5 Tips for Improving Outdoor Living

bump out additions

Modern backyard designed by Holly Hall, AIA

Crickets singing, fireflies flickering, beautiful sunsets, and warm, humid nights. Along with pool parties and barbeques, summer is here in Texas! For some outdoorsy folks, they’d live out-of-doors all year round (my Colorado-residing little sister included). For the rest of us, we prefer not to give up the comforts of our interiors while taking to the outside.

If you’d like to enjoy more time in your yard without reenacting an episode of Yard Crashers, take a walk with me. Let’s look at the five ideas below to help you develop a plan for your future outdoor oasis. With a little creativity, you can transform your patio, porch, or yard into a beautiful outdoor living room that’ll have your neighbors knocking on your door with hot dogs and burgers ready to grill.

Find your focus

Designing the elements of your outdoor space is easy if you establish a focal point. As we architects like to preach, “Form follows function.” So consider what you want your outdoor space to do for you before you start moving furniture or digging up flower beds. Anything from a table and chairs, a chiminea, a water feature, to a huge oak tree beautifully lit at night can serve as the inspiration for the design of your outdoor space.

Having a hard time deciding what the focal point is or should be? If you’ve lived in your home for more than a few months you may have already developed a blind eye, meaning you’ve lived with whatever is there now long enough that you don’t actually look at it the same way you do when seeing a space for the first time. That’s why it’s helpful to get a friend (who is capable of an honest opinion) to come view your backyard or patio with “fresh eyes” so they can tell you where their eye is drawn. You may have stopped paying any attention to the tattered hammock in the corner, but it’s the first thing your visitor notices.

Create an enclosure

Next time you have a chance to eat on a patio at a restaurant take note of how it feels like a room. There may not be walls on three sides, but just the placement of plantings, a railing or even a hanging screen can create an intimate feel. Creating an enclosure or defined area can also communicate to your guests that the space enclosed has a specific purpose (parents relaxing area vs. kids playing area). Have fun with the materials you use to delineate different spaces. You can lay down a design of gravel or brick that will clearly mark the living space as separate from the rest of your outdoor area.

Want to take it a step further? Many families choose to add a screened porch to the back of their home. While this is a larger investment, it will certainly add value, not to mention protection from the elements and the legendary “big as your head” Texas mosquitoes.

Here is an inspiration board to improve your patio with plants. You can shop this look at the end of the post.

patio improvement with plants

Outdoor and weatherproof furniture

If you plan on making your outdoor space perfect for parties, visualize how your guests will move around and where they might congregate to have conversations. Do you plan on sit-down dinners, or just having snacks to graze upon? If the weather is good (a risky assumption in Texas, but we do it anyway) then it can be fun to bring your indoor furniture out to the patio for your party. Just in case you have too much fun at your own party (Eh hem, who fixed that other pitcher of margaritas?) make sure you have a Designated Furniture Mover or a friend who owes you a favor to bring in the good chairs before the night is over.

Rather not risk losing your inheritance by ruining Grandma’s rolling bar cart? There are so many options available in weatherproof furniture that can withstand the elements without falling victim to fading, rotting or rusting. Teak and cedar are both outdoor-friendly wood choices. Outdoor fabric has come a long way from the stiff cabana stripes or floral motif cushions that once made up our limited selection. Companies such as Sunbrella have designer fabric lines with beautiful colors and on-trend patterns.

Add a water feature

It is no surprise that the water park near my house is perpetually full of kids and parents from the opening weekend until the day before school starts in the fall. There’s almost nothing like the cooling effect that a light mist of water and a slight breeze can provide during the hot summer months. Take advantage of the cooling potential as well as the visual and audio treat that a water feature can provide. Options include anything from a pond to store-bought fountains and cascading waterfalls, and can be either stand-alone or mountable on a wall.

One note of caution: please install a water circulating pump in your pond or water feature. Standing water is like an all-inclusive resort for insects and you don’t want the men in white coats from the Center for Disease Control knocking on your door because you allowed flying critters with West Nile Virus to spawn in your birdbath.

Set the mood with lighting

Lighting tends to be a neglected feature in outdoor Do It Yourself (DIY) projects. Tasteful outdoor illumination will not only make your outdoor space more inviting, but it will also make it safer as well. While I’m not a fan of the little stake lights that end up looking like an airport runway on a front walk, I encourage you to add lighting to your landscaping. LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights are becoming more affordable and are an excellent choice for energy efficiency and long-lasting bulbs. Although, personally I find there’s something romantic about the glow and incessant buzzing from a bug-zapping lantern.

If you decide to illuminate the outside of a particular structure, position the light source far enough away so the shadows are not severe. Anyone remember how scary the shadows are that are cast by a flashlight under the chin during the telling of a ghost story? The same goes for your home. Save the eerie lighting for Halloween. For the rest of the year, choose soft and inviting light to extend your use of your outdoor spaces into the evening.

HPD Architecture offers custom design solutions for outdoor living area projects in both Dallas and the North Texas areas. Whether you want to enhance your home or office, we have the expertise to create functional and unique spaces that bring out the best in your environment. Contact us today!

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VP, Architect, hpd architecture + interiors
Laura Davis is a Texas and Colorado registered architect and interior designer, and a co-founder of hpd architecture + interiors. With a diverse portfolio spanning residential, commercial, retail, and historical projects, Laura’s heart lies with her specialty in Historic Preservation. She loves to revitalize older properties, cherishing their character and the stories they hold. Her true passion lies in understanding her clients deeply, uncovering their desires and motivations, and crafting designs that turn houses into cherished homes.

Laura Davis is a registered architect and interior designer in the state of Texas and Colorado, and a founding member of hpd architecture + interiors. Laura's extensive experience includes residential as well as commercial and retail projects.  She also has a particular interest in restoration, holding a certificate in Historic Preservation. She is energized by the character of older homes and the stories of those who have lived there. Responding to the needs of the current owner, while also honoring the personality of the original home is a delicate process to be enjoyed.

Laura Davis

Vice President, Architect, Interior Designer Principal , hpd architecture + interiors


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