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7 Things To Consider When Designing Your Outdoor Space

As spring and summer draw near, we are all craving more time in the great outdoors — or at least to experience it without all of the winter gear! We are dying to feel the warmth of the sun on our skin. If you have a beautiful deck or patio space to enjoy, you may be itching to ditch the indoors for more outdoor living time. 

If your outdoor space is not all you imagine it could be, we have several suggestions to help bump it up. Make plans now so that when the winter weather is behind you, you’ll have a beautiful outdoor space to enjoy. 

Design is a process. Before making decisions about furnishings and decor for your outdoor space, it’s important to consider several critical factors.

Create your Function Wishlist

The very first consideration in creating the ideal outdoor space — whether it be a large backyard, or a condo balcony — is to determine how you want to use the space. Just like your indoor spaces, function should drive all decisions about outdoor design. Here is an idea list to get you started:

  • Relaxing, reading, napping

  • Outdoor games and activities

  • Playing with pets or children

  • Cocktail hour and conversation

  • Dining — for how many?

  • Entertaining — for how many?

  • Enjoying the view - which direction?

  • Gardening - patio? greenhouse?

  • Cooking - bbq? pizza?

  • Fire pit - wood burning or gas? Or both?

The more activities you hope to do in your outdoor space, the more important a proper furniture layout becomes. Be sure to check out our design services if you’d like help creating a functional outdoor space. 

Sunny or Shady?

Think about how the sun shines on your space during the months you will be using it. Note what times of day certain areas have full sun or full shade — of course, that will be different in the spring, at the summer solstice, and in late summer. Be mindful of where the sun is the hottest and where breezes can be the strongest. In Alaska, we are mainly looking to have lots of sunny spots to enjoy versus shady areas. To that end, we’ve actually recommended that a client build out her deck further to really take advantage of the sun for more hours. She was missing all of her deck’s sunny hours and by the time she got home from work, the deck was shaded. Extending her deck solved the problem and she was able to relax after work and soak in the Alaska sun, which we need to do in order to survive up here.

While we don’t worry too much about sunrise and sunset views for summer life in Alaska, do consider them especially if you’ll use your space into the fall. But also focus on which view you may want to take advantage of. Many Alaskans are fortunate to have multiple great views from their homes. Is there a particular focus you’d like to take? 

The Not-so-nice Side of Mother Nature

There is a lot to think about here. In addition to temperature, it is also important to consider rainfall, wind, and snow. If you are selecting hardscape flooring, think about slipperiness when wet, and how it will be treated during the winter. If kids or pets will be walking on an outdoor surface throughout the year, will the material tolerate salt and de-icer? 

Make sure patio pots are sufficiently heavy and stable so they won’t tip over with strong wind gusts. Select plants that match the sun condition requirements for the desired placement.

Mosquitos are an issue too. Certain parts of the yard are particularly bad, but in general, we need to address bug control in outdoor design. We love to incorporate outlets to plug in magnets and other mosquito devices. 

Furniture Planning and Selections

Both the desired functionality and the space orientation will impact decisions about furniture finishes and the spatial arrangement of furnishings. Consider whether furniture choices and seating arrangements will allow for conversation and socializing. Generally, if you wish to entertain, you will want furniture pieces to face one another. Make sure furniture is spaced close enough to comfortably have a conversation. 

If you are planning outdoor dining furniture, capacity can be simple to compute: a six-foot rectangular table will seat approximately six people, an eight-foot table — eight people, etc. A 48” round can seat four to five, and a 60” round table can seat six to eight. 

Weather is also a very strong factor in choosing finishes for outdoor furniture. Wood (often teak), all-weather wicker,  or metal (often aluminum) are common choices for outdoor furniture frames that will stand up well to weather conditions. While outdoor fabrics that can withstand the elements without fading or decaying are widely available, if your outdoor furniture will be exposed to heavy rain or unrelenting sun, we highly recommend the use of high-quality furniture covers or opting for furniture pieces that do not include fabric-covered cushions. And definitely plan to bring in furniture or completely cover for our harsh winters. 

When arranging furniture outdoors, try orienting pieces to allow views to the most pleasing features of your space or of nature. Also, take a moment to consider how the outdoor setup will impact the view from inside the home. Select complimentary furniture colors and a layout that will not hinder your indoor view.

House Entry Considerations

Always remember to consider the connection of your outdoor living space with the adjacent entry to your home. Will you be tracking in mud and dirt? Is there a way to accommodate for this? 

We always recommend incorporating well-designed drop zones to collect wet towels, shoes, wet snow gear, and other outdoor gear to protect your indoor space.

In an existing home, the best solution may be dark-colored, washable, and durable rugs inside the door and door mats outside. If you are fortunate enough to plan for these considerations pre-construction, you may consider adding an arctic entry.

Lighting Needs

While we do not need lighting features in Alaska in the summer, adding lighting can be a great way to extend that patio use into the fall and simply brighten up your winter. This can include a hard-wired, permanently installed outdoor fixtures, but also string lights. String lights are inexpensive and available in a wide variety of styles and colors.  

Make sure to select lighting fixtures approved for outdoors installations.

Other Outdoor Amenities

If you want to fully enjoy all aspects of an outdoor living space, consider other desirable amenities. This might include a grill, a pizza oven or an outdoor kitchen, a heater, fire pit, spa, or a fountain. If you are hoping to add these items, be sure to include them on the floor plan of your space and make material selections that will work well for your climate. We love concrete and have designed many custom fire pits for our clients along side our local expert craftsman. 

If you have a big landscaping opportunity, we recommend working with a landscape architect to really take advantage of your space and to flush out your options. When you’re ready to furnish your patio or deck, please start a project inquiry so we can help you maximize your layout and function for your entertaining area.




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