dining rooms. We don’t have to spend a fortune furnishing them, but how the space is organized is pretty important. Our patios often become our main living space for a third of the year and with a little careful consideration, we can get the most from them.
In the last 15 or so years, our options to furnish outdoor spaces have become as highly designed and equipped as our interiors. No longer should we be satisfied with new webbing on folding chairs and our slightly rusted hibachi: astounding patio options abound. Just pick up a Williams Sonoma catalog — (or Google “grills”) and you’ll find smokers, tagines (what’s a tagine, you ask?) deep fryers for your next turkey, kamado grills for your next pig roast, and firepits aplenty to keep you warm well into autumn’s harvest. Not just for movie stars anymore, our decked-out patios can include fully equipped kitchens, TV screens and sound systems, sumptuous sectionals, outdoor carpeting — and that’s before we even get to the spas, pools, outbuildings and awnings. Swingsets gave way to “play zones” in our increasingly complicated (and correspondingly expensive) list of outdoor options.
For the less well-heeled and more pragmatic among us, it’s a simpler matter of choices, but even that can be daunting. Even more than indoors, the question becomes: how important is it? Clearly in the Northeast we have less time to enjoy the toys of outdoor living than our brethren further south. It’s a bit of “chicken and egg” as well — if you have it, will you use it?
There are some basic things to consider when planning your outdoor living space. Just like any other renovation (and this is indeed one, albeit less life disruptive), allow yourself time to get good plans in place. Hire a professional — there are (at least) as many considerations with landscape and patio design as there are for interior renovation, and proper planning will make all the difference in the world to how your space grows.
A landscape architect or designer will help you sort out what to plant and what to pave, where drainage is an issue, what your town will require and how to make choices that will look good not only next year, but in 20 years. While it may be wonderful to get those plantings in (or out) and the deck built, it’s frustrating to realize that it doesn’t fit lounge chairs and a table; that the cute little (very expensive) red maple is too close to the house, or that digging around your foundation has led to a wet basement. Even if you do the work yourself, a professional outdoor planner will be able to help you find solid solutions and avoid costly mistakes. He or she can help you figure out how to deal with sun angles, create shade, minimize mosquitoes, protect from downpours, shelter from wind, capture breezes, and plant so that this summer afternoons your hammock gets more use than the lawn mower.
Summer living, especially at “the shore,” means striving for simplicity; the less we need to maintain our spaces the more time we have to revel in where we live. Off to the beach, out on the river, down on the boardwalk, and back to our beautiful yards for a (turkey) burger. Whether you’re thinking of “smoking” this summer or sticking to a dog from the Windmill, enjoy!