Magic of outdoor rooms

Extend your living space with an outdoor room. Master gardener Brian Minter tells you how.

Outdoor rooms extend your living space.

One of the great escapes may be closer than you think – maybe even just outside your door. We all need a special place to ‘get away’ from a very busy and sometimes scary world to experience serenity. This place has become a fast growing phenomenon called ‘the outdoor room’.

Outdoor rooms are a relatively new concept in North America. In an increasingly pressurized world, we have a need to be outside enjoying fresh air and nature, while doing the things we would normally do indoors. Leading edge home shows feature outdoor kitchens, bars, entertainment centers and relaxation areas – in short, complete outdoor living all year long.

In spite of what you’ve heard, size does not matter. There are some amazing small outdoor rooms which are very intimate, private and spectacular. One of the early outdoor room designers, Ruth Olde of Blasig Design, has created some delightful escapes, both small and large. By applying some amazing design techniques, even tiny rooms can seem very spacious. Well placed plants, mirrors and water features can transform small outdoor spaces into cozy corners. Because we don’t all have perfect back yards, Ruth says that sometimes the front yard is the perfect spot. If you live on a quiet street, with some good design elements, it may be the best location for an outdoor room.

I have always been concerned about the year round use of outdoor rooms and the cool, damp West Coast weather. “Not a problem,” says Ruth, who often recommends covering outdoor rooms with solid, complementary, innovative roofing. Rather than using unsightly coverings, such as fiberglass, Ruth recommends using tempered glass which is not much more expensive. Ruth also suggests that well designed skylights can offer quite a delightful effect and lighting can play a very important role in outdoor living rooms. To combat cool, damp temperatures, strategically placed  heaters can solve this problem nicely. One outdoor room I visited last fall had an outside wall designed as a fireplace. I must say on a cold October night the juxtaposition of the outdoor fireplace and warm, comfy chairs created an ambience hard to match. Okay, the wine may have helped too!

Water is not necessary as part of an outdoor room, but it sure creates atmosphere. Whether it’s an adjacent pool with koi, an elegant fountain or a stream gurgling over stones, water is calming and serene, while at the same time adding an element of interest and magic to an outdoor room that can seldom be duplicated indoors.

Plants, as always, put the finishing touches on an outdoor room. Fabulous vines, which can add perfume, privacy, colour and possibly fruit, are absolutely essential. Tall, narrow vertical trees can add delightful screening, as well as frames for lighting at night. The pièces de resistance, however, are containers. Not ordinary containers, but extraordinary ones with great design elements that move them from potted plants into the world of art.

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