Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. Read Part 1: Valuable real estate most people overlook.
Last time, we noted how few people truly take advantage of the land around their homes, and we saw how a simple change like replacing certain windows with doors could radically increase the usefulness of outdoor areas.
This time, we’ll look at ways to make the land outside your walls serve as an extension of the interior floor plan — to create genuine function in outdoor areas, rather than just providing the usual eye candy of cutesy-pie flower beds and lawns.
On any given residential lot, the land outside the house typically ranges from two to four times the area of the house itself. Yet remarkably few houses have outdoor areas that are truly functional complements to the interior floor plan. Here are some ways to make sure you’re getting all you can out of your property:
1. Decide which rooms have the most potential for access to the exterior. Consider such factors as how high the floor is off the ground, how you’ll ensure privacy, how much space is available for a deck or terrace beyond the door, what the solar orientation of that area is, and how it will transition to the rest of the garden. Don’t rule out any area for direct access to the outdoors — the living room, dining room and bedrooms are obvious candidates, but a breakfast room or even a bathroom might benefit as well.
2. Once you know where the new exterior doors will be, lay out the garden as a series of rooms, just as you would an interior floor plan. Draw up a list of functional requirements — say, a deck area with room for outdoor dining, a barbecue area, a flower or vegetable garden, tools storage, hot tub, or what have you — and arrange these areas with regard to access, function, privacy and solar orientation, just as you would arrange the rooms in a house.
3. Plan for a central area (the main "outdoor room") that’s at least as big as a real room — that is, a minimum of 12 feet square — and preferably bigger. The shape should be squarish to rectangular. Avoid skinny decks or terraces that surround the house like a gangway — they won’t accommodate furniture, and hence won’t be used. On the other hand, don’t pave over huge areas with decking or hardscape. Any area bigger than about 20 feet by 20 feet will start to feel vast and exposed, and won’t be a comfortable gathering place.
4. Make steps leading from raised decks or terraces to the ground as wide as possible, but never less than 6 feet. Full-width steps on one or more sides of the deck will yield the smoothest transition to ground level.
5. Define the various functional areas by using different paving materials or levels as appropriate. Add three-dimensional elements such as benches, planters, or other permanent features to give each outdoor room its own identity and sense of enclosure.
6. Avoid leftover bits of unusable "negative" space such as pointy triangular areas, narrow strips with no purpose, and the like. These are just as undesirable on the outside of a house as they are on the inside.