Memorial Day is in the rear-view mirror, meaning Summer is officially upon us. To all those lucky enough to have private outdoor space – is it providing maximum enjoyment? Is it an inviting extension of your living space, or just a place that demands ongoing maintenance?  

WHERE TO START? 

It might sound counter-intuitive, but the best place to start assessing your outdoor space is from inside your home. Is there inviting and easy access from important living spaces? Or is physical access limited to a tight doorway in an awkward location? Maybe the outdoor value lies more in the views it provides. Does the size and placement of windows take full advantage of those views? The reality is that your yard can’t live up to its full potential if getting to it takes effort, or if it’s barely visible from inside your home.  

CONNECTIVITY IS KEY TO OUTDOOR LIVING 

What I see quite often when I first meet with clients about a renovation or addition are major spatial disconnects. How rooms connect is of upmost importance to how functional they are; how large (or cozy) they feel; how inviting they are to be in. 

When thinking about outdoor living, the key is to create a functional and visual connection between interior and exterior. Think of your outdoor space as another room or series of rooms. That might mean a new terrace or screened porch and strategically located doorways for access. Depending on topography, maybe a deck would more effectively draw people outdoors. If a view of the landscape is paramount, then those views need to be “framed” with properly sized and placed windows.  

The message is that outdoor design should be intrinsically tied to the house it surrounds. Whether talking about the hardscape, or decking, or plantings, there will ideally be a level of seamlessness and synergy. At the end of the day, thoughtful landscaping is a win-win. It is a sure path to enhancing the value of your home and, perhaps more importantly, expanding your living space and enjoyment.  

CREATING STRUCTURE FOR OUTDOOR LIVING  

When thinking of outdoor rooms, you’ll need to think in terms of “structure.” That doesn’t necessarily mean building a gazebo or installing a new deck. Structure is about creating a destination. Personal preferences, budget, and the physical realities of your yard will help determine what those destinations might look like and how they are used. Maybe you’re an avid gardener or lover of nature. Spaces can be created using plantings, perhaps accessed with gravel pathways. The destination might be a yoga platform, or perhaps a cozy area for a few lounge chairs surrounding a fire pit. If you have the space for a large terrace, you can still think about creating smaller “destinations” that allow you to experience your yard from different vantage points. There are an endless number of resources that can help you envision the possibilities for your property, such as https://www.homeanddesign.com/category/landscape-design

SITE CONSTRAINTS 

I can’t think of any design projects, no matter the budget, that didn’t include constraints. When talking about the landscape you can’t escape the inherent constraints of the site itself. Perhaps it’s quite steep or uneven; maybe it’s much lower than the main living areas; there might be views that need to be blocked; and the list goes on. Constraints are not all bad – they can help focus on the most important design priorities, and determine where best to start. 

An example of dealing with serious site constraints is the “Riverfront Residence.”  In this case, the entire site is in a floodplain along the Delaware River. A major flood while planning a full renovation of the existing house made it clear that the best course of action would be a new home designed to deal with future challenges. The “constraint” in this case opened the door to designing a new house at a higher elevation, able to take full advantage of its river view. A large, raised deck creates the initial platform for outdoor living, with broad steps to the lawn for a strong sense of connection to the property.  

The new Pool House was built on existing stone walls, but the upper-level living area was raised above the 100-year flood line. The existing pool surround was also redesigned by Gorman Architecture to create a more natural feel and a stronger visual connection to the river beyond.  

The client fully enjoys weekends at their new home, designed to fully reflect their style and priorities – a major one being river views and connection to nature. Gorman Architecture + Design is dedicated to providing design services that meet clients where they are at, while leading them to an outcome that exceeds their expectations.