Outdoor Living Room
One way to extend your house is to use your outdoor space to full advantage. And many contemporary houses make many a room look larger by visually extending it into the lawn or garden. Tricks such as glass walls, using the same wall material inside as for a continuing wall on the terrace and using the same material for the ceiling inside as on the extended terrace eaves, help to do this. Your living room or dining room and even your bedroom or your children’s bedrooms can flow right outdoors on to “floating” decks of wood, bricked terraces or sodded, lattice-roofed loggias.
However you do it, with the aid of vine, fences, shrubbery, shade trees and flowers you can make your terrace a delightful place for entertaining, sunbathing and relaxing. With a outdoor grill another dimension is added, for with your own fireplace or barbecue any terrace, lawn or garden spot can offer the enchantment of dining under sun and stars.
In planning your terrace, consider installing an electric outlet, or more, for lighting, portable radio, electric spit for your grill, etc. Use vines for a lattice roof (grape vines, for instance, leaf out late when shade is wanted and drop their leaves early at the beginning of cool weather, giving delicious fruit as bonus). Choose a rapid-growing vine like grape, hyacinth or a gourd vine.
Relate your terrace to the rest of your grounds with flowers and vines grown in pots, baskets and tubs. If the wall of the house next to your terrace seems bare or the profile of your cement or asphalt paving seems too sharp in contrast against the grass, soften the line with pots of plants. Have dwarf trees on your terrace and blossoming shrubs in the terrace retaining walls. Create interest with changes of level; build flower beds around trees, steps and walls.
For a terrace where everybody in the family assembles, have play space for young children, a sand box which can later be filled with plants, or a little square pool for sailing small boats (this can create a sense of luxury long after the children are grown up by turning it into a fabulous water garden).
You need not rely on trees alone for shade. Construct a self-bracing terrace roof in an egg-crate design, using the side of your house and wood, masonry or metal pillars. Corrugated plastic and reinforced glass are in frequent use nowadays because they are watertight, yet let the sunlight through.
An architectural element in use – particularly in hot climates – is the “parasol” roof, extending from the walls of the house some 4 feet and even more to give pleasant shade to the surrounding area. Since glare reflected on bare grounds is a source of heat, a carpet of shaded grass under the parasol roof helps to keep the house cool.
Often an outdoor living space gets twice the use if it is made more accessible. A window in a living room can be converted to a French door, making it more natural to step right out on the terrace instead of walking around the house to reach it. A terrace that is an extension of a narrow porch – a paved area adjoining the porch – will make the porch that much more livable. A flagstone path or any other path leading to a terrace away from the house will increase the usefulness of the terrace. Some kind of hard flooring is of prime importance, whether it is of brick, crushed rock, cement, wood block, or flagstone, for it makes it easier to move the furniture around and eliminates worries over tramped-on turf. In fact, it is a good idea to have a terrace in a spot where you are having trouble with the lawn.
Outdoor living space is successful, too, when it is sheltered – away from street noises and traffic, from the neighbors, from the wind. An unused corner of the house or the garage, with the aid of fences and walls, can turn into a sun trap that will stretch out the season for outdoor living both in spring and fall. A louvered board fence, a basket-weave fence, the traditional brick wall or in my area an adobe wall, all are pleasant backgrounds for planting and good screens against wind and other disturbing elements.