From the Architect's Desk
Porch, patio, terrace, courtyard, balcony. No matter what you call it, these are important transitional spaces that move us from out to in and from in to out.
The yard, whether it is well landscaped or simply lawn, serves the purpose of being a space for play and entertainment. It’s also a visual relief, offering natural vistas beyond the confines of our enclosed homes. But the space between? With many homes, especially newer ones, the only thing separating the inside, conditioned space from the ‘great outdoors’ is a set of exterior doors.
We as designers are getting better with the front door transition. Many homes now have a front portico, for example, or porch. But what of the backyard transition? Rather than stepping out to a minuscule concrete pad or just grass, I suggest it is better to have another room, an outdoor room, to create a more gracious transition.
So, what is an outdoor room?
I think of the outdoors they way I believe a good landscape architect does – as a series of rooms. At my own home I have a patio (room one), a lawn area with an old Japanese maple and a goldfish pond as its focal point (room two), and a flowerbed at the rear with a lovely old wooden bench (room three). Of these, the first room is the patio, the space that transitions from the interior rooms to the exterior rooms.
I like to plan for this “first” outdoor room as I would any other room in the house. In fact, I always include it as a programmed space. It should have good plan and circulation, relate well to the indoor space and the yard, provide a place to be that is neither in nor out, but in between. It can have an elegant roof or pergola for shade, or screens to keep out insects. It can have a stone floor or a wood one. I’m a stickler for lighting plans indoors, and the same holds true in the outdoor room – it should have good lighting for reading or entertaining and to help define the space in the evenings. The outdoor room has places for flowers and wide steps or walls to sit on, creating the effect of an amphitheater overlooking the rest of the outdoors, providing a vista to watch children playing or birds alighting on native plantings. Some have fireplaces and cooking areas, but that is not necessary. All that’s really required is a nicely proportioned first room that is also known as the porch, patio, terrace, courtyard or balcony.