Are you in or out? Well, it's getting hard to tell these days. First there was the "indoor-outdoor flow" -- popularized in sunny California, of course -- in which big french or sliding doors let you easily transition from inside your home to your outdoor deck, patio, or what have you. Now entire rooms that were once considered indoor territory have their tricked-out outdoor equivalents -- in particular, the outdoor kitchen and the outdoor living room. You'll find not just a grill and some patio seating, but also sinks and wet bars, couches and love seats, rugs, and even big-screen TVs.
The reason: With newly built homes trending smaller, homeowners -- especially parents of young children -- are looking outside to create more living space, says Dan Moyer, national director of social media for the Closet Factory.
So kick up your alfresco lounging this summer a few notches, and take your living to the great (-ish) outdoors -- the outdoors right outside your home! Here are some ways to make these open-air spaces work.
Blaze a trail
Whether you want an outdoor playhouse, bungalow, or man cave plus barbecue, the first step to creating any outdoor room is to figure out your access points. Is there a driveway or natural path from the back door? In the photo below, large stone pavers lead the way from the glassed-in kitchen to an outdoor living space.
"The more you use the room, the more accessible you want it to be without disrupting your normal routine," Moyer says.
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Build your borders
An outdoor room may not have walls, but it will have borders -- and you'll have to figure out what those will be.
"A garden makes a beautiful, all-natural dividing line for outdoor spaces," notes Moyer. A patio or deck with an overhead arbor clearly defines a dining area. Adding built-in benches and storage containers are other ways to wall off the space.
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Pick weatherproof furnishings
Your outdoor room will be at least partly exposed to the elements, so choose furniture made from materials that can withstand moisture and dirt (no white rugs, please). Teak, bamboo, wicker, and rattan all broadcast outdoor living, and they tend to be lightweight and easy to move. Durable iron, as shown below, is both sturdy and attractive and will last a lifetime.
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Light it right
Save your fancy glass floor lamps for the inside of your house, and take a cue from your surroundings when you think about lighting up your outdoor room. A lamp filled with seashells or made from a buoy brings the beach to mind; if you're in the mountains, pick one crafted from faux antlers or rustic stained glass. You'll also need to think about pathway lighting and even landscape lights to illuminate trees or other accents in your design.
Cook outside the box
Your outdoor kitchen isn't the same as the one in the house -- you'll want a more casual vibe instead. A pizza oven, grilling station, or tile-topped bar with stools and a mini fridge or ice maker are all fun ways to differentiate this cooking space. Remember, you'll probably be serving easy, breezy foods or appetizers and drinks, not a full-blown Thanksgiving meal. And when it comes to materials here, concrete counter tops are weather-resistant and can be formed into any shape or size to fit your space. And don't forget a coat of sealer -- for protection and easy cleanup.
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Include shade -- and a source of heat
According to interior designer Jaimi Julian Thompson of the Artisan Design Group in San Diego, there are two key elements in an outdoor room: a covered area that's out of the sun's glare and a fireplace for a cozy feel.
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Add some creature comforts
Think of your outdoor room as you would a family or living room, and then include those same elements in the space, suggests Carole Marcotte, an interior designer at Form & Function in Raleigh, NC. This includes a coffee table, side tables, cozy throws for cool nights, candles, decorative objects, and more.
"You are basically trying to have the same comforts of home but in an outdoor setting," she adds. So consider installing an outdoor TV or bar area, which definitely increases the fun factor.
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Outdoor spaces give you license to go big in terms of size and get creative with your color scheme, says Anna Shiwlall, an interior designer at 27 Diamonds in Los Angeles. Use a bright rug to jazz up an entertainment area -- but then neutralize it with a concrete coffee table. Large lanterns on the floor with candles (real or electric ones) help create a warm ambiance, while oversize floor cushions or throw pillows signal a change from a more staid interior look. Large planters work well in space open to the sky.