Many designers are addressing this burgeoning interest and awareness with design elements that blur the line between indoors and outdoors. The living spaces of our homes are no longer limited to areas contained behind insulated walls and under roofs. Exterior elements such as decks and private gardens, as well as interior design elements such as sun rooms and skylights, bring a sense of the outdoors into the home. As such features gain acceptance and popularity, their variety and range of options will continue to expand.
Among the most common and time-tested design elements in the arena of indoor/outdoor living are decks and patios. Decks and patios typically expand living spaces by connecting directly to family rooms, breakfast areas and other informal spaces. They enhance the family orientation of home designs and offer greater flexibility to these informal gathering spots.
Many design firms, such as James Zirkel Home Design Services, Inc., of Altamonte Springs, Fla., expand outdoor living spaces further by adding pools and summer kitchens. Many plans by this firm show summer kitchens, which typically include small wet bars, cooktops and barbecue areas, and are located near an optional pool and/or patio space. The result is an outdoor family recreation area that accommodates entertaining and greatly extends the home's living space.
Another option for incorporating the outdoors into the interior layout of a home has been used in several designs by Piercy & Barclay Designers, Inc., of Tigard, Oregon. This firm has created contemporary home plans that include an open-air atrium surrounded on all sides by interior spaces. Accessible from several rooms, these atriums bring the outdoors into the fabric of daily life. These private spaces often contain small gardens, water features such as ponds and fountains, and even trees. The effect is reminiscent of a traditional Italian piazza. The challenge of drainage is addressed by creating drain fields that shed water away under the foundation of the home. These atriums can be modified by the addition of a roof with skylights in areas where the climate is too harsh for an open-air living space.
The next step in the spectrum of indoor/outdoor spaces is ideal for those who prefer to enjoy the outdoors while keeping it in its place-outdoors. Many plans offer sun rooms or rooms with vast windows, to maximize outdoor views and natural light. Improvements in the energy efficiency of construction materials, including insulated glass and heat exchange systems, have made this a popular way to blur the line between indoor and outdoor living.
Another current design shift is demonstrated by the New Urbanism movement, which espouses a return to the expression of traditional values in home design. Proponents of Neotraditional architecture exhibit a strong focus on outdoor, family-oriented gathering spaces. One common expression of this focus is the removal of the garage entrance from the front elevation of the home. This allows designers to create deep porches, and reverses the trend toward 6' x 8' front stoops. The deeper porch encourages home owners and guests to sit and linger, and reflects a return to a sense of family, community and connection with our neighborhoods. Other challenges of urban living situations have also been addressed. Floor plans create private spaces through architectural design. A good example can be found in homes designed for narrow, urban infill sites. These designs frequently include a private garden on one side of the home. The gardens are often accessed from a master suite and face a windowless wall of a neighboring structure. The privacy of these spaces is further enhanced by their limited access from outside the home. This gives the space a family-focused orientation rather than the feel of a public recreation space.
Recent home-design software packages that allow Americans to design their own homes, as it were, reveal the importance we place on living spaces that enhance our connections to families, friends and the natural world that surrounds us. Architects and home designers are responding by offering designs that create spaces intended to bring families together in an environment that connects them to their natural surroundings and expresses their wish to preserve privacy. The concept of family-focused outdoor retreats gains popularity as our lives become more hectic and spaces become more crowded. As designers embrace these concepts of privacy, family focus and the restorative effects of outdoor living, the range of creative design solutions will continue to grow.