Approaching Home Design From the Inside Out

Blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces



Recent findings from The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Home Design Trends Survey report that outdoor living rooms have taken the top spot in terms of growing consumer interest for the sixth consecutive year.

Over the past few years, the average-sized new home has actually increased in size. However, that trend seems to be coming to an end. The final quarter of 2017 saw the first reduction in size of new home builds, and the NAHB predicts that, as the entry-level market starts to expand, home sizes will continue to decrease. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Designing and building with less square footage can give us an opportunity to plan well designed homes with maximum use and storage, and include the outdoor areas as living spaces.

With the size of building lots getting smaller and smaller, and with home sale prices increasing, maximizing the untapped potential of backyards and front yards is a great way to attract buyers. From Boomers to Millennials, the attraction of added space and value is a sure way to increase sales.

The once humble barbecue grill on the deck has morphed into an outdoor living paradise with features like fire pits, stone fireplaces, pizza ovens, outdoor showers, and even comfy and weather resistant sofas and chairs. You can now have all the comforts of your ‘inside’ home in an open, airy setting.

And here’s where size doesn’t matter: a pocket- sized backyard in an urban area can be just as tricked out as a generously sized suburban one. It all starts with a good plan and, of course, some great materials.

As an interior designer focused on sustainability, the use of natural materials, especially those that are either recycled or reclaimed, is always my top priority. Here are some tips for designing an outdoor space of any size with some naturally beautiful products that will take an outdoor space from mundane to magnificent.

It’s All Behind You:

A background design is a good place to start. Used as an accent wall in a covered area, this reclaimed teak from Island Timber is a good way to add texture and color to a plain wall. Rescued from demolished buildings in Indonesia, these decade old panels are cut, reworked and adhered to a mesh backing, for fast, easy installation.

Island Timber’s “Rimba” reclaimed teak is a stylish and sustainable outdoor living option.
Paving the Way:

Stone pebbles are a great way to create natural looking walkways and paths. Install smoothed and leveled stone pebbles, which are easy on bare feet, and can be mesh backed for easy installation with an interlocking pattern to create a natural seamless look.

Just Add Water:

Even if your yard doesn’t have a pool, an outdoor shower area is a convenient spot for rinsing off your kids after a beach day, or even bathing the family pet. Many companies offer a system of wall and floor mounted faucets available in stunning finishes that blend in beautifully with the natural environment.

Let’s Talk:

Cocktails (or coffee) start with a comfortable, cozy spot that encourages conversation. With the advent of fabrics and materials that withstand the elements, creating an outdoor living room that holds up to Mother Nature is easier than ever. Using a porcelain tile that mimics the look of stone while offering resistance to water and mold is a low maintenance, enduring, and cost effective solution.

Therma-Tru’s Classic-Craft Rustic Collection door sets the stage for a relaxing, inviting porch.
Playing with Fire:

Fire is a warming, welcoming element that encourages the gathering of family and friends. The simple pleasures of sitting around a campfire never change, and now there are hundreds of options available, from a practical fire pit to an elaborate and sophisticated fireplace. The design possibilities are limitless, but the benefits of fire as a central gathering place remain the same. Everything and the Kitchen Sink, Too: Outdoor living space design is all about bringing the comforts of the indoors out. You can transform a simple outdoor barbeque grill into a full kitchen, complete with cabinetry that can withstand the elements. Cleaning is made easier with the addition of a sink for washing up sticky or greasy messes. Many manufacturers craft beautiful outdoor kitchens out of durable stainless steel, and can be customized to meet your needs. They can provide unique signature outdoor living spaces, which can increase your bottom line.

Front and Center:

As we know, curb appeal is an important aspect of any new home build. Without that, consumer interest can stop at the front door. Front porch spaces, no matter how small, set the tone for what lies inside. Carving out a pretty sitting area with a simple bench, a pillow, and some plants can create a cozy little area for relaxation and respite.

Thinking “Outside” the Box:

For me, it’s always been a balancing act between giving the customer a great design that not only meets their needs, but includes as many sustainable products as possible. Sometimes incorporating all they ask for isn’t easy, as their list of ‘wants’ can be pretty extensive. So I try to include as many green aspects as I can, like products made in America that reduce carbon footprints from importation. Recycled or repurposed items, energy efficient lighting, and products with a long lifespan can help keep your green vision a reality, and still give the homeowner a perfectly beautiful outdoor space they can enjoy for years to come.

Patricia Gaylor has practiced as an interior designer in the Northeast for more than two decades. She may be reached at