Outdoor Living Spaces as an Extension of the Home

Our home was more of a museum when we first saw it seven years ago, and not in the friendly sense of the term. Everywhere you looked, there was stuff piled on top of stuff. Even the tennis court had become a refuge for kids’ toys of all shapes and sizes. So, seeing the beauty of the place required looking through all of that to find (imagine, really) what was hidden beneath. And while the home would be years in the making—we’ve still got a couple of bathrooms that are begging to be renovated—the surrounding property, we could start shaping straightaway because it was pretty much a blank canvas.

I set out to design three unique outdoor living spaces, each meant to be its own private oasis. In doing so, they’d also enhance the tranquil, green surroundings in their own ways. Inside or outside, a living area is defined not by the physical parameters but by the means through which you express your lifestyle. Here, the pool allows us to bask in the privacy of the thick foliage that lines the outskirts of the yard. The koi pond and waterfall plays up the seclusion. And the dining area is positioned with a sweeping view of everything.

Inside, I’m tempted at times to test whether a design can ever be too loud. But I’m very sensitive to an outdoor living space being overpowering. The most elaborate element among our three is these tomato-red umbrellas that I erected on the terrace. They have an interesting shape to them that reminds me of Southeast Asia. Everything else trends minimalist or organic. The pool is a classic rectangle with bleachers in place of steps to encourage soaking over swimming. And the four-foot pond, complete with a treading waterfall, is free-form. We started out with five koi. I wanted more, but they said no, they’ll mate fast. Four years later, we’re north of 20. Our French bulldogs are split on the pond. One loves diving in, chasing after frogs. The other wants nothing to do with it.

There’s another part to consider when you’re plotting an outdoor living space, or any form of landscape design: the maintenance. You don’t want to be anchored to it all summer long. Another reason to aim for simplicity. Even the shrubs I planted, after the first year, they pretty much hold their own. Now it’s just a matter of matter of maintaining their pots. After all, much as I love hanging out in our backyard, I never want to pass on a weekend escape, especially because I have to water and weed.