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GSU Botanical Gardens with Chuck Taylor

Creating outdoor rooms

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    More and more Americans are sticking closer to home.  Expensive gasoline, stressful airports, and hectic jobs are all forces driving the desire to create peaceful respites to be enjoyed without leaving the comfort and security of home.  As a result, the distinction between indoors and outdoors is becoming more blurred.  People are seeking to create sophisticated spaces in outdoor settings where they can entertain friends and family year-round.  This desire is driving the movement to create outdoor “rooms.”
    There are many benefits to creating outdoor rooms.  Kitchens, fireplaces, dining areas, etc., can add livable space without the cost of knocking down walls.  
If done correctly, not only will the improvements provide hours of enjoyment, they can add significant value to your home. However, if poorly designed, these additions can become more of a detriment than an asset.
    So how do I plan an outdoor room?  Here are five points of advice to follow:

 1. Create a convenient, easy flow from inside to outside.
    The best outdoor spaces flow from the inside to the outside, giving the feeling of a natural extension of the home.  Some homes are set up better than others to accommodate this, but the idea is to allow the transition to be as open and smooth as possible.  Having to go through a utility room will not be as inviting as walking into your outdoor garden through French doors leading from a main living area.

 2. Use durable, time proven materials and products.
    The idea is to create a setting that is relaxing and enjoyable.  Most homeowners don’t want to spend most of their time on maintenance and repairs.  I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about some homeowners who had become disgusted with the care involved in keeping up their outdoor kitchens, pools, spas, etc., and simply stopped using them.  Some of these folks have invested $70,000 or more creating their outdoor paradises only to become discouraged later and abandon them.
    It is very important to choose materials and products that are proven durable in the outdoors.  In our climate, sun, humidity, rain and pollen can turn what appears to be a nice outdoor accessory into something ready for the recycle center very quickly.  It may cost you more up front, but stick with the time tested durability of materials such as brick, stone, concrete, stainless steel and aluminum.  If using wood, make sure it is treated or consider using some of the recycled plastic products that look like wood without the maintenance concerns.  

 3. Create a space that fits your needs and interests.
    List the outdoor activities you would most enjoy.  Do you like cooking, making pizzas, sitting by the fire, reading in the shade, then an outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven incorporated into a spacious patio with deck chairs and a shade arbor might accommodate your needs perfectly.

 4. Design outdoor rooms as carefully as you would indoor ones.
    You would not have the master bedroom flow into the kitchen and then into the master bathroom; that would not make sense.  Same goes for the outdoors.  Consider the connectivity of the different spaces and insure they flow smoothly, functionally and aesthetically.

 5. Incorporate design elements that have personal meaning.
    Have a favorite memory from your travels?  The lavender fields of Provence, the beautiful Moorish tile lining the fountains in Morocco, that lush tropical garden enclosing a private sunken spa in the Keys?  Turn those memories into design ideas that can be transferred into your backyard.  With a little imagination, you can create your own vacation escape without leaving the comforts of home.
    If you have any ideas for articles or would like to contribute an article, contact Stephanie Tames, Georgia Southern Botanical Garden,, 871-1149.
    Chuck Taylor, ASLA, is a practicing landscape architect and Campus Planner for Georgia Southern University.  Chuck is the recipient of four design awards from the Georgia Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, most recently for his pro bono design for Ogeechee Area Hospice and design work in creating a pedestrian friendly campus at Georgia Southern. 
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