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Are you ready to take your living outside yet? Granted, just because it’s April, that doesn’t mean we can’t have some more chilly days and nights. But you can begin planning for an outdoor room or work on converting an existing patio into a more elaborate spot.
The outdoor space in the accompanying picture is at a hotel in Raleigh. The lines were simple and clean. It wasn’t lushly planted but that was okay for both style and practicality. It was meant to be a spot where people could step outside from a conference space, grab a bit of fresh air and connect with friends or co-workers.
The hard surface was a plain concrete, poured in a large block pattern. Yes, the “grass” was artificial — what we used to call Astro Turf. I noticed the walls that defined the space were varied, including stone walls, wood panels and concrete screens. The columns were both steel and rock. The entire setting had a Scandinavian simplicity to it.
It occurred to me as I admired the space that this is exactly how homeowners should start out, if they are working with a budget. Start with the basics, then add more as time and money allows.
Most designers will tell you to start with an understanding of what the space will be used for. If you are creating a reading hide-away or morning coffee nook, you can probably get away with a mulch or pea gravel floor until money or fancy allows you to install pavers or some other hard surface.
However, mulch or pea gravel isn’t going to hold up if the space is where you will be hosting parties with multiple guests.
You should plan ahead for cleaning, too. The hotel’s outdoor room could be hosed down very easily. You can’t do that with mulch.
The next big consideration is point of view. Where will you be looking while you are using your outdoor space? Are you blessed with a lovely vista of a grove of trees or body of water or mountain view? Or, are you trying to hide that vista of your neighbor’s bass boat or the work shed that he or she never seems to get around to tidying up?
That might mean installing trellises, screens or a full-fledged fence. That’s a practical consideration. Nothing says an outdoor room “has” to have walls. When you’re outdoors, the walls are options to hide a problem or create a hiding space for you.
Once you have the basics in place, you can add the rest at your own pace. A fire feature is always nice, whether it’s a portable one or a built inground one made of a material that complements your home. Invest in some nice furniture, too. Sturdy furniture might mean spending a little more, but it negates the headache of replacing a cheap set every couple of years or constantly rebuilding and repainting it.
The plants are the last thing to go in. This again depends on your needs. If this is your reading nook, you don’t want a lot of fussy plants that will require you to spend all of your free time pruning or spraying them instead of reading.
However, keep in mind, a small space provides the luxury of getting up close and personal with the plants you put there. Plants with interesting foliage and flowers can be an asset as conversation starters or even meditation devices to take you away from the worries of the world — for a while.
* J.D. Walker’s garden column appears each Thursday. Follow her on Facebook at GardenSown.