Programming Your Perfect Backyard
Updated: May 4, 2021
It's a great time to look at our backyards and delve into what opportunities lie there for better living. We usually don’t spend as much time designing our backyards as we do our homes. We put in a deck with space for a BBQ, some grass, and maybe some patio stones, but there is so much more opportunity to use this space to enrich our lives. Our backyard can be an extension of our homes and our lifestyles. In addition, but they can connect us to the outdoors and nature, which has been proven to help reduce stress.
What Can I Do with my Backyard?
Much like any project, the first step is figuring out what you want to achieve. Each of us will have different ways of being outdoors. The avid reader will want shaded cozy quiet space. The entertainer will want an outdoor kitchen and maybe even a bar. Families might want some play areas and a garden for learning about plants. Much like any project, your outdoor oasis should reflect you, your family and what is important to you.
At the start of all projects, I like to make a list of goals that my client want to achieve with their project. Whether it's just 'spend more time outdoors' or 'make the backyard more kid friendly,' having some key parameters will give you more direction as you build your design. There are a millions ways to design something, and parameters help you refine it to match your lifestyle and needs.
After defining some of your goals, one of the first parts of the design process is to list all the possibilities. What activities do you want to do back there? What spaces do you want to have? Cast your net wide and then refine your list to those elements that are most important to you. Some fun suggestions for spaces are:
Play areas - They are not just for kids. Play areas can be for adult or kids or a combination. A smaller grassed area for lawn games can be used by both adults and kids - because who doesn’t love washer toss! Swings are another play element that can be fun for both adults and kids. I like to both work and relax in my backyard during our little one’s nap time. In a larger grassy area, setting up a multipurpose net for badminton or volleyball adds a little exercise and fun. You could even set up a seating area to encourage less active participants. For more kid-centric plays areas, try defining a specific area as a kids play space. A change in material (from grass to wood chips), or of elevation, can help define the space and help make it seem less like a cluttering of toys and more like a dedicated space for them.
Leisure/Living area(s) - We often think of a lounge area on a deck but there are so many other relaxing activities to engage in outside. What about a shaded outdoor yoga space, or a more private suntanning space. I am partial to a fire pit area but you could also have an outdoor workout area, outdoor movie theatre or an outdoor dance floor.
Kitchens - Outdoor kitchens can facilitate a lot of outdoor activities. Whether they contain a BBQ, a sink, a keg or just a countertop for cutting and serving food, they are a great companion space for dining areas, entertaining areas, lounging areas and more. Recently, ready-made units have become more commonplace making having an outdoor kitchen much more affordable. Make sure to look at how the materials will weather outside. More importantly, choose or design a model that helps support the other activities you want to do outside.
Dining Areas - I love to eat outside! An outdoor dining room can be a perfect place to entertain guests or spend time with your family. Consider providing a sun shade for the dining area or possibly even screen in the area if you live in a buggy location. New products like ezporch, act like windows but become mostly screen in the summer which is a great ways to make a transitional room that becomes more outdoors in the summer.
Gardening/Green Areas/Greenhouses - Adding greenery, especially some that you can eat, can help get you outside and create a more soothing lush space. Studies show vegetation helps reduce stress and negative emotions as does gardening, (unless you are like me and mostly kill all your plants). Look at not only adding a garden with ergonomic elements such as raised planters, but also using those planter boxes to help define the different areas of your outdoor oasis.
Pools - Who wasn’t excited to go visit the family friend with a pool in the summer. Pools can be a great way to stay cool for people of all ages. They come in all shapes and sizes, one type that I find fascinating is natural pools which also provide a natural pond-like element for stress reduction. These pools use plants to filter the water and keep the pool clean.
Translating those activities into Experiences
Now that you've listed all your activities/spaces and narrowed it down to the top few, it’s often beneficial to think beyond the activities and think about the experience you want from them. For example, 'I want a swing to swing' can be expanded to 'I want to relaxingly watch the sun filter through the trees as I swing in my swing.' Thinking about the experiences you want to have in a space can help you shape what the space will look and feel like, helping you build layers to your design. Facilitating this experience not only helps me place my swing (by the trees) but that small design move also makes the swing just a little bit more.
There are so many possibilities for your outdoors space, we didn’t even touch on treehouses, hot tubs, saunas, ponds or fountains. Always keep in mind to take advantage of the resources you have such as existing trees for shade and to create spaces that reflects how you want to spend time outdoors.
Stay tuned (aka subscribe) for our next segment on outdoor living where we look at different architectural elements and tricks to use to create these backyard spaces.