Smart Design With Suzette: Outdoor Living Spaces

Outdoor theater. Courtesy photo
Backyard design plan. Courtesy photo
Smart Design With Suzette
Outdoor Living Spaces

I love being outdoors this time of year – it’s not too hot, the evenings are cool and let’s face it, our sunsets are the very best in the United States.

Creating a relaxing, stylish outdoor living space can greatly increase the appeal and value of your home while providing an oasis for friends and family to enjoy.

  • Purpose: How are you going to use your outdoor space? You most likely will need an entertainment area, cooking area and dining area. Some of you will want a garden that might include vegetables, play area for kids, dog run and/or pet area.
  • Layout. This will depend on what activities you want to happen and the size of your property. Whether your outdoor room is small and intimate or large and spacious, you’ll want to create zones to separate various activities such as cooking, conversation and relaxation while allowing for good traffic flow throughout the space.
  • Sketch A Plan. A plan provides a birds-eye view of your overall project, which can then be implemented logically in steps. Designers often draw bubbles to represent generic spaces like cooking, dining, playground, entertainment, then link the bubbles together with pathways, lawn areas and gardens. You can create the impression of separate spaces by simply changing the floor material or pattern, or by elevating one portion slightly above the other to establish distinct rooms.

A place to relax outdoors. Courtesy photo 
  • Fine-Tune Each Area: Now look at your yard in context, both in relation to the house and to itself. The flowers, hardscape and even lawn become the wallpaper of your outdoor room. Choose furniture with the overall color palate in mind. Choose building materials to complement the color and style of your house. Create a room with a view by positioning seating areas to overlook flowerbeds, water features and other attractive scenery.

  • Entertainment. This is your outdoor living room. It is a place where you and your family can sit and entertain. It might include an outdoor sectional or love seat and chairs, a fireplace or fire pit, a television or outdoor movie theater. Accessorize with an outdoor rug, pillows, coffee table, end table and mirrors hung on a fence to simulate windows.
Outdoor kitchen. Courtesy photo
  • Cooking. This might be just your grill or a full outdoor kitchen with an island that hosts a grill, smoker, refrigerator and sink. Some may be lucky enough to have an outdoor pizza oven. Regardless, your outdoor cooking area should be easily accessible from the house, located near your indoor kitchen to reduce trips back and forth.
  • Dining Space. There’s something wonderful about alfresco dining. The dining area should be close to the outdoor cooking space so dinner can go from grill to table within a few steps. Umbrellas over the table are a must if there is no overhead shade to protect people from the hot sun and good lighting at night is essential.

Outdoor solar chandelier. Courtesy photo

  • Lighting. The right outdoor lighting will help beautify the space and enhance its features. One of the simplest outdoor lighting options you can add is lantern table lighting. Candle lanterns will add the same soft, elegant glow as normal candles, but they won’t blow out in the slightest breeze.

A current trend is to add holiday-style strands of lights to your outdoor space. Flaming tiki torches are a familiar touch in backyards. They can also provide a defense against mosquitos. Recently I’ve come across chandeliers retrofitted with solar lights that can hang from a tree branch and solar table lamps. Go to for lots of outdoor lighting ideas.

  • Landscaping. Before planting, be honest about your time – whether you’re a plant lover or a low-maintenance person. Native plants are wonderful to add to your landscape – better for the environment using less water and easier on you. If you are undecided, you can always do the hardscape first and add plant material later, when it’s easier to visualize. The front yard may be the showpiece of your landscape, but the backyard is all your own, a sanctuary for relaxation, entertaining and play.  

As Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz said, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” ― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Feel free to contact Los Alamos Interior Designer Suzette Fox to suggest specific design topics or for help with your home. For more information, find her on Facebook at and on her website

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