As spring and summer arrive, we generally feel a pull to spend more time outdoors. Sipping your morning cup of coffee on the patio, spending time in your yard, gathering with friends for a sunset cocktail on the deck… you’ll want your spaces to transition from indoors to outdoors with ease.

Any well-planned space brings benefits, but I’m especially fond of additional chances to connect with nature at home. A high-quality outdoor space heightens the entire experience of being at home. You can enjoy a well designed outdoor space even from inside.

Benefits of extending the indoors out

Spring makes us want to pop our doors and windows open to soak in the daylight and take in the fresh air. We naturally feel the pull to live more expansively, after all those months of burrowing in.

The more comfortable and stylish your spaces are outdoors, the more time you’re likely to spend enjoying them. You can truly experience the seasons when you’ve created an outdoor living space that rivals the indoors.

One perk of creating a delightful outdoor space is that it can help an interior space feel larger, too.

Another benefit is getting to enjoy the elements of nature you might not notice when inside — greenery, flowers, birds, and woodland creatures.

Consider these key factors when planning outdoor spaces

When you’re thinking about the design for your outdoor spaces, here are some key considerations:

  • Privacy — Create nooks where you’ll truly feel at home outside.
  • Shelter — Design with the elements in mind.
  • Temperatures — Think about the high and low temps possible.
  • Transitions — Make it easy and visually appealing to walk through.
  • Functionality — Consider how you’ll actually use the spaces.

Once you’ve thought through those key factors, you’ll be well on your way to creating a livable outdoor space.

Design for gathering and retreat

Each space should be designed with a purpose in mind, whether it’s cooking, dining, lounging, or entertaining. Beyond that, I like to create specific zones that are designed for either gathering or retreat. I believe we need a mix of outdoor spots that are cozy and intimate and those that are lively and facilitate entertaining.

Exactly how you do that — through extensive home renovation or a more minimalist approach (such as finding the right outdoor furniture) — is up to you.

Architectural design options
When it comes to home renovation, the transition is key. Adding more window space or “glazing” can help soften the transition. You can add classic french doors, insert an overhead garage door style opening, or create walls that open up as folding doors.

In addition to the walls and doors, look into what’s above you and below you. These set the ambiance — so pay attention to the flooring (tiles, wood, heated concrete, etc.) and overhead materials (trees, lights, umbrellas or permanent canopy). Personally, I like to think of how Frank Lloyd Wright homes often wove together indoor and outdoor spaces by connecting them with an overhang that continues all the way out.

If you have the space and the budget, a stand-alone pergola or greenhouse are nice additions. These permanent fixtures can extend the house into the yard, by creating the impression of an outdoor room.

Simple switches
If you want to bring the indoors out, but don’t want to remake your home’s architectural details, you still have many options. Instead of building out new zones from scratch, you can clearly delineate specific spaces in a variety of ways. Plants are your friend here. You can separate spaces through landscaping, raised planters, or flower boxes. You’ll also want to pay careful attention to where you place your grill, heat lamps, and/or fire pits.

Outdoor rugs also bring warmth to a space and make it feel pulled together and intentional. Designated outdoor pillows and throws create coziness on cooler nights (if it feels too cold, what’s the point?) or at times when you want to experience the lounge feel. There’s something special about feeling softer textures outdoors.

Again, if you don’t want to invest in a permanent pergola at the moment, a well-designed hammock or swing can draw the eye out. Placing something interesting at the end of your space visibly stretches the indoors out further, by serving as a focal point that invites viewers out.

Ensure shade with covered areas and allow for light, too.
Ultimately, it’s easier to bring the indoors out if you have a covered area outside. If it’s not a covered area, you’ll have lots of natural light, but there are trade offs. You may find yourself scrambling to take cushions in whenever it rains or gets windy.

Whatever you choose, do make sure you’ve set aside some spots for shade. Big, old-growth trees are the best for this, but an umbrella or two can be helpful if you don’t yet have a mature tree (or don’t have much yard space).

Set the mood with lighting.

Great lighting can really set a space apart. Establishing pendant lights for outdoor dining space or table lamps for outdoor seating areas brings a touch of sophistication.

You’ll also want to illuminate paths and the edges of planting beds. Diffuse light up and down walls and fences, too. Washing a surface in light helps define the space and creates a special ambiance.

Furnish your outdoor areas for comfort and convenience.

Dining al fresco
As an alternative or an addition to the pendant lights mentioned earlier, cafe lights on your outdoor dining table help create warmth.

I’d also recommend you have on hand serving trays for convenience and a few mesh screen tents to cover food. The screen tents help keep bugs away when you’re eating outdoors.

Lounge seating
Nice patio furniture, such as a corner sofa or a sofas and chairs bring comfort and also look great outdoors. Just ensure you’re using furniture that’s meant for the outdoors and has appropriate weather-proof fabric and finishes. You can introduce a coffee table and/or side tables — you and your guests will want a place to rest your drinks and belongings, just like you do indoors.

However you handle it, I know you’ll enjoy any extra attention you pay to your outdoor spaces this year. It’s definitely worth your investment of time and energy to create spaces you can truly enjoy.